- I observed [in 1967] that our proof of the stability of matter would fail if electrons without the exclusion principle existed. So I jumped to the conclusion that a charged weak boson could not exist in a stable universe. This was a new law of nature that I had discovered. I published it quietly in a mathematical journal.
I knew that my theory flatly contradicted the prevailing wisdom. The prevailing wisdom was the unified theory of weak and electromagnetic interactions proposed by my friends Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam. Weinberg and Salam predicted the existence of a new particle as a carrier of weak interactions. They called the new particle W. The W-particle had to be a charged weak boson, precisely the combination that I had declared impossible. Nature, speaking through an experiment at CERN in Geneva, would decide who was right.
The decision did not come quickly. It took the experimenters fifteen years to build a new machine and use it to search for the W-particle. But the decision, when it came, was final. Large numbers of W-particles were seen, with the properties predicted by Weinberg and Salam. With hindsight I could see several reasons why my stability argument would not apply to W-particles. W-particles are too massive and too short-lived to be a constituent of anything that resembles ordinary matter.
- I quickly forgot my disappointment and shared the joy of Weinberg and Salam in their well-deserved triumph. As my mother taught me long ago, the key to enjoyment of any sport is to be a good loser.
In Livio’s list of brilliant blunderers, Darwin and Einstein were good losers, Kelvin and Pauling were not so good, and Hoyle was the worst. The greatest scientists are the best losers. That is one of the reasons why we love the game.