In the 1940s, trailblazing physicists stumbled upon the next layer of reality. Particles were out, and fields—expansive, undulating entities that fill space like an ocean—were in. One ripple in a field would be an electron, another a photon, and interactions between them seemed to explain all electromagnetic events.
There was just one problem: The theory was glued together with hopes and prayers. Only by using a technique dubbed “renormalization,” which involved carefully concealing infinite quantities, could researchers sidestep bogus predictions. The process worked, but even those developing the theory suspected it might be a house of cards resting on a tortured mathematical trick.
“It is what I would call a