The Standard Model of Particle Physics is considered by many to be the most advanced description of the universe ever conceived by man. The brightest minds of the last century, billions of dollars, and countless hours have gone into the creation of this elegant and baffling table of particles. But this cutting edge model of the universe is not new. It’s well over two thousand years old, and it was not even discovered by a scientist. The Standard Model owes its conceptual origin to the renowned ancient Greek thinker, Plato.

Plato was a philosopher who lived around the year 400 BC. He studied under  Socrates, and was the teacher of Aristotle.

In Plato's book, The Republic, he introduces the idea of The Good and describes it using the Divided Line. The Divided Line is a system of four sections culminating in a final truth. In this case, the four sections are images, observable things, mathematical models, and ideal forms; with the final truth being the idea of The Good. Between observable things and mathematical models on the Divided Line there is a Bold Line. This Bold Line represents the boundary that one crosses from the observable world to the world of thought and reason. Reality is left behind and a more abstract existence is revealed. The levels of the Divided Line will be broken down after introducing the Standard Model.

The Standard Model

The Standard Model of particle physics has been arranged to resemble the periodic table of elements. There are four main columns, each column containing quarks and leptons. The first column represents the beginning of the Standard Model, and contained the fundamental particles that scientists believed composed all matter in the universe. To search for these fundamental particles, scientists of the 20th century built large particle colliders capable of charging up individual particles to extreme amounts of energy and colliding them together in fantastic explosions of matter. The bits and pieces of each of these explosions were captured in data form and mathematically analyzed in hopes that their theories regarding the first column of the standard model would be confirmed.

The first column of the Standard Model was found, along with an unexpected second column of mirrored particles. These mirrored particles were very similar to those of the first column; however, they were much more massive, unstable, and energized than the particles of the first column. The second column of mirrored particles became known as the second generation particles of the Standard Model. Not to be deterred, physicists then built larger particle colliders that could fling bits of matter together at even higher energy levels. Lo and behold, a third-generation of particles were observed in the debris of these explosions. This third generation of particles was even larger and even more unstable than the second generation of particles. These particles were so large and unstable that they ceased to be mathematically possible; the current formulas of the Standard Model suggested that the third generation particles were too massive and unstable to exist.

A fourth column was added to the standard model in an attempt to rationalize the first three columns. The fourth column contains interacting particles, also called Gauge Bosons. These interacting particles are responsible for the basic interactions of matter in the universe. When matter is not being flung around at high energy levels by colliders, it tends to interact via the interacting particles of the fourth column. In the fourth column of the standard model, you will find perhaps more familiar particles such as the gluon, photon, and bosons. Unlike the other columns of the Standard Model, the Gauge Bosons actually have mass, allowing them to interact directly with the fundamental forces.

Finally, in order to fix the strangeness of the second and third generations of particles, the idea of the Higgs boson was proposed. In order to have these fantastically large and unstable particles in existence, it was speculated that there is a universal field which permeates all of the universe. This field is what transmits the particles and allows them to have mass, exist, and interact with one another. Finally, after building yet bigger particle colliders, the elusive Higgs boson was also found.

If one turns the Standard Model of particle physics ninety degrees counterclockwise, making the columns into rows and placing the Higgs boson at the top of the rows, we find the Divided Line. In Plato's Divided Line, each row had certain characteristics. The first row was characterized as images. Images were not true representations of reality, but were rather impressions or shadows of reality. They were not fact, they were the representation of fact. The second row of the Divided Line was characterized as objects or sensible things. This row contains all that we come into contact with using the five senses. Whether it be a door, a chair, a table, a car, a phone, or even a person, these are objects. Objects can be sensed directly as physical things. Moving to the third row of the Divided Line crosses the boundary between reality and something else. The third row of the Divided Line consists of mathematical models or forms, and was a more precise version of the second row. Observable things were but shadows of the mathematical thing. The true chair or the true phone or the true person can be represented as a mathematical model. Finally, the fourth row of the Divided Line represents the perfect thing; the ideal form. Whereas the mathematical model was more precisely true than the observable object, the ideal form is the perfect version of what is represented by the mathematical model. The ideal forms completely transcend mathematical models and begin to capture ideas, such as Justice, Love, and Hate. The distinctions between the rows become more nuanced as you proceed up the Divided Line. The final jump on the Divided Line, the jump from the fourth row to the idea of The Good, is truly inexpressible. The idea of The Good is somehow a more perfect, more accurate, truer version of the ideal forms.

The four rows of the Divided Line and the four columns of the Standard Model are symmetric in many key ways. In the first column/row, we find the most basic and simple parts of the universe; the quarks and leptons of the first column are but images of the second generation of particles. In the second column/row, we find observable objects and the second generation of particles. This pairing is especially apt because both observable things and the second generation of particles are the most accurate things which can be measured and predicted physically.  When the Bold Line is crossed into the third column/row, the completely knowable and real are left behind. Mathematical models and the third generation of particles are alike, impossibilities except in conception. The fourth column/row contains ideal forms, or the perfect models and the interacting particles. Here exists the true or the truest version of everything that has come before. The Higgs boson and the idea of The Good take the place of universal truths, the answer to all previous questions, the that for the sake of which.

The Divided Line describes the Standard Model of particle physics, and the standard model of particle physics fits naturally on the Divided Line. One might call the standard model of particle physics the ultimate product of pure scientific method, while one might call the Divided Line the ultimate product of pure reasoning. The fact that the scientific method and reason came to the same conclusion about the nature of the universe is revealing. But, do the similarities between the products of reason and method justify their acceptance? Are both the Standard Model and the Divided Line true? Do they accurately describe reality and whatever lies beyond reality? Furthermore, what else might be described using the Standard Model or the Divided Line? Is this system of thought a universal way of categorizing information and ideas? The only way to answer these questions is through rigorous testing, experimentation, and thorough mental examination.

The astute observer will notice that the same methods which created these systems are required to test and prove them. This suggests that, at a high level, the truth or logic of these systems is circularly defined. A better proof for these systems would be reached using a third, unrelated system of truths. An inquiring mind should gather its own truth, its own perspective, its own belief, and use that to test the Divided Line and the Standard Model. This exercise is challenging, and potentially profound.

If the truth as perceived by an individual mind is shown to be symmetrical with the truths of both the Divided Line and the Standard Model, this suggests a uniformity between the personal and the universal. If reality, as perceived from a single perspective, is shown to be accurate when compared to reality from the corporate, ancient, and scientifically rigorous perspectives, then it is possible that truth in an absolute sense may exist.