In the 1960s, the charismatic physicist Geoffrey Chew espoused a radical vision of the universe, and with it, a new way of doing physics. Theorists of the era were struggling to find order in an unruly zoo of newfound particles. They wanted to know which ones were the fundamental building blocks of nature and which were composites. But Chew, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, argued against such a distinction. “Nature is as it is because this is the only possible nature consistent with itself,” he wrote at the time. He believed he could deduce nature’s laws solely from the demand that they be self-consistent.
Scientists since Democritus had taken a reductionist approach to understanding the universe, viewing everything in it as being built from some kind of fundamental stuff that cannot be further explained. But Chew’s vision of a self-determining universe required that all particles be equally composite and fundamental. He conjectured that each particle is composed of other particles, and those others are held together by exchanging the first particle in a process that conveys a force. Thus, particles’ properties are generated by self-consistent feedback loops. Particles, Chew said, “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” … (Quanta Magazine)