Three frontiers, together, won’t break

Fermilab Director
Pier Oddone

The success of “Abenomics” in Japan has made the legend of the three arrows known around the world. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has based his economic policies on three thrusts: monetary expansion, fiscal spending and structural reform. He calls this his three arrows program in reference to a sixteenth century legend from his family’s region of the country. Any one of these thrusts would not right Japan’s economy by itself and could be easily derailed. Together they have had a remarkable impact on the Japanese economy, apparently awakening it after a long slumber. There is even a line of lingerie with the “three arrows” and “Abenomics” theme that celebrates this awakening.

Why is this legend so appealing, and what is it? The legend tells the story of how the Daimyo Mori Motorani asked his three sons to snap an arrow, which each of them duly did. He then produced three more arrows and told the boys to snap all three at once. None of them could. One arrow, the father said, can easily be broken. Three arrows together, like a bundle of birch rods, cannot. It was a plea to work together for the good of the community.

While the three frontiers of particle physics probably won’t achieve the level of public success that would launch a clothing line, we can learn much from Mori Motorani and Prime Minister Abe. Each of the frontiers, isolated from the others, is much weaker than as part of a whole. They all have soft spots, easy to attack without the support of the other frontiers. This strong interrelationship is represented by the overlap regions in the iconic image of the 2008 P5 report, where the most profound questions appear.

So why do we not talk only about one integrated field and its many lines of inquiry? The reason is simple. The three frontiers theme makes our field more comprehensible to the non-practitioner and help us explain the different kinds of experiments and facilities we use. It is the same with Abenomics—the three arrows are interrelated, but when speaking to the public it makes more sense to talk about three distinct thrusts. If you read the Congressional language praising the P5 exercise, you understand what a positive impact this approach has had. We risk destroying our supporters’ positive view of the field if we argue that one frontier is more important than the others. We also forgo the richness that comes from their tight connections to each other. Three arrows or three frontiers, together, won’t break!