Sunday, July 8, 2012

Higgs discovery a disappointment

So they’ve discovered the Higgs boson.  When I heard the news from Switzerland last Wednesday my initial reaction was a pang of disappointment.  Much more exciting had they failed to find it; or had they found conclusive data meaning of necessity it can't exist. 

By the way read no further if you want an explanation of what the Higgs boson actually is, because I can't tell you. The best is probably this video by Ian Sample in The Guardian.

But insofar as I do understand, the question at issue is: what is matter and why is it heavy.  Why in other words is the universe the way it is, and why are we here. And the answer, for several decades, has been the Standard Model of physics.  To make the Standard Model true, there must be a Higgs field.  So finding it, is a very significant step in confirming that the Standard Model is correct.

This is disappointing for two reasons. Scientific revolutions come about from unexpected results not from expected ones, as Stephen Hawking says in this BBC interview.

Moreover the Standard Model is ugly and unsatisfactory. It specifies a menagerie of particles which seem to defy any rime or reason, it doesn't attempt to explain gravity, and can't explain dark energy or dark matter; which by my reckoning leaves out 98% of the universe.

Here’s an article in the New Yorker Is the Higgs Boson a Disappointment?

I don't doubt that if the discovery of the Higgs field is confirmed (and I haven't seen anyone suggest it won't be) this is a crowning achievement of modern physics and a triumphal moment for science.  But still and all ….

One last point: the image I've used is highly inappropriate as it implies “god particle”.  An annoying expression which even Ian Sample uses and he shouldn’t.


  1. At the risk of sounding as ignorant as I really am Pete, so what? Even the chap who announced it said he didn't know what use it would be, so to ordinary non-navel gazing mortals what does it all mean? Wouldn't we be better off spending the huge sums involved feeding the starving? Any resources expended on this came from the world, which belongs as much to the disenfranchised hungry as it does to the rich man or the intellectual. How will it improve the lives of anyone? Scientists slapping each other on the back again.......

    1. Well, first of all it's part of humanity’s mission to understand the world. If that doesn't convince you, and you need me to specify a use, I'll just say Faraday couldn’t predict what use electricity would be. Or I could wax rhetorical and ask you what use a human baby is. If you remain unmoved, I'll concede yes navel gazing is a very bad thing and should be abolished, so we'll put it on the list of activities to be banned in favour of feeding the hungry. But will navel gazing be at the top of the list? Nope. Nuclear weapon is up there. Will it be 2nd? Nope, that’s all other weapons. Will it be third? Nope that’s the tobacco industry. Or perhaps bankers. Hell, at this rate we'll never get to abolish navel gazing. Looks like the navel gazers will get away with it after all.

    2. Hee hee hee! Nice one Pete, can't fault that reply!!