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Don’t understand the Higgs boson? Watch the best animated explanation video I’ve seen so far on the Higgs:

The Higgs Boson Explained from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Basically:

  • The Higgs Boson is important because it is the (until recently) undiscoverd particle that under the Standard Model of Particle Physics is expected to give mass to other particles. Mass is just a property of matter, like a charge. Mass is a gravitational “charge.”
  • The theory is that everything, everywhere is filled with something called the Higgs field.  The reason why particles have mass is because while they propagate, they are swimming in this “cosmic molasses,” and this interaction gives them inertia. (Not all particles interact with the field. Photons and neutrinos, for example, don’t and have no mass.)
  • In order to actually verify this model, we need to produce an excitation of the field. This quantum excitation is what we call the Higgs boson.

  • So that’s why we built the Large Hadron Collider, to create lots and lots of particle collisions and analyze the data. That little bump on the graph, which lasted only a fraction of a second, is what they think is the elusive particle, hopefully to be confirmed as the Higgs Boson.

There’s a great Reddit discussion going on about the discovery for the more technically-inclined:

If it’s really a Higgs, then we need to solve the Hierarchy problem or abandon the idea of naturalness. The problem is that the Higgs is “unaturally light”, since quantum corrections would “naturally” make the Higgs mass as big as the Planck scale (1019 GeV compared to the 126) and to make it light we need a an arbitrary cancellation that is heavily fine-tuned. The best candidates were supersymmetry and large extra dimensions, but it seems that both are very unlikely now.

If it’s not a Higgs, then we probably will see more signals in the future, and the greatest theoretical challenge will be to figure out what exactly it is!

Categories: Knowledge has vagina dentata so don’t you fuck with it, Nerd Out Tags: CERN, god particle, Higgs Boson, higgs boson particle, higgs video, PHD Comics, physicists, physics

All physicists have to look nerdy. It’s part of the job description.

Edge.org has a conversation with theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli:

Science is not about the data. The empirical content of scientific theory is not what is relevant. The data serves to suggest the theory, to confirm the theory, to disconfirm the theory, to prove the theory wrong. But these are the tools that we use. What interests us is the content of the theory. What interests us is what the theory says about the world. General relativity says space-time is curved. The data of general relativity are that Mercury perihelion moves 43 degrees per century, with respect to that computed with Newtonian mechanics.

Who cares? Who cares about these details? If that was the content of general relativity, general relativity would be boring. General relativity is interesting not because of its data, but because it tells us that as far as we know today, the best way of conceptualizing space-time is as a curved object. It gives us a better way of grasping reality than Newtonian mechanics, because it tells us that there can be black holes, because it tells us there’s a Big Bang. This is the content of the scientific theory.

I just discovered Edge.  They have some good shit melding philosophical questions with scientific inquiry.  The kind of stuff I want to write if I ever make it through my formal education.  Totes subscribing.

[edit]

I have to add commentary on this particular post. I can see what Rovelli is getting at, but I don’t like the rhetoric. It’s too dismissive of the importance of data, of the relationship between reason and theory. The arrogance in the rhetorical question, “Who cares about these details?” is particularly grating.

Physicists often try to play with “deep” writing and often fail. (Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman is the other example that immediately comes to mind.) The nature of their occupation involves describing reality, and reality is undoubtably complex. But if you’re a scientist that wants to do metaphysics, you had better choose your language very carefully or risk sounding like a tool.

Categories: Knowledge has vagina dentata so don’t you fuck with it Tags: Carlo Rovelli, certainty, Edge.org, metaphysics, physicists, scientific inquiry