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My Higgs Bet

May 18, 2012 7 comments

Experimental particle physicists are spending a lot of time of late looking for the Higgs boson. The question is, are they going to find it or not?

My guess is no.

Actually, my guess is that they’ll find something in a plausible energy range, decide that it’s the Higgs, and announce it. Tentatively. The press will then jump on it. Lots of people will look very proud and be photographed in groups. Then there will turn out to be some wrinkles in the data. People will look more deeply, and then they’ll discover that it’s not the Higgs, and they don’t know what it is. Then there will be confusion and unhappiness. At least five years will pass, and then someone will come up with a decent explanation. By that time, lots of politicians who don’t really know how science works will have frowned a lot, and used the confusion as a reason to reduce funding in physics. The physics community will wring its hands and say that it was probably a mistake to have jumped to conclusions, even though that’s not actually what they did.

The reason I think they won’t find the Higgs is because it strikes me as a really ugly solution, and I just can’t believe that nature works that way. Here are some of the things that make me think that the Higgs has no place in physics:

1: As I understand it, it’s an explanation for mass that has nothing to do with gravity. The fact that gravity tracks mass is essentially a coincidence in this model. Yucko.

2: Having the Higgs was supposed to tidy up physics back in the sixties, when it was proposed. At that time, we had no notion of dark energy or dark matter. Thus, having the Higgs tidies up a particle model which we already know must be incomplete. To my mind, that’s not actually very tidy. It just squirts icing onto a big bowl of cake batter.

3: Electroweak symmetry is by far the ugliest part of the whole Standard Model. You don’t have to be a physicist for it to feel dodgy. You can just smell it. (A really terrific book that lets you get close enough to the subject to feel out how its supposed to work without slogging through a physics PhD is Deep Down Things by Bruce Schumm.) The only way for the electroweak symmetry to seem really nice is if you’ve spent the last five years drinking particle physics kool-aid.

4: The Higgs field works by being conveniently everywhere except where particles happen to be. It’s kind of like an inverse field, and it’s the only field that works that way. Call me old-fashioned, but I generally like my mass atrributor with my particles.

Is this to say that I think they’ll find something else specific instead? Not really. I don’t know what they’ll find and I’m not a particle physicist.

However, if I had to bet on a particle horse, I’d bet on Rishons. The whole idea was abandoned donkey’s years ago because there was no evidence for substructure in quarks. I think that’s because they were looking for the wrong kind of structure. Why Rishons? Because they’re really tidy. To my mind,  if the world is showing you something that looks really symmetrical, it’s usually because you haven’t broken it down into its component parts yet.

What does all this have to do with physics of the specifically digital variety? Not much. However, I think if digital physics enthusiasts ever hope to contribute to the mainstream, understanding and paying attention to what’s going on there will be critical. We should continually practice engaging our scientific intuition with the problems at hand, and seeing what comes of it.