I was trying to keep up with the physics4me feed when I came across an article that made me sad: Higgs boson signals fade at Large Hadron Collider. It’s not unexpected, but for a while there the news was pretty exciting. It seemed like maybe we’d finally found the Higgs.
That I felt sad made me realize hope much I was hoping for a Higgs. A Higgs Contact.
I said a while ago that I wanted Alien Contact. Of course, that does have the potential to go badly for us,… but it might not. It would be one of those life is never the same again major events. Not that plenty of major events haven’t happened in our various life times. We’ve walked on the moon, knocked down the Berlin wall and invented reality TV (and the iPhone).
Alien contact would be sudden and surprising. One minute it’s business as usual and the next, bam, alien contact. And that’s likely to change some of our views; our technical or religious views for example. Aliens might have warp drive. Or they might have religions of their own. What if we meet aliens, and they turn out to all be Buddhists?
But forget aliens. Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Planck and Einstein also changed our views of reality. Not in the extreme way aliens would, but they (and many others) changed how we understood our reality. Those five, in particular, are associated with key discoveries that are a bit like the landings of a stair. Important landings regarding space, time, motion and energy.
And up that stair we (hope to) find the Higgs.
I remember when they found conclusive evidence of the Top quark. That was a big deal to me. The last quark found! By then it appeared there were just three families, so we had the whole set of fermions.
It was the bosons that were a bitch. First there’s the putative graviton. You need gravitons to mediate the gravitational force (if gravity is an actual force). And I hope they never do find gravitons. I don’t want gravity to be a force. I want Einstein to have been right: gravity is a consequence of how mass warps spacetime. I want gravity to be a “sliding down” the fabric of the cosmos. General Relativity makes sense to me; quantum physics is just plain goofy and obviously in need of some sort of revision.
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Finding the Higgs as predicted strengthens the standard model of quantum physics. Once again we find that it’s a wonderful, hugely useful description of reality. It can’t possibly be completely right—in fact it may be completely wrong—but it works beautifully. Finding more evidence that the standard model works isn’t big news, even if finding the long-sought Higgs is kind of a big deal for physics geeks.
Finding the standard model definitely wrong in some fashion, that would be huge. If the Higgs just fails to show up in any place the model says it should, that would be a blow, but not a fatal one. The model is sort of guessing about where the Higgs might be anyway; perhaps some part of that assumption is wrong. And there is the Higgs mechanism that is the actual thing behind the idea of how (some) particles gain mass. The mechanism doesn’t require the boson, so failing to find it just means things work differently.
But finding a clear violation of a standard model rule would be huge. It would demonstrate that the model has to be changed, that no matter how well it works, we’ve gotten it wrong. It might mean we need to focus on String Theory or Loop Quantum Gravity or some other model.
Of course, finding a violation in General Relativity would also be a huge deal. That’s a topic for a later article, but GR is another model of reality that works very well. It, too, has survived many challenges unscathed.
In fact, it’s such an important understanding of reality that GPS depends on it to work correctly. The mass of the earth warps spacetime enough that GPS devices must compensate for the effect that has on the satellite signals!
But it conflicts with that standard model of quantum physics.
One of them has to be wrong (at least a little).
Finding the Higgs won’t move that along one way or the other. But it would still be really cool to find one of the few remaining standard particles.
So I want Higgs Contact.