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The Higgs Boson Re-Explained By the Mick Jagger of Physics 94

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Jorge Cham, author of the comic strip Ph.D. comics, recently found himself on a bus crossing the Israel-Jordan border sitting next to Eilam Gross, head of the Atlas Higgs Group, one of the two groups that found the famous particle. When Cham asked Gross for feedback on the Higgs Boson animation he had done last year, Gross told Cham 'It's all wrong' and noted that he had yet to see a truly correct explanation of what the the Higgs Boson is. For the next three hours Gross, also known as the 'Mick Jagger of physics,' told Cham the story of the Higgs Boson and asked him to put it into a new comic strip. The result is a new comic re-explaining the Higgs Boson. 'So how does this explain things like inertia?' 'That's another bus ride.' As an interesting side note Gross was once asked what Higgs was good for and replied that when [J.J.] Thomson discovered the electron, in 1895, he raised a glass of champagne and proposed a toast 'to the useless electron.'"
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The Higgs Boson Re-Explained By the Mick Jagger of Physics

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  • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:15AM (#46331249) Homepage

    I've been waiting years for a good explanation of Higgs!
    Too bad. Still waiting.

  • by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:25AM (#46331307)
    This explanation and comic are very good, but it makes the same fundamental mistake that so many physicists have made in trying to explain the Higgs field. It compares the field to molasses, slowing down particles by "sticking" to them, or providing some sort of friction to slow them down to sub-light speeds. This is fundamentally incorrect as molasses, or any other frictional medium, opposes the motion of particles, slowing them down until they eventually come to rest with respect to the frictional medium (molasses in this analogy). This is not at all how the Higgs field works. It doesn't oppose the motion of particles at all. In fact, Newton's law of inertia states that a body in motion will continue in motion at the same velocity until acted upon by an external force, and this is still true even in the presence of the Higgs field. There's nothing molasses-like about it at all. In fact, as a relativistic field the Higgs field has no rest frame. Put in other words, the Higgs field has no velocity of its own, zero or otherwise. If it did, it would break a fundamental symmetry law of special relativity: namely that all inertial frames of reference are equivalent. No field that behaves anything like molasses would be consistent with that principle.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Higgs field doesn't "give" particles mass in any special way.
      It gives them mass just like, say, electric field or gravitational field might: through their potential energy in that field. Many particles, in order to exist, have potential energy in some field(s), and that energy is their mass (see Einstein) and that's all there is to it.

      For example protons and neutrons also have mass, but 99% of that mass is the energy of quarks holding themselves together. They don't need (and I think don't have at all) an

      • Umm.... If protons, neutrons and electrons all get their mass from particles that in turn get their mass from the Higgs field then the protron, neutron and electron get their mass from the Higgs field by the transitive property.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Nope, quarks do not get their mass from the Higgs field. Another reason why the comic is still not quite right.

    • by poopdeville ( 841677 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @01:00AM (#46331467)

      I can see where you're coming from, but I read it as comparing the early universe to molasses, not the effect of the Higgs field as such. Soupy and homogeneous (mostly).

    • by aybiss ( 876862 )

      Overanalyse analogies much?

      I see your point, but if anyone trying to understand physics is under the impression that there's a molasses-like 'ether' filling the subatomic interstices then no amount of explaining the creation of scalar fields to maintain symmetry in other equations is going to help them. I think you're being too picky in the interest of talking down to people. Nothing in that comic came as a surprise to me (I already understood the principle of the conjecture, just not the maths behind it),

      • I think you're being too picky in the interest of talking down to people.

        Actually, I think the people that are "talking down to people" are those that give incorrect explanations of things because they think they're simpler. Pointing out the problem with the molasses analogy is not fussing about a picky little detail, it is pointing out the analogy is wrong on a very fundamental level. It paints a picture of the pre-Michelson-Morley days of a stationary ether that permeates all space and defines a preferred frame of reference. As Einstein said, you should make things as simpl

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Pointing out the problem with the molasses analogy is not fussing about a picky little detail, it is pointing out the analogy is wrong on a very fundamental level.

          The analogy is reasonable. It's not an analogy to the Higgs field itself, but rather the effect of mass, which made things slow down and start clumping.

      • It wasn't molasses, honest. If it appeared slow, then perhaps we were just ramping distance at the time. Up or down? Dunno, check the sign.

    • No field that behaves anything like molasses would be consistent with that principle.

      see ether.

    • by hweimer ( 709734 )

      Further issues:

      1. The claim that theories should contain certain symmetries because of aesthetic perceptions is misguided. The standard model, the most successful physical theory ever written down by mankind, is ugly as shit.

      2. Symmetry does not protect reality from divergence.

      3. It is wrong that without the Higgs, there would be no mass and we all would die. For the gauge bosons of the weak force, this would be true, but all leptons and quarks surrounding us can simply be described by a conventional mass t

    • Maybe the problem isn't molasses but the notion of symmetry. As even the comic states, without symmetry, the equations become infinite to describe the universe. The reality we know is that we have to keep adding more equations (or particles or plains, all of which are defined by equations), to try and explain the universe. Some postulate that we will never have enough equations to fully explain the universe, which by definition implies that the sought after symmetry doesn't exist. An added benefit to not h

  • by blue trane ( 110704 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:47AM (#46331413) Homepage Journal

    Just like planets had to orbit in circles because circles are beautiful?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Symmetry is very important in physics and math.
      1. It helps us solve equations. Nearly all algebraic equations that are solvable, are solvable because of symmetry. For example: linear equations have a specific symmetry that makes them easy. So the main reason we look for symmetrical equations, is that these are the only equations we can handle.

      2. Symmetry is an observed property of physics. The laws of physics don't change over time(time shift symmetry), they don't change by changing location(translational s

      • 3. A theorem by Emmy Noether, says that continuous symmetries of the Lagrangian create conservation laws:
        Time shift = Conservation of energy.
        Translation = Conservation of momentum.
        Rotation = Conservation of angular momentum.

        I've always felt a little uncomfortable with this "direction", from the symmetry to the conservation.

        We wouldn't have conservation of momentum if one side of the universe was heavier than the other. There's no "law" that says it has to be so. This is an observational fact, not an absolut

    • by asylumx ( 881307 )
      Ovals are also symmetric... Just not in every direction.
      • by JWW ( 79176 )

        To reference the initial post in this thread: Just like the orbit of planets.

        • by asylumx ( 881307 )
          OP was a sarcastic callback to the older solar system models. I know they didn't use the sarcasm tag, but I thought it was pretty obvious.
    • Just like planets had to orbit in circles because circles are beautiful?

      That's just 3D confusion. Planets' orbits are 'beautiful' straight lines in 4D spacetime.

      We can forgive previous generations for not seeing that part of the universe for its true nature. Future generations will say the same about us.

    • Symmetries in physics are tied with conserved quantities. Whatever your feelings on the matter, being able to point to a conserved quantity with which you can construct equations is beautiful in my book.

      The symmetries themselves however -- personally I've seen better looking mathematics.

  • Does the (Higgs) Field exist or did we invent it to make our equations work? Who knows? That's the genius of mankind!

    Did we just pull all this out of our ass to make our theories work? Who knows, that's the GENIUS!
    FFS -- Having this guy debate Ken Hamm would result in a devision by zero error.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    While symmetry may be beautiful, if not convenient, I have a haunting suspicion when we 'figure out' all things gravity, things will turn assymetrical very fast.

  • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @01:26AM (#46331597) Journal

    The Higgs should be renamed the Cow Particle, because it's outstanding in its field.

  • I mean: good enough for me, a software engineer, who does not have to toy around with the actual equations and who does neither have to set up nor perform the actual experiments...
  • by MouseTheLuckyDog ( 2752443 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @03:38AM (#46332033)

    tries to explain theory.

    There are lots of misconceptions Symmetry, for example, does not prevent divergences.Divergences are still present although in a controllable way. That's what renormalization and the renormalization group is all about. If a symmetry is broken through quantum mechanical processes then the breaking can lead to new divergences which turn out to be uncontrollable if they do not follow a certain patterns. The symmetry leads to a conserved quantity and a current following the basic rule that the amount of current goes in determines the change in the conserved quantity ( charge ). In the case of QCD, for example, the charge is color ( red, The pattern need to control the divergences caused by quantum color violations is that the sum of the current leakage has to equal zero.

    This essentially says that quarks have to appear in pairs to cancel charge violations. So once a bottom quark was seen, there had to be a top quark.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with the Higgs mechanism though.

    The Higgs mechanism is based on the fact symmetry depends on two things. The laws of motion and the initial conditions. I can take a puck on a smooth surface and push in any direction and the motion will look the same. That's because the laws of motion and the initial conditions both obey a symmetry. If I replace the smooth surface with one with random bumps the motion will not look the same in all directions. The laws of motion are still the same in each direction, but the inital conditions no longer are. That's the Higgs mechanism at it's crudest.

  • by loufoque ( 1400831 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @03:49AM (#46332061)

    What the fuck does that even mean?

    • I still can’t figure out the hierarchy. What are you, exactly? Are you the Mick Jagger of physics?

      Nice the Mick Jagger of physics. But it’s like, let’s say, the minister in charge of the search for the Higgs particle in the accelerator government. Okay?

      So he's actually the one man in the world who we categorically cannot describe as the Mick Jagger of physics.

    • by rvw ( 755107 )

      What the fuck does that even mean?

      Mick Jagger is the degree of freedom needed to give this article some mass. And if this confuses you - see the comic! ;-)

    • Still beats being the Justin Bieber of Physics ;-)
    • I'm not sure either. I suppose it might be because he can't get no satisfaction. Or perhaps he is a man of wealth and taste. Maybe he wants it painted black. Or all of the above.

    • His best years are about 50 years behind him?

    • I was expecting Brian May.

    • by Trogre ( 513942 )

      I'm guessing it means he has big lips and is quite old...

  • by m.alessandrini ( 1587467 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @03:51AM (#46332063)
    "Does this field really exist... or did we invent it to make our equations work?"

    I think that at those ultimate levels, this distinction is quite fuzzy for all the reality in general.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think the point in the comic was that it was that prior to the experimental discovery of the Higgs Boson, people were uneasy about having this extra field interacting with so many others.

      The Standard Model works extremely well for what it describes. Even if it isn't a correct description of reality, it's a useful way of modeling it (in the realm of particle physics), and the apparent discovery of the Higgs Boson confirms that the earlier hypothesized Higgs field is a genuine field within the model rather

  • by ( 595837 ) <> on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @05:00AM (#46332255) Journal
    I first read the comic strip, found it great, I thought I gained a deep understanding, and then I read the informative /. comments here and now I do not find it so great and I'm almost as confused as before....
  • Being pedantic here, but the summary is slightly wrong. The comic strip's name is "PHD comics", where PHD = Piled Higher and Deeper. It's obviously a play on Ph.D., but facts are facts.

  • A comic strip about sub-atomic particles and not one POW! or KERRRR-SPLAT!!! And no one developed any superpowers at all. Colour me disappointed.
  • ok, for what it's worth, my take on what the higgs is, is that it's a [virtual] ultra-heavy proton, made up of the same [previously undiscovered] ultra-heavy quarks that make up the [virtual] W and Z Bosons. it takes a bit of explaining, but i've been looking into this... a lot.... and i surmise that the W and Z Bosons are just flavours of pions (2-quark particles) whilst the Higgs is just a flavour of the proton (3 quark particles). they don't appear "in the wild" so to speak because a) they're incredibl

    • > made up of the same [previously undiscovered] ultra-heavy quarks

      It's relatively easy to demonstrate that there are no ultra-heavy quarks. This was a key development in the 1970s (80s?)

  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @10:09AM (#46333421) Homepage

    "without the higgs field, there would be no mass terms in the equations"


    or any one of dozens of other theories that likewise generate mass using alternate methods. Yes, I am aware that none of them have been terribly successful, but they haven't been terribly popular either - and that's often the difference.

  • The comic seems to hint at a relationship between he two. Is that correct? Do different values of the higgs field make for different speeds of light?

  • ... expected Brian May.

Loose bits sink chips.