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Jul 04 2012

Have they got a Higgs boson?

Sean Carroll live-blogged a seminar discussing the latest results, which meant he wrote down a heck of a lot of cryptic jargon I couldn’t understand at all. But here’s the bottom line:

Personal editorializing by me: we’ve found the Higgs, or at least a Higgs. Still can’t be sure that it’s just the vanilla Standard Model Higgs. The discrepancies aren’t quite strong enough to be sure that they really represent beyond-Standard-Model physics… but it’s a strong possibility.

Cool. The broad strokes of the Standard Model look OK, but there might be enough unexpected variance that some new physics will emerge from it all. It sounds like the best of all possible results from a physicist’s point of view.

But really, the best part of the article was this:

66 comments

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  1. 1
    razzlefrog

    Oh how exciting! My physics professors were always dreaming away about this type of thing last year! It really is true; physicists really are ridiculously passionate. Ha ha, at least in my experience!

  2. 2
    Alex

    If I were religious I’d pray for the discrepancies to be true. But something tells me that it’s vanilla Higgs, and that’s it. The Standard Model has been mind-numbingly successfull in the past 30 years.

    Statistically it is not surprising to me that the discovery is first made in a measurement in which there happened to be a statistical upwards fluctuation. So I really am not sure if having a bit stronger a signal as expected from theory in the moment of discovery is so surprising.

  3. 3
    sc_5b5039dd39eec895ccc71934d4e6783f

    This took me from feeling like total shit to feeling almost liveable and like humanity might be going somewhere after all. So, great news.

    SC:

    Personal editorializing by me: we’ve found the Higgs, or at least a Higgs.

    Who is this “we”? Was he involved? Or is he just using overly broad strokes that allot credit where it isn’t really due? Like, ‘we as a species have all contributed to this wondrous event’?

    PZM:

    Cool. The broad strokes of the Standard Model look OK, but there might be enough unexpected variance that some new physics will emerge from it all. It sounds like the best of all possible results from a physicist’s point of view.

    Not any of the /many/ other physicists who subscribed to a theory other than the standard model. I’m not concern trolling on their behalf here, but this is an unreliable generalisation.

  4. 4
    Alex

    sc_mess,

    Your concern is valid.

    To repost what I said in TET,
    “[...]this discovery really is a double edged sword. I am quite afraid that dark matter might be inacessible to detection, and that the Higgs boson will have been the last fundamental physics discovery not only in my carreer but also for decades or centuries to come. I am working on proving this suspicion wrong of course, but there is always this nagging afterthought in all the excitement about the discovery, that maybe this great day was the kiss of slow death for my discipline.”

    So no, the best possible outcome would have been a discovery which kills the Standard Model in a cruel and funny way. We don’t learn anything new from this discovery that hasn’t been already discussed in detail for more than 40 years.

  5. 5
    AsqJames

    Who is this “we”? Was he involved?

    If he pays taxes in any one of dozens of countries then yes, he was involved. So were you. So was I.

    And what’s more, we’ll all enjoy the benefits whatever they may be.

  6. 6
    throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble

    For me it was the equivalent of watching the moon landing (had I been alive then). Except only if the moon landing were transmitted in Swahili. All I understood was that the p-value being around 5 sigma for a particle of a mass of 126GeV meant the degree of certainty was enough to point to an actual particle, per particle physicist rigorous standards. All the rest went rushing over my head.

  7. 7
    AsqJames

    Oops, tag fail!

  8. 8
    throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble

    Tyrant a-k:

    that maybe this great day was the kiss of slow death for my discipline.

    Ahh, more like the moon landing than I realised. ;)

  9. 9
    Anthony K

    Who is this “we”? Was he involved? Or is he just using overly broad strokes that allot credit where it isn’t really due? Like, ‘we as a species have all contributed to this wondrous event’?

    Oh Jesus fuck. What a knob.

  10. 10
    Moggie

    They could have timed this better: now we need to wait until Friday for an xkcd comic about it.

  11. 11
    Gregory Greenwood

    Even though I am not a physicist, every time I here someone say ‘god particle’ I feel a little stab of sympathetic pain for all those who are. It just misses the point by such a massive margin that it is firmly into the territory of ‘not even wrong’. To the best of my understanding, the Higgs field is thought to be responsible for imparting mass to matter. That is very exciting stuff, but I fail to see any connection to primitive creation mythology.

    Of course, it gets even worse when wilfully ignorant theists jump on the bandwagon. From time to time I have come across true believers who claim that the ‘god particle’ is so called because it is some kind of divine calling card – something like god’s fingerprints left on reality after he poofed it into existence with a wave of a magic wand, so far as I can tell – and that as such the discovery of the Higgs Boson will be the final proof of the existence of god that will force all atheists to accept god’s existence or reject science in its entirety. This jaw-droppingly moronic statement being delivered with all the smug, self-righteous, unjustified certitude one might expect from a chronic sufferer of Dunning-Kruger syndrome.

    It was one of those moments when you cannot reply to the statement immediately, because you are still reeling from being exposed to such a concentrated dose of teh stoopid, and it takes a moment to shake off the after effects…

  12. 12
    PZ Myers

    We: the physics community, scientists, humanity. US HUMAN BEINGS.

    Jeez. Read the article. He’s not trying to steal the credit for this discovery, and right at the beginning he says he’s present at the conference as media, not part of the team of physicists.

    What’s wrong with you that you would take a moment of shared discovery and treat it as possessiveness?

  13. 13
    Dhorvath, OM

    Woot! That is all.

  14. 14
    penguin88

    I have posted this elsewhere but I am trying to reach as many as possible so we can start my new meme as soon as possible, assuming people like it. Let’s not fight the “God Particle” term, let’s make it own own. I suggest from now on we call it “The God Replacement Particle”. I think this best describes exactly what it is and has the added feature of pissing off the theists.

  15. 15
    Christopher

    We should use the true term: the goddamn particle. Named because it was so goddamn hard to fucking find.

    Asshole editors have something against fowl language. Who knew god was a raptor…

  16. 16
    Glen Davidson

    Now for the graviton. And the one monopole created in the universe (according to some models).

    Higgs’ particle was just too easy.

    Glen Davidson

  17. 17
    Moggie

    penguin88:

    I suggest from now on we call it “The God Replacement Particle”. I think this best describes exactly what it is and has the added feature of pissing off the theists.

    In what sense does that describe “exactly what it is”?

    I mean, sure, it’s important, but even if it were proven not to exist, we’d still have no need of God. Since the Higgs has ultimate responsibility for mass, you’d be better off calling it the Pope particle.

  18. 18
    raven

    Even though I am not a physicist, every time I here someone say ‘god particle’ I feel a little stab of sympathetic pain for all those who are. It just misses the point by such a massive margin that it is firmly into the territory of ‘not even wrong’.

    I’ve always taken it to mean that god is an elusive subatomic particle that takes a $9 billion collider to see.

    Which is nothing at all like the anthropomorphic invisible sky monster of the xians.

    So you can sleep in on Sundays and stop worrying. God the Higgs particle doesn’t even know you exist or care.

  19. 19
    andyo

    Who is this “we”? Was he involved? Or is he just using overly broad strokes that allot credit where it isn’t really due? Like, ‘we as a species have all contributed to this wondrous event’?

    Are you sure you’re contributing positively to this “humanity” that apparently you so like to complain about and are above?

    PZM:

    Cool. The broad strokes of the Standard Model look OK, but there might be enough unexpected variance that some new physics will emerge from it all. It sounds like the best of all possible results from a physicist’s point of view.

    Not any of the /many/ other physicists who subscribed to a theory other than the standard model.

    Such as? (Scientists and theories.) Why shouldn’t scientists that believed in something beyond the SM not be excited about this?

  20. 20
    andyo

    The comments at the parroting of the AP release at the LAT are why this “god particle” nonsense is completely unnecessary and idiotic.

  21. 21
    LuminiferousEthan

    When the rumors starting popping up a week or so ago, I sent an email to the editor of the local newspaper asking them to please, for the love of science, refrain from calling it the ‘god-particle’. The result? Today, they didn’t even put it in quotes as they had before. “The God Particle, also known as the Higgs Boson…” Not even wrong. Completely back-asswards.

    The Globe and Mail had a great article a few months back, Please Stop Calling It The God Particle, but I can’t seem to find it again.

  22. 22
    Alex

    The comments at the parroting of the AP release at the LAT are why this “god particle” nonsense is completely unnecessary and idiotic.

    In europe those comments are usually by the same people who were busy filling all the threads of the past 3 weeks discussing the details of the european soccer cup. Go figure…

  23. 23
    Anthony K

    In europe those comments are usually by the same people who were busy filling all the threads of the past 3 weeks discussing the details of the european soccer cup. Go figure…

    According to the The Globe and Mail, Spain trounces Italy in Euro final to take third straight major title. Wow! I did not know that two entire countries could fit on a football pitch. That’s 108 million people!

  24. 24
    andyo

    The Globe and Mail had a great article a few months back, Please Stop Calling It The God Particle, but I can’t seem to find it again.

    The Globe and Mail? Wow. There’s one from io9 though:

    http://io9.com/5923170/stop-calling-it-the-god-particle

  25. 25
    andyo

    haha I took “the Globe and Mail” to be “the Globe and the Mail” my mistake.

  26. 26
    andyo

    The problem I see with the LAT comments is that since it’s a “liberal rag”, comments fluctuate between religious BS and new age crap, with a bit of conspiracy theorist on the side. At least conservative rags are consistent!

  27. 27
  28. 28
    andyo

    Haha.

  29. 29
    andyo

    Thank’s Christopher, I saw that in a facebook comment, but was unsourced.

  30. 30
    jamesevans

    @11, Gregory Greenwood

    Even though I am not a physicist, every time I here someone say ‘god particle’ I…fail to see any connection to primitive creation mythology.

    Yeah, as usual, atheists have to keep up the good fight here. Much like Einstein when he used the word “God,” or even the FF’s when they used “God” to mean Nature’s God, Leon Lederman, who nicknamed the Higgs the “god particle,” was only referencing essential/central/critical forces of nature we have not discovered/defined yet. Lederman also considered calling it the “goddamn particle” because it was so hard to find, but settled on the more publisher-friendly name. I wonder if fundies would have tried taking ownership of THAT term…

    They won’t listen, but if they would, we could stress to Bible-thumpers that Lederman—if he really meant the Abrahamic God they think they know personally (which he didn’t)—was in the end making fun of Him. Central to all we know, but playing hide-and-seek/peekaboo with us, giggling away until some convoluted, expensive contraption corners Him and forces a confession. What the hell kind of silly and useless yet, somehow magically, interventionist at the same time kind of god is that?

  31. 31
    Travis

    Having worked on ATLAS and knowing many particle physicists I would say that most want to see new physics. Seeing a standard model Higgs is boring and a problem as we need new physics in order to move on. Many do not appear to have jumped on any any one beyond the SM theory but they do hope to see something weird that will help point us in the right direction.

  32. 32
    Philip

    It just happens to be my birthday today, and I got a degree in physics a month ago. What a great birthday present! :)

    I just have to add that the “what’s the point” comments I keep seeing elsewhere piss me off. There’s a brilliant comment here that sums it up perfectly.

  33. 33
    Moggie

    Brownian:

    According to the The Globe and Mail, Spain trounces Italy in Euro final to take third straight major title. Wow! I did not know that two entire countries could fit on a football pitch. That’s 108 million people!

    That’s nothing! In 1970, there were several (cricket) test matches billed as “England versus the Rest of the World”.

  34. 34
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    Since the Higgs has ultimate responsibility for mass, you’d be better off calling it the Pope particle.

    +1 internets

  35. 35
    Paulino

    What if I say “God Particle” in Comic Sans?

  36. 36
    McC2lhu doesn't want to know what you did there.

    This poll is pretty much self-pharyngulated, but thought you might like to use it as a moment of silent protest in spirit of the momentous discovery:

    Should people stop calling the Higgs Boson the ‘god particle’?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/poll/2012/jul/04/cern-higss-boson-god-particle-poll

  37. 37
    Alex

    Since the Higgs has ultimate responsibility for mass, you’d be better off calling it the Pope particle.

    As it says in the revised paternoster,

    Higgs particula particularum est. Particulis elementaribus gravitas dat, sicut in caelo, et in terra. Amen.

  38. 38
    Gregory Greenwood

    raven @ 18;

    I’ve always taken it to mean that god is an elusive subatomic particle that takes a $9 billion collider to see.

    Which is nothing at all like the anthropomorphic invisible sky monster of the xians.

    That is a funny way of looking at it, not that I think that your average xian would be able to grasp the mockery.

    So you can sleep in on Sundays and stop worrying. God the Higgs particle doesn’t even know you exist or care.

    And indeed, much like the universe at large, would not be capable of either knowing or caring…

    That is one of the reasons why so many theists hate the inconvenient reality that every consciousness in existence requires a physical substrate so much.

    Mind/brain monism – gets ‘em every time. If they aren’t allowed to import some fuzzy, unevidenced and frankly ridiculous concept of dualism, then that is simply yet another fatal hole below the waterline for their religion before they even get started.

    —————————————————————-

    jamesevans @ 30;

    Yeah, as usual, atheists have to keep up the good fight here. Much like Einstein when he used the word “God,” or even the FF’s when they used “God” to mean Nature’s God, Leon Lederman, who nicknamed the Higgs the “god particle,” was only referencing essential/central/critical forces of nature we have not discovered/defined yet.

    Fundies naturally latch onto any reference to god by scientists, no matter how lyrical, oblique or symbolic it may be. Since they have no evidence nor even any kind of consensus as to what this god of theirs is supposed to be (let alone a testable hypothesis), what else do they have?

    Lederman also considered calling it the “goddamn particle” because it was so hard to find, but settled on the more publisher-friendly name. I wonder if fundies would have tried taking ownership of THAT term…

    That would be one of those inconvenient little facts that xians would dearly love to edit out of history, if only they still had the power to do so.

    That is why book burning is such a popular fundie pass time; they are afraid of knowledge, and in particular any medium by which information that they can neither corrupt nor control can be passed on to the next generation. When the record of a prominent persons actual words and opinions is so very easily accessible, it becomes dashed hard to subvert them and their reputation to your cause. It is the kind of thing that just ruins all those false death bed conversions stories theists keep trotting out about prominent atheists…

    They won’t listen, but if they would, we could stress to Bible-thumpers that Lederman—if he really meant the Abrahamic God they think they know personally (which he didn’t)—was in the end making fun of Him. Central to all we know, but playing hide-and-seek/peekaboo with us, giggling away until some convoluted, expensive contraption corners Him and forces a confession. What the hell kind of silly and useless yet, somehow magically, interventionist at the same time kind of god is that?

    Now I am imagining god as a senile old gent (being about for fourteen billion years can wreak havoc on your noggin, dontcha know), who likes to play hide-and-seek with those responsible for caring for him. Every time he gets out of his room next to Zeus at the Gaps Carehome for Elderly Deities and runs off, the staff have to fire up their massive particle collider and go looking for him, usually to find that he is down the garden shed again, attempting to organise the flowerpots into his all powerful heavenly host with which to defeat Lucifer once and for all (not that the carehome’s so named resident cat cares about that overmuch, being far more interested in sleeping in any handy patches of sun and trying to catch the fish in the ornamental pool at the bottom of the garden)…

  39. 39
    DLC

    first, for sc(combination to my hs gym locker) :
    We :
    landed on the moon.
    discovered teflon.
    invented the transistor.
    invented the incandescent lamp.
    Did not discover electricity (sorry Ben Franklin)
    but we did learn how to harness it.
    Is it sinking in yet? Carroll is not standing at the Higgs boson conference with a Flag planted in a Higgs boson, yelling “I Claim thee in the most holy name of The United States Of America, by grace of God President of the United States Barak Obama!”
    Fuck all, you moron, he’s using the motherfucking editorial “We” to indicate “all humanity” you stupid git.

    Second:
    This discovery is very interesting, but hardly the death of physics. What’s a Higgs “look like” ? How does it perform ?
    Is it comprised of sub-Higgs particles ? How many of them does it take to fill the Albert Hall ? These and many other questions remain unanswered. I remember people said the same thing about relativity. “Well, Einstein’s finished it, and us!”
    Now I have to go figure out how to fix a toilet.
    Yay me.

  40. 40
    stubby

    Cue the “Humans are getting too big for our britches so god will send a natural disaster to knock us down a peg” crap in 3, 2, 1…

  41. 41
    Thomathy, Such A 'Mo

    Bubbles! Bubbles for everyone!

  42. 42
    chanson

    That graphic is great!! I picked up the free afternoon paper here in Zurich, Switzerland, and saw a front-cover picture of a physicist touching fingers with the finger of God in Michaelangelo’s famous painting. My first thought was “Oh, god, they must have found the ‘God particle’”.

    Good news: Nuclear physics discovery makes the front page of the paper. (Well, the Swiss paid a damn lot of money for that Physics equipment at Cern, so I guess that helps people give a shit.)

    Bad news: It can’t make the front page without a headline like “Physiker finden Gottestteilchen”. (Key: Gott = God)

  43. 43
    epikt

    DLC says:

    Now I have to go figure out how to fix a toilet.

    Just like at the LHC, there are important parity issues to be considered when undertaking such a job: righty tighty, lefty loosey.

  44. 44
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Since the Higgs has ultimate responsibility for mass, you’d be better off calling it the Pope particle.

    I was taking a drink, damnit!

  45. 45
    davem

    So, the Higgs particle is responsible for giving other particles mass. But what gives the Higgs particle its own mass?

    Now we have 17 basic particles, does anyone else feel that 17 is not the sort of number that feels right? I reckon another 15 are hiding somewhere…

  46. 46
    Amphiox

    So, the Higgs particle is responsible for giving other particles mass. But what gives the Higgs particle its own mass?

    The Higgs field is what is responsible for giving particles mass. The Higgs boson, AFAIUT, is the particle associated with the field. Detection of the particle demonstrates the existence of the field.

    Now we have 17 basic particles, does anyone else feel that 17 is not the sort of number that feels right? I reckon another 15 are hiding somewhere…

    There’s always supersymmetry theory I guess.

  47. 47
    'Tis Himself

    Now we have 17 basic particles, does anyone else feel that 17 is not the sort of number that feels right?

    For what it’s worth, 17 is prime.

  48. 48
    Anthony K

    For what it’s worth, 17 is prime.

    ‘Tis, I keep wanting to make this joke for you but I’m sure I’ll fuck up the nautical jargon. Nonetheless,

    “Have they got a Higgs boson?”
    “Yes, now all they need is a Higgs coxswain and Higgs can set sail.”

  49. 49
    Alex

    davem,

    Things lie thusly:

    In the framework of quantum field theory, which is the foundation of the Standard Model, mass in and of itself is not a property that has the be bestowed upon particles by some complicated mechanism . It is rather a specialty of the Standard Model, that masses of the matter particles (Fermions such as Quarks and Leptons) as well as the masses of the W and Z bosons are prohibited by a fundamental symmetry of the theory – a symmetry which is essential to its internal consistency and thus cannot simply be violated without problems.(*)

    So, the Higgs mechanism modifies this symmetry in a certain way so as to allow masses for these particles, and at the same time (and this is not necessarily the same), generates them.

    The mass of scalar particles like the Higgs is not constrained by the symmetries of the standard model, i.e. it would in principle be possible to simply include a mass for the Higgs without the need for a bootstrap kind of situation where the Higgs needs to give itself a mass.

    What is done in the Higgs mechanism however, is in between the two. One purposefully gives the Higgs boson a negative mass squared value which makes the Vacuum unstable. This leads the higgs boson to develop the background higgs field which gives all other particles mass. The Higgs field in this process lifts its own mass to a positive value, and that’s the one we measure at the experiments.

    (*) compare this to Quantum electrodynamics. The electron simply has a mass in QED theory without the need for a Higgs boson, because QED has less symmetries. Only when one extends QED to weak interactions does this symmetry, and thus the Higgs boson, become necessary to explain mass.

  50. 50
    Alex

    ^ Only when one extends QED to weak interactions does this symmetry appear, and thus the Higgs boson becomes necessary to explain mass.

  51. 51
    Alex

    Now we have 17 basic particles, does anyone else feel that 17 is not the sort of number that feels right? I reckon another 15 are hiding somewhere…

    That’s because you don’t count right. You have to count degrees of freedom. There are 6 quarks which come in three colors each, and a lefthanded and righthanded component. That makes 36. Assuming righthanded neutrinos, there come 6 leptons *2, that makes a total of 48 fermionic states. That’s 16 per generation.

    Bosons: There are 8 gluon states with two polarizations each, giving 16. Then, there are the Higgs (one state), the photon (two polarizations), and the W+, W-, and Z, with three polarizations each because they are massive. This adds up to 16+1+2+9=28 bosons.

  52. 52
    garydargan

    PZ you have a serious conflict here. Your “God Particle” graphic shows that you agree with the religious who also reject the idea that God is a particle. Please explain?

    Richard Dawkins is also in trouble. In The God Delusion, he modified Bertrand Russell’s “Cosmic Teapot” model of God to reduce the teapot to the size of an undetectable sub-atomic particle. Undetectable that is if you don’t have a Large Hadron Collider.

    I will now extract my tongue from my cheek before the
    Kraken wakes.

  53. 53
    SuckPoppet

    To quote Prof Dawkins, Science is cool, and anyone who doesn’t agree can fuck off

  54. 54
    ibyea

    @Tyrant
    Hey, don’t ignore the antimatters! ^_^

  55. 55
    andyo

    To quote Prof Dawkins, Science is cool, and anyone who doesn’t agree can fuck off

    That was a paraphrase, and that was Dawkins quoting someone else. /nitpick.

  56. 56
    andyo

    oops, I’ve done it. I don’t know if Dawkins himself was quoting or paraphrasing. That’s what you get for being the word nazi.

  57. 57
    andyo

    does anyone else feel that 17 is not the sort of number that feels right? I reckon another 15 are hiding somewhere…

    Shirley you meant 25?

  58. 58
    SuckPoppet

    oops, I’ve done it. I don’t know if Dawkins himself was quoting or paraphrasing. That’s what you get for being the word nazi.

    Actually, you were correct on both counts.

    The correct quote is: “Science is interesting, and if you don’t agree you can fuck off.” ― Richard Dawkins

    Dawkins was quoting a former editor of New Scientist Magazine, who is as yet unidentified (possibly Jeremy Webb)

    Also, zomg, does your quote constitute the Godwinning of this thread??

  59. 59
    kreativekaos

    Being a strong supporter of science, and my son a big fan of Samuel L. Jackson, I concur!!

    Go ahead,..say it,.. ‘make my day’!!

  60. 60
    kreativekaos

    Just heard about the Higgs discovery this evening, and the first thing out of the network news correspondents mouths was ‘God particle’. Presumably, an unconscious person could have predicted they would be labeling it as such; a definite example of the mainstream television media feeling the need to throw in that religious edge.

    As ground-breaking a discovery as it is, it makes it sound SO much more profound, important, and legitimate,… donchaknow.

  61. 61
    davem

    Thanks Tyrant. I now understand that I don’t understand… :-)

  62. 62
    Lofty

    Hey, I heard about this result on the morning Australian ABC radio news and they didn’t mention “god particle” once!
    A miracle!!!11!!

  63. 63
    Louis

    I have skimmed this thread, no one has made the “Large Hardon Collider” joke, and I’m not about to.

    Louis

  64. 64
    'Tis Himself

    Louis #63

    Every knows you don’t fark with the quark.

  65. 65
    Eduardo Christoph

    Instead of The God Particle, I would prefer The Hitch Boson. It’s the proper nickname for the anti-particle.

  66. 66
    andyo

    I have skimmed this thread, no one has made the “Large Hardon Collider” joke, and I’m not about to.

    Overheard on the newsdesk: “I don’t care what the Higgs boson headline is, just make sure we spell Hadron correctly.”— Guardian style guide (@guardianstyle) July 4, 2012

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