Archive for the ‘Physics’ Category

God Particle Atheism

September 9, 2008

"Mexican Hat" Higgs Potential There’s a good article in Slate today about the Higgs boson, and why we shouldn’t be surprised when the Large Hadron Collider doesn’t find it (assuming of course that the LHC doesn’t destroy us all when they fire it up tomorrow). I say it’s good because it says exactly what I’ve always thought about the Higgs particle: it’s an ugly mathematical hack, merely the simplest thing Weinberg and Glashow and Salam had handy to make SU(2) × U(1) electroweak theory work1. “God Particle” indeed. Please don’t believe this sort of thing (found just now by googling):

Specifically, the Higgs boson, the most elusive speck of matter in the universe. Often called the God particle, it’s supposed to be the key to explaining why matter has mass. Physicists believe that Higgs particles generate a kind of soupy ether through which other particles move, picking up drag that translates into mass on the macroscopic scale. The Higgs is the cornerstone of 21st-century physics; it simply has to be there, otherwise the standard model of the universe collapses.

The last sentence is, as far as I can tell, drivel. Actually, the collapse of the standard model would be just fine; it’s kind of a kludge, really, neither complete nor elegant.

For the record, I’m not expecting the LHC to find any squarks or sleptons either.


1. Actually the general mechanism is neat; it’s the specifics that are ad hoc and inelegant.


Also in the New Yorker

July 16, 2008

An article (they only have the abstract online) about Garrett Lisi, the surfer dude physicist with the E8 Theory of Everything. My own worthless comments (from before I started blogging) are here. I haven’t thought about it or kept up with new developments (have there been any?) since I wrote that, so I have no updates to make.

The New Yorker article quotes MIT math professor Bertram Kostant:

It is easy to arrive at the feeling that a final understanding of the universe must somehow involve E8, or, otherwise put, nature would be foolish not to utilize E8.

Kostant is practically the Platonic form of “brilliant and eccentric MIT math professor.” I took what was supposed to be a Lie algebras course from him. It turned out to be… I never figured out what exactly. I mostly had no idea what he was talking about, but it was entertaining having it all go so far over my head. At the time he was working on his own Theory of Everything, based (IIRC) on SO(3, 3) and how it sits inside SO(4, 4). SO(4, 4) was nice because of triality (what that might have to do with physics I was never even close to figuring out, and may not have been important to Kostant), and I’m sure there was some beautiful reason to pick the (3, 3)/(4, 4) real forms. “If only I could figure out what to do with the extra two time dimensions…”