Why the discovery of the Higgs is so important

Reading about particle physics is just mind-blowing. This must be most fantastic, most crazy, most amazing field of physics. It is so ridiculously deep and outlandish.

‘We have reached an incredible milestone’, I read everywhere in the newspapers, ‘the Higgs particle discovered, the standard model saved, new physics, who knows, on the horizon.’ But I get uneasy reading about it. Somehow along the way from the truth (which I do not fully understand either) to the reporting, not only something is lost, everything is lost. Well, not in all newspaper articles, but in many.

The ‘standard model’, this sounds so boring and, well, standard, but it isn’t. The standard model blows my mind each time I read about it. Consider this:

1. There are only four forces in nature. Only four! When I first found this out as a teenager I was deeply shocked. Why did we not learn this at school? It was as if they did not trust us to count to four. And these four forces are very different and all so extremely important. We have gravity that allows the formation of our Earth and the Sun and the Galaxy. The electromagnetic force that binds atoms together to molecules, builds DNA and salt and water and everything that constitutes our body, from the basic elements. The nuclear force, that builds the atomic nuclei and thus the periodic table from even fewer fundamental particles, that powers our sun and thus provides in essence all energy that we have on this planet. Then we have the weak force, which is actually also very important in the fusion that is going on in the Sun.

2. The masses that the fundamental particle (of which there are about 15 or so) have exactly are incredibly important. It seems random — some fundamental particles have no mass (like the photon), some are very light (like the electron), some are very heavy (like the carrier of the weak force.) These masses determine the strength of the four forces, and thus they determine everything about our Universe, they determine whether atoms, stars, life are possible at all. For example, if the weak force was stronger, our Sun would have long run out of energy and we would not be here. If the electromagnetic force or the strong force was a tiny bit different, atoms would not exist. And yet the standard model has absolutely no clue as to *why* which particle has which mass, and thus why the forces have the strength they have! So the standard model contains huge gaps!

3. The Higgs field is incredibly important. If it were zero, the fundamental particles, like the electron, would all be massless. Atoms would not be possible. Everything would fall apart, but badly. Thus, there must be a Higgs field if the standard model is roughly correct. This has been clear for several decades now. And now that the Higgs boson seems to be discovered the researchers can start to explore this field, and, who knows, maybe even find out why the different particles have the mass that they have! I don’t think there is any question in physics that could be more fundamental than that.

Nothing that men could ever have invented could be more crazy that nature itself. No religion, no cosmology, can top this. That we human beings can actually start this understand all this is just more craziness.

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4 Responses to Why the discovery of the Higgs is so important

  1. Hi Zinemin,

    I enjoyed reading your blog and I like the way you explained such seemingly difficult concept. Perhaps you could have a look at my blog and share it with your friends?

    http://electrolights.wordpress.com/

    Regards,
    electrolights

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you I enjoyed this. It has helped me understand the significance of the event with greater clarity.

    John

  3. skyride says:

    Is the Higgs field our “aether”, which the Greeks imagine thousands of years ago? (Also, “that men could ever have invented”…? Really?)

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