Why scientists fear the Higgs Boson

The discovery of the particle that is most likely the Higgs Boson was met with wild-eyed excitement almost everywhere except CERN, writes physicist Glenn Starkman at Scientific American Blogs. That's because it means the theoretical Standard Model of Physics is probably on the right track. Which means there aren't any crazy inaccuracies leading to awesome mysteries that must be solved. Which means experimental particle physics haz a sad — and more than a little depressive ennui. (Via Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic)


  1. But there are crazy inaccuracies leading to awesome mysteries that must be solved! The CP violation in the standard model is far too weak to explain the amount of baryons in the universe. And not just a little bit off, its 10 orders of magnitude off. That is, about the difference between a dollar and Bill Gates’ bank account.

    1. Kinda like how he bet against black holes so if he lost the bet then awesome science and if he won free dinner?

  2. I took undergraduate Physics from this same Glenn Starkman.  Funny-ish story: I was the only person to get a particular question right on one of his weekly quizes (the answer was 2g), and he asked me in front of the class to explain this answer (I hadn’t written anything but the answer).  I said it seemed intuitively obvious, and he said that was the last time I would get credit for anything without explaining it.  

  3. To be blunt, physicists are in a rut.  It’s the old stockbroker syndrome.  The suburban fin de siecle ennui, angst, weltschmertz, call it what you will.
    I think I can definitely say that physicists badly need to be confused.

  4. There is still hope for supersymmetry; the standard model is good, but it only ties together 3 of the 4 known forces of nature. The Higgs may complete the standard model’s “particle zoo”, but it’s hardly a dead end as long as the grand unified theory still lurks out there. Not to mention we still have 85% of the universe yet to come to terms with, dark matter and dark energy are going to keep us busy for a while.

    1. Exactly. Oldershaw’s criticisms of the Standard Model in the comment section are also well worth looking at (as far as this hapless arts-law graduate can tell).

      Moreover – and I’m happy to sound very naive here – are we anywhere close to EXPLAINING quantum entanglement in terms that sound remotely sane and comprehensible, to a layman?

        1. I should have been more specific: if lightspeed can’t be exceeded, how do we explain the fact that entanglement operates instantaneously (or at any rate: millions of times faster than light speed)? I’m not aware if anyone’s proposed anything like a plausible explanation.

          1. No, it doesn’t operate “instantaneously”.  The particles aren’t communicating with one another; it just kinda “seems” that way intuitively.

            Drop a penny right now and I can tell you how fast it fell.  It’s not because I’m a clairvoyant who can see you from afar and measure the speed of the penny with my mind; it’s because the force of gravity at the surface of the earth is relatively invariant.  Quantum states are invariant in a similar way.

            Instead of thinking about entanglement in terms of FTL “communication” between the particles (which is what makes it seem so weird) think of it like this:

            I have a single cookie and I show it to you.  I break it into two pieces without you seeing how big the pieces are, then I put one piece in a box and give it to you.  You take it 500 miles away from me and then open the box.  Now you know not only how much cookie you have but how much cookie I kept for myself even though you’re 500 miles away and can’t see my piece of cookie.

            It’s a loose analogy because cookies are not quantum mechanical systems but it’s a better way to approach the problem than the “communication” model.

        2. You know how splitting a restaurant bill 7 ways doesn’t quite work, because you get round-off errors, even if you pay in pennies, which you wouldn’t?  Well quantum mechanics is like that with nature – when you look at everything up close enough to see the smallest bits, it’s got round-off errors too, and you can’t fix it by giving the waitress a bit bigger tip, so it gets really complicated instead.

      1. What’s there to explain?  It follows from the laws of QM.  The problem you’re talking about is probably not explaining it but understanding it.  Good luck.

        Contrast with Newton’s law of gravity: the force of gravity is explained by Newton’s law, but it’s still not really clear why there is such a thing as that force — except that it follows from a law that seems to be true. Entanglement is confusing because it’s counterintuitive, whereas gravity doesn’t seem confusing because it’s really intuitive (it has to be for us to navigate the surface of the earth). But apart from the idiosyncrasies of human intuition they’re completely analogous scenarios.

  5. What on earth is Dark Energy? What is Dark Matter exactly? What happened in the first few seconds of the Big Bang? There are plenty of mysteries to be solved in physics  and the beauty of scientific discovery is how it usually comes unexpectedly or has unexpected benefits. Look at how the world wide web we are all using now came from CERN for example. It’s true that the Standard Model now seems the best description of fundamental particles, but there are other areas of physics that will benefit immensely from this powerful tool.

    The LHC is the only experiment that can approximate conditions just after the Big Bang and  surely this is a subject of great interest to both physicists and people around the world.

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