Paul's Here

Oh My God Particle

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http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/story/2012-03-07/god-particle-higgs-boson/53396440/1

More scientists are getting closer in the search for the "God particle" of physics that would help explain the fundamentals of the universe, but they haven't found it yet.

In the hunt for the Higgs boson, which is key to understanding why matter has mass, two teams of physicists using results from a now-closed American accelerator have come up with similar findings to those announced late last year by researchers at the more powerful Large Hadron Collider in Europe. While the scientists using the two accelerators have not found the elusive subatomic particle, they both have narrowed the area where it can be found, if it exists. And they know where it isn't.

........

"Globally the world is starting to see a consistent picture," said Fermi physicist Rob Roser, a spokesman for one team. "I don't think there's any place for the Higgs to hide. We'll know the answer one way or another by the end of 2012."

Isn't that when the Mayan's predicted the end of the world?

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I wish those scientifically ignorant journalists would stop calling the hypothetical Higgs Boson "the God particle". I find that very annoying.

I am of the opinion that the journalism schools get the bottom 25 percent of available students.

ruveyn

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I wish those scientifically ignorant journalists would stop calling the hypothetical Higgs Boson "the God particle". I find that very annoying.

I am of the opinion that the journalism schools get the bottom 25 percent of available students.

ruveyn

May the God Particle forgive you.

One more question. Was Jesus the son of the God Particle?

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I am of the opinion that the journalism schools get the bottom 25 percent of available students.

ruveyn

Nah - where would Education students be.....?

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More scientists are getting closer in the search for the "God particle" of physics that would help explain the fundamentals of the universe, but they haven't found it yet.

In the hunt for the Higgs boson, which is key to understanding why matter has mass, two teams of physicists using results from a now-closed American accelerator have come up with similar findings to those announced late last year by researchers at the more powerful Large Hadron Collider in Europe. While the scientists using the two accelerators have not found the elusive subatomic particle, they both have narrowed the area where it can be found, if it exists. And they know where it isn't.

........

"Globally the world is starting to see a consistent picture," said Fermi physicist Rob Roser, a spokesman for one team. "I don't think there's any place for the Higgs to hide. We'll know the answer one way or another by the end of 2012."

This is a prime example of sensationalism in media, especially for science reporting. The negative scientific report of a null result (no Higgs found) is spun in a news report as scientific progress ("getting closer in the search").

When they predict the particle to be within some window of measurement, and as that window is successively narrowed and the particle not found, it's borderline arrogant rationalism to describe this as ruling out hiding places, as if the existence of the particle is already guaranteed. Not mentioned enough is the possibility that there is no Higgs, and they need to go back to the drawing board. Who knows though, it's hard to have an idea of what's really going on if you aren't actually involved in this specific research area. Considering how much taxpayer money has been sunk into these projects, they motivated to "find" anything, to motivate further public spending.

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More scientists are getting closer in the search for the "God particle" of physics that would help explain the fundamentals of the universe, but they haven't found it yet.

In the hunt for the Higgs boson, which is key to understanding why matter has mass, two teams of physicists using results from a now-closed American accelerator have come up with similar findings to those announced late last year by researchers at the more powerful Large Hadron Collider in Europe. While the scientists using the two accelerators have not found the elusive subatomic particle, they both have narrowed the area where it can be found, if it exists. And they know where it isn't.

........

"Globally the world is starting to see a consistent picture," said Fermi physicist Rob Roser, a spokesman for one team. "I don't think there's any place for the Higgs to hide. We'll know the answer one way or another by the end of 2012."

This is a prime example of sensationalism in media, especially for science reporting. The negative scientific report of a null result (no Higgs found) is spun in a news report as scientific progress ("getting closer in the search").

When they predict the particle to be within some window of measurement, and as that window is successively narrowed and the particle not found, it's borderline arrogant rationalism to describe this as ruling out hiding places, as if the existence of the particle is already guaranteed. Not mentioned enough is the possibility that there is no Higgs, and they need to go back to the drawing board. Who knows though, it's hard to have an idea of what's really going on if you aren't actually involved in this specific research area. Considering how much taxpayer money has been sunk into these projects, they motivated to "find" anything, to motivate further public spending.

Reminds me of the police when they enter a house looking for a suspect. They yell "clear" after every room search is completed when no suspect is found. After the entire house is searched, they say, "damn, we just missed him." Only problem with the physicists is that the rooms are so damn small.

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It's good to see the physicists have gotten back to believing in certainty.

Physicists said they had discovered a new particle that is consistent with the Higgs boson, a long-sought particle crucial to scientists' current understanding of how the universe is built, although they will need additional data to pin it down with near absolute certainty.

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If they really found it and the theories used to predict it weren't more BigBang-style rationalism, then that's great and that theoretician must feel quite incredible to be vindicated after 70 years.

I really have no feelings on this at all, because it's next to impossible to know what to trust if you're not directly working in that area. Physics "research" areas like Cosmology and String Theory are rationalist garbage, while things like Nuclear theory (as far as I can tell) seem very well grounded in reality. The theory work in high-energy particle physics though is kind of in-between Nuclear physics and some of the nonsense theoretical physics, so it's hard to tell what's sensible and what's not...

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If they really found it and the theories used to predict it weren't more BigBang-style rationalism, then that's great and that theoretician must feel quite incredible to be vindicated after 70 years.

I don't know why I typed 70, it's been like 50 years.

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Unless I'm missing something here, I'm really not blown away at all:

http://www.atlas.ch/news/2012/latest-results-from-higgs-search.html

Basically that wiggle at 125GeV is supposedly the Higgs. GeV is giga electron volts, a unit of energy, which they use to indicate mass via E=mc2

It's convenient to use these units when the masses are so small in familiar units of kg or pounds.

http://www.atlas.ch/news/images/stories/1-plot.jpg

But if you didn't know already to look at 125 for something, would you really say something is there? Or is it just part of the background noise of wiggles?

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If they really found it and the theories used to predict it weren't more BigBang-style rationalism, then that's great and that theoretician must feel quite incredible to be vindicated after 70 years.

I don't know why I typed 70, it's been like 50 years.

Time flies when your having fun.

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Does

Unless I'm missing something here, I'm really not blown away at all:

http://www.atlas.ch/...ggs-search.html

Basically that wiggle at 125GeV is supposedly the Higgs. GeV is giga electron volts, a unit of energy, which they use to indicate mass via E=mc2

It's convenient to use these units when the masses are so small in familiar units of kg or pounds.

http://www.atlas.ch/...ries/1-plot.jpg

But if you didn't know already to look at 125 for something, would you really say something is there? Or is it just part of the background noise of wiggles?

Hi Carlos,

It is my understanding that many tests can be run a day; 20,000? So I would imagine that they've run more than just 1 test for the particular GeV. Could it be possible that they've run multiple and the data show in the graph is a compilation of multiple tests? I'm not a physicist, but let's say the graph is a compilation of 20,000 tests that consistently show the little bump. Would that change the level of excitement you are experiencing in relation to the topic? I hope that you can elaborate as it is a topic of interest to me but I have an insufficient grasp of physics in order to draw any conclusions of my own.

Thanks :)

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Does

Unless I'm missing something here, I'm really not blown away at all:

http://www.atlas.ch/...ggs-search.html

Basically that wiggle at 125GeV is supposedly the Higgs. GeV is giga electron volts, a unit of energy, which they use to indicate mass via E=mc2

It's convenient to use these units when the masses are so small in familiar units of kg or pounds.

http://www.atlas.ch/...ries/1-plot.jpg

But if you didn't know already to look at 125 for something, would you really say something is there? Or is it just part of the background noise of wiggles?

Hi Carlos,

It is my understanding that many tests can be run a day; 20,000? So I would imagine that they've run more than just 1 test for the particular GeV. Could it be possible that they've run multiple and the data show in the graph is a compilation of multiple tests? I'm not a physicist, but let's say the graph is a compilation of 20,000 tests that consistently show the little bump. Would that change the level of excitement you are experiencing in relation to the topic?

Yes, I don't know the number, but these graphs they are making are the result of tons of collisions. Apparently they need high energy collisions of particles to produce the Higgs, and even then there's a low probability of it forming and when it is formed it is short lived. So in otherwords the Higgs signal, even if it is there, is buried under lots of noise, so you need to run as many as possible identical experiments and see if a signal resolves out of the noise.

That in itself is OK, as Analytical Chemists do the same thing on a daily basis in spectroscopy measurements to determine what kinds of molecules you have in a substance. However in that case the Chemists have a good physical understanding (supplied by the Physicists) of where the peaks should be, how strong they should be, and why they should be there. They also have very good instruments and decades of knowledge-base to draw from, and hence they know when a wiggle is a real peak coming from something physically happening in the substance, or when the wiggle is just noise.

Looking at their graphs, it looks like a very noisy background with somewhat of a lump. That doesn't look like a very strong case to me, but granted I don't know the full details of what's going on.

I hope that you can elaborate as it is a topic of interest to me

I too find it very interesting!

but I have an insufficient grasp of physics in order to draw any conclusions of my own.

Same here! Without actually working for a while in this research area it's really hard to know what's really going on behind the scenes and behind the polished press reports.

Thanks :)

You're welcome.

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Same here! Without actually working for a while in this research area it's really hard to know what's really going on behind the scenes and behind the polished press reports.

As a general statement, academic scientists need taxypayer funding to do research, and in the current research atmosphere you get that funding more easily by reporting "positive results". This creates a bias for scientists reporting interesting positive results, even when they are irreproducible. With that said, the totality of academic science isn't a fraud, and many good things are still happening and knowledge is still being advanced (though just not as well as it could be were this done in the private sector in an ideal society). But you always need some amount of guarded skepticism of these results, as it is in their best interest to make the results look as good as possible to guarantee a steady stream of outgoing published articles and incoming federal funding.

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Here is a technical paper showing the statistical methodology used to infer the Higgs.

http://cdsweb.cern.ch/record/1174277/files/ATL-PHYS-PUB-2009-063.pdf

Strictly speaking the evidence was such that the null-hypothesis H\sub 0 (Higgs Exists) was not denied on the basis of the measurements. In indirect measurements one cannot say absolutely that an object exists. One can say the evidence is insufficient for denying that it exists. That is how it goes with statistical methods.

ruveyn

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For anyone interested, here is a brief non-technical explanation of the Higgs boson and mechanism, from the former particle physicist and Mathematica creator Steven Wolfram:

http://blog.stephenwolfram.com/2012/07/a-moment-for-particle-physics-the-end-of-a-40-year-story/

He provides an interesting dispassionate perspective, as he personally was skeptical of the Higgs mechanism for essentially his entire life.

http://blog.stephenwolfram.com/2012/07/a-moment-for-particle-physics-the-end-of-a-40-year-story/

I find the following excerpt very interesting:

Here’s how it basically works. Every type of particle in the Standard Model is associated with waves propagating in a field—just as photons are associated with waves propagating in the electromagnetic field. But for almost all types of particles, the average amplitude value of the underlying field is zero. But for the Higgs field, one imagines something different. One imagines instead that there’s a nonlinear instability that’s built into the mathematical equations that govern it, that leads to a nonzero average value for the field throughout the universe.

And it’s then assumed that all types of particles continually interact with this background field—in such a way as to act so that they have a mass. But what mass? Well, that’s determined by how strongly a particle interacts with the background field. And that in turn is determined by a parameter that one inserts into the model. So to get the observed masses of the particles, one’s just inserting one parameter for each particle, and then arranging it to give the mass of the particle.

That might seem contrived. But at some level it’s OK. It would have been nice if the theory had predicted the masses of the particles. But given that it does not, inserting their values as interaction strengths seems as reasonable as anything.

Still, there’s another problem. To get the observed particle masses, the background Higgs field that exists throughout the universe has to have an incredibly high density of energy and mass. Which one might expect would have a huge gravitational effect—in fact, enough of an effect to cause the universe to roll up into a tiny ball. Well, to avoid this, one has to assume that there’s a parameter (a “cosmological constant”) built right into the fundamental equations of gravity that cancels to incredibly high precision the effects of the energy and mass density associated with the background Higgs field.

And if this doesn’t seem implausible enough, back around 1980 I was involved in noticing something else: this delicate cancellation can’t survive at the high temperatures of the very early Big Bang universe. And the result is that there has to be a glitch in the expansion of the universe. My calculations said this glitch would not be terribly big—but stretching the theory somewhat led to the possibility of a huge glitch, and in fact an early version of the whole inflationary universe scenario.

Back around 1980, it seemed as if unless there was something wrong with the Standard Model it wouldn’t be long before the Higgs particle would show up. The guess was that its mass might be perhaps 10 GeV (about 10 proton masses)—which would allow it to be detected in the current or next generation of particle accelerators. But it didn’t show up. And every time a new particle accelerator was built, there’d be talk about how it would finally find the Higgs. But it never did.

Back in 1979 I’d actually worked on questions about what possible masses particles could have in the Standard Model. The instability in the Higgs field used to generate mass ran the risk of making the whole universe unstable. And I found that this would happen if there were quarks with masses above about 300 GeV. This made me really curious about the top quark—which pretty much had to exist, but kept on not being discovered. Until finally in 1995 it showed up—with a mass of 173 GeV, leaving to my mind a surprisingly thin margin away from total instability of the universe.

There were a few bounds on the mass of the Higgs particle too. At first they were very loose (“below 1000 GeV” etc.). But gradually they became tighter and tighter. And after huge amounts of experimental and theoretical work, by last year they pretty much said the mass had to be between 110 and 130 GeV. So in a sense one can’t be too surprised about the announcement today of evidence for a Higgs particle with a mass of 126 GeV. But explicitly seeing what appears to be the Higgs particle is an important moment. Which finally seems to tie up a 40-year loose end.

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Something everyone interested should understand is that the Higgs was never originally predicted to be around 125GeV (where it was "found" recently). In the beginning there was essentially a loosely defined range of possible values that spanned two orders of magnitude.

Back around 1980,... The guess was that its mass might be perhaps 10 GeV (about 10 proton masses)—which would allow it to be detected in the current or next generation of particle accelerators. But it didn’t show up. And every time a new particle accelerator was built, there’d be talk about how it would finally find the Higgs. But it never did.

...

There were a few bounds on the mass of the Higgs particle too. At first they were very loose (“below 1000 GeV” etc.). But gradually they became tighter and tighter. And after huge amounts of experimental and theoretical work, by last year they pretty much said the mass had to be between 110 and 130 GeV.

There was never a prediction of precisely where this particle would be found. Only "educated" guesses beforehand, which were more than likely pragmatically refined as experiments subsequently never found it. As the window of two orders of magnitude tightened, so did the theoretical predictions, until of course the first boson actually found in this window (if this is a boson they found) just happened to land where they "knew" it had to be.

This is pure rationalism. There was never a precise estimate, so nothing can be precisely determined from finding this particle. That they happened to find a particle within a "window" of two orders of magnitudes of masses says nothing for validating the theory, as that particle could exist in that mass window for any reason. There is an entire zoology of unusual particles at greatly varying masses, many of which profoundly surprise and confound the scientific community when they are found.

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I find the following discussion of the Higg's mechanism very interesting. I have added emphasis in some places with boldface.

Here’s how it basically works. Every type of particle in the Standard Model is associated with waves propagating in a field—just as photons are associated with waves propagating in the electromagnetic field. But for almost all types of particles, the average amplitude value of the underlying field is zero. But for the Higgs field, one imagines something different. One imagines instead that there’s a nonlinear instability that’s built into the mathematical equations that govern it, that leads to a nonzero average value for the field throughout the universe.

And it’s then assumed that all types of particles continually interact with this background field—in such a way as to act so that they have a mass. But what mass? Well, that’s determined by how strongly a particle interacts with the background field. And that in turn is determined by a parameter that one inserts into the model. So to get the observed masses of the particles, one’s just inserting one parameter for each particle, and then arranging it to give the mass of the particle.

That might seem contrived. But at some level it’s OK. It would have been nice if the theory had predicted the masses of the particles. But given that it does not, inserting their values as interaction strengths seems as reasonable as anything.

Still, there’s another problem. To get the observed particle masses, the background Higgs field that exists throughout the universe has to have an incredibly high density of energy and mass. Which one might expect would have a huge gravitational effect—in fact, enough of an effect to cause the universe to roll up into a tiny ball. Well, to avoid this, one has to assume that there’s a parameter (a “cosmological constant”) built right into the fundamental equations of gravity that cancels to incredibly high precision the effects of the energy and mass density associated with the background Higgs field.

So basically this theory is layers upon layers of arbitrary assumptions and semi-empirical parameters that must be tuned to make the theory work. None of these arbitrary assumptions can be experimentally tested, and the theory itself essentially offers no precise predictions which can be used to verify anything, other than the "window" of two orders of magnitude.

We can't get away with this kind of "scientific" method in the field of theoretical condensed matter physics. Even when we are forced to approximate some mathematically complicated interaction in some arbitrary assumed way, the assumption and the subsequent math and precise predictions can be validated or invalidated against a barrage of available experimental data. Regardless, it is at least expected that there be some serious reasoning behind the assumptions/approximations/parameterizations which are occurring.

Because of the sharp intellectual intolerance of the academic world I would never breathe a word of this in my workplace, but as a personal opinion for whoever cares I find this kind of research to be the same kind of nonsense as the big bang, cosmology, and string theory. It is pure rationalism, with little or no scientific method to it. These are research areas that have little or no means by which to experimentally verify theoretical claims, and this "freedom" from cross-verification with reality allows for very wild concoction of theories which have no objective means by which to be supported or discredited, and hence in the end the theories that rise to prominence probably do so due to subjective reasons based on personal aesthetic judgments of "beauty" and "elegance" in the math, as well as politics and pressure to form consensus in the academic world.

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Another random thing to consider is that this discovery is being hyped because of the "5 sigma" of statistical significance:

We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV.

Keep in mind that the now debunked claim of discovering faster-than-light neutrinos was a 6 sigma measurement:

http://blogs.discove...ight-neutrinos/

This isn’t one of those annoying “three-sigma” results that sits at the tantalizing boundary of statistical significance. The OPERA folks are claiming a six-sigma deviation from the speed of light. But that doesn’t mean it’s overwhelmingly likely that the result is real; it just means it’s overwhelmingly unlikely that the result is simply a statistical fluctuation.

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Another random thing to consider is that this discovery is being hyped because of the "5 sigma" of statistical significance:

We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV.

Keep in mind that the now debunked claim of discovering faster-than-light neutrinos was a 6 sigma measurement:

http://blogs.discove...ight-neutrinos/

This isn’t one of those annoying “three-sigma” results that sits at the tantalizing boundary of statistical significance. The OPERA folks are claiming a six-sigma deviation from the speed of light. But that doesn’t mean it’s overwhelmingly likely that the result is real; it just means it’s overwhelmingly unlikely that the result is simply a statistical fluctuation.

Type I and Type II errors abound.

That is why all scientific experiments should be accepted as provisional, at least at first.

ruveyn

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That is why all scientific experiments should be accepted as provisional, at least at first.

ruveyn

Except no one is accepting this as provisional. The particle physicists are exploding with triumphal excitement like mission control at the moon landing, saying things like "As a layman, I would say I think we have it", while non-laymen who have nothing personal invested in this can see that there are still plenty of coulds and caveats and maybes still abounding. The newspapers in the meanwhile are exploding with hysterical headlines saying without a doubt this is the real deal, and faster than light Star Trek enterprises based on manipulating the Higg's field mechanism are coming in the future now.

You don't build 10 billion dollar devices to settle theoretical physics disputes without being pretty savvy at working the public and the federal funding gravy train. All of the claimed spill-over technological benefits of dropping 10 billion are also hyped up. Yes it's true that maybe proton accelerators for cancer therapy, or superconductors for general technology use might enjoy some spill-over benefits from this. But do you know what would have given more spill-over benefits to these fields? Spending 10 billion directly on cancer therapy research or superconductor research. That could have at least more directly benefited the lives of the taxpayers who are fleeced to pay for multibillion dollar gadgets for particle physicists and string theorists.

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Carlos,

All your posts seem on the ball to me. I read Wolfram's article and despite myself not being educated in sciences I could already see some problems in what he had to say. Particularly things that seem to conflict with the Law of Identity.

I really appreciate your answers, and your posts keep me intrigued as well. Thanks again!

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I read Wolfram's article and despite myself not being educated in sciences I could already see some problems in what he had to say. Particularly things that seem to conflict with the Law of Identity.

You don't always need to be a scientist to recognize when the scientific method isn't being followed, or when science theories are corrupted with bad philosophical ideas. The backlash against Anthropogenic Global Warming theory is a great example of this, where non-PhD non-career scientists were able to blow huge holes in a theory that had been carefully crafted by some of the smartest PhD's in climate science at top-tier institutions.

Never be afraid to make up your own mind about these kinds of things. If you can reduce their method to facts and concepts known and understood at your level of science knowledge then you can validly make informed judgments and criticisms of what they are doing. In some cases though, where the math or the theory or the facts get extremely arcane, this may not be possible. Recognizing which case it is can be a sharp test on the precision of your own thinking.

I really appreciate your answers, and your posts keep me intrigued as well. Thanks again!

Thanks and you're welcome :D

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