Sunday, 15 July 2012

Higgs Boson

Little bit late with this, but it seems they have confirmed the existence of the Higg's Boson at CERN. Note that haven't discovered it, it has been there all along, but for various technical reasons it is very hard to see.

However most of the reporting of this event seems to be quite poor at explaining what the fuss is about. The Higgs Field was postulated to explain how other particles obtain mass, which is fair enough. But as far as I can see they really mean inertia, or possibly inertial mass. This is not actually too difficult to grasp, if you push against an object its quite hard to get it moving. This is because the object in some sense is dragging against the Higgs Field. This is the phenomenon known as inertia. Note however, this simplistic explanation struggles to explain why things keep moving once they start - dragging against a field ought to mean that once the force is no longer applied they ought to slow down again, but they don't. So not the perfect description but it gets you started.

However mass apparently comes in two forms - inertial and gravitational. Whilst the Higgs Field seems to give a quantum explanation of inertial mass it says nothing at all about gravitational mass. In fact as I understand it theorists are nowhere near a quantum theory of gravity. Why is this important? Well as far as we can see gravitational and inertial mass are identical. Surely the explanation of one must say something about the other?

As for an application, well that's very hard to see. People argue that when Thomson discovered the electron no-one envisaged modern electronics, so perhaps there will be applications to come, but its still hard to see what they might be for the Higgs field. The one obvious application is to find a way to neutralise the field. This would have the effect of removing inertia from mass; the effect of this could be profound, for example immense speeds may be possible without violating relativity. On the other hand all chemical action, including life, may cease as well! Not so useful, still you could do something like send a probe to the centre of the galaxy, let it take photos then bring it back. All in a few days, not bad really. And whilst we're thinking about this, I should add that such a device has already been proposed. Sadly in fiction only, but its called a Bergenholm, after the scientist who perfected it, based on the work of Rodebush and Cleveland who's inertialess drive worked but was unpleasant to use. To find out more, read the Lensman series of books by EE "Doc" Smith.

On the other hand, perhaps neutralising inertia might stop the flow of entropy. For an exploration of that see Larry Niven's stories.

And a final point - perhaps the reason things don't slow down in the Higgs Field they way they don't speed up is that somehow particles don't react with the field under certain circumstances, such as when an accelerating force is removed. This may be the clue to stopping particles reacting with the field at all. If true, remember you read it here first.