Friday, December 16, 2011

Higgs boson, anyone?

what a Higgs boson might "look like"
The Higgs field works like this

Granted, I don't know anything about anything, but the Higgs field seems fishy to me.

The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland may have detected a Higgs boson, the theoretical particle that transmits the "force" of the Higgs field to all matter.  You are probably familiar with the boson for electromagnetism, the photon.

The Higgs idea, over-simplified, is that the universe is occupied by the Higgs field. Some things can pass through the field easily, hardly bothering with Higgs bosons.

 Other things are like Higgs boson magnets. They have to wade through clouds of Higgs bosons. In this way the Higgs field confers mass.  That is, we perceive more interaction with the Higgs field as mass.

Or, an elegant way to account for mass.

But a universal field smacks of the aether,  a Medieval invention that in centuries hence was employed to explain how light waves could travel through a vacuum. Physicists reasoned that water and air are necessary for sound waves, so the same mechanism must hold for light.

Michelson and Morley, two American physicists, set out in 1887 to measure the aether, or ether. To make a long story short, they did not find any evidence of ether. The theory of special relativity did not depend on ether either. Today the idea of luminferous ether seems naive. 

Mathematically, we are told, the Higgs field and boson solve the "where does mass come from?" question economically and convincingly.  

But it does sound a lot like ether, which turned out to be unnecessary and nonexistent, doesn't it?