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Science may be left totally unable to explain mass.
December 11, 2001 4:27 PM   Subscribe

Science may be left totally unable to explain mass. "The most saught after oject particle in physics, the Higgs boson, may not even exist." As devistating as it sounds to science, I just couldn't help but laugh.
posted by joshua (47 comments total)

 
Yay! Now no one can call me overweight!
posted by fuq at 4:38 PM on December 11, 2001


Why, 'cause of the spelling? :)
posted by laukf at 4:39 PM on December 11, 2001


Yeah, Catholic services are unexplainable.

Badum - CHH!
posted by o2b at 4:42 PM on December 11, 2001


No, becauce of teh lak uf prouf that i hav mas.

Note to self: Unlike the Higgs boson, the Spell Check button is easy to locate as actually exists. Must use it... For the good of humanity!
posted by fuq at 4:43 PM on December 11, 2001


(wow. how clever and witty, those comments.)

It's troubling, that such a pivotal element of physical theory could turn out to be wrong. And if it is wrong, it'll be interesting to see how well the theory that replaces it fits in with everything else we've thought was right (until now).
posted by mattpfeff at 4:54 PM on December 11, 2001


It's troubling, that such a pivotal element of physical theory could turn out to be wrong.

Why troubling? Encouraging, I should say. That's the scientific method in action. Consider it progress.
posted by rushmc at 4:56 PM on December 11, 2001


As devistating [sic] as it sounds to science, I just couldn't help but laugh.

I would hold off the chucklefest until Fermilab and/or the new LHC start whipping up particles to 130-160 GeV. I personally won't give up the ghost until 200 GeV (maybe i can severely modify my microwave...). I mean REALLY. The standard model would need to be re-written, and there aren't that many good candidates for a replacement.

[offtopic] I don't see why you'd wait until now to start laughing at science. You obviously laughed off English 101 without a sweat.[/offtopic]
posted by phalkin at 5:03 PM on December 11, 2001


Get it? He misspelled something. Comedy gold.
posted by skallas at 5:19 PM on December 11, 2001


The New Scientist article about this is here, with an editorial here.
posted by paladin at 5:51 PM on December 11, 2001


Why use spell check? That's what Metafilter is for.
posted by joshua at 6:14 PM on December 11, 2001


Why use spell check? That's what Metafilter is for.

I thought it was for talking about pancakesintellectually-stimulating miscellanea.
posted by Marquis at 6:20 PM on December 11, 2001


The Higgs boson was vitally important, being the only particle that was never used to get Janeway & Co. out of a jam on Voyager.
posted by gimonca at 6:29 PM on December 11, 2001


what happens if the particle doesn't exist? will we evaporate? I don't want to evaporate (maybe)!
posted by mcsweetie at 6:50 PM on December 11, 2001


MeTalk
posted by skallas at 6:53 PM on December 11, 2001


Could someone who has a deeper understanding of particle physics than I do (You out there, Steven or Dan?) clue a brother in on the possible repercussions if the Higgs-Boson is found not to exist? Specifically, could this be used with any validity by creationists to lend creedence to their arguments?
posted by Optamystic at 6:54 PM on December 11, 2001


I don't think these "scientists" are looking hard enough. I found Higgs Boson after a little bit of Googling. Sheesh.
posted by billder at 7:18 PM on December 11, 2001


Keep looking guys, you already have the answer.
posted by aaronshaf at 7:31 PM on December 11, 2001


::: rolls his eyes :::
posted by rushmc at 7:37 PM on December 11, 2001


Opt: Almsot all arguements over creationism vs. evolution is about evolution (which most creationists don't understand in the first place). I doubt many creationists would even know the first thing about the Higgs-Boson or know the first thing about phyics for that matter.
posted by jmd82 at 8:01 PM on December 11, 2001


The Waldegrave Higgs Challenge: In 1993, the then UK Science Minister, William Waldegrave, issued a challence to physicists to answer the questions 'What is the Higgs boson, and why do we want to find it?' on one side of a single sheet of paper. Bottles of champagne were awarded to the five winning entries at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

The five winning entries are here.
posted by liam at 8:07 PM on December 11, 2001


I doubt many creationists would even know the first thing about the Higgs-Boson or know the first thing about phyics for that matter.

jmd82: With all possible respect, that's an ignorant stereotype that merely serves to reveal that your understanding of the controversy is probably severely lacking in depth.
posted by gd779 at 8:11 PM on December 11, 2001


The Higgs particle is the simplest viable solution to a class of symmetry problems encountered in unifying two basic forces in physics - the electromagnetic and the weak force.

There are several alternative solutions but most introduce too much other clutter (e.g. extra dimensions or a fleet of new particles). The problem with declaring that the Higgs boson does not exist is that it is notoriously difficult to show nonexistence. I'm not joking. The mass of the Higgs Boson does not arise naturally from Higgs theory. In fact, its the other way around - the mass of the Higgs boson (or bosons since there are probably more than one) will tell us a lot about the kind of universe we live in.

This is no stumbling block for physics. The Higgs boson lies at the edge of what we know and can predict. Its existence or nonexistence are both equally interesting and should help guide theorists working today in the right direction toward a fuller theory of matter and space.

Some physicists regard the Higgs as a 'kludge' to repair a broken symmetry (in particular the mass difference between the carriers of the em force (photons) and the weak force (W,Z particles)). Its true that it still doesnt explain many things including why particles have the mass that they do There is much beyond the standard model - everyone agrees with that.

Also, the consensus in the physics community is that the Higgs will be found. Why? Its too beautiful not to be true. A misguided Ptolemaic notion, I know but one which has guided much of modern physics.
posted by vacapinta at 8:36 PM on December 11, 2001


gd779, what depth? "Creation theory" fails as a theory because its root assumptions are based on faith and scripture and the rest of it is very shoddy science. Creation theory is a reaction to evolution for the most part and rarely if ever gets into subatomic particles and their significance in Christian mythology.

There's a decent FAQ on creationism and evolution here.

Any calls to religious philosophy because the Higgs boson hasn't been found or physics as we know it is fataly flawed is just another 'god in the gaps' attempt at explaining everything of mystery with religious preconceptions.
posted by skallas at 8:45 PM on December 11, 2001


They are inviting that type of speculation by calling it the "God Particle" and that makes me nervous.
posted by UrbanFigaro at 8:53 PM on December 11, 2001


The Particle Adventure is a simplified introduction to particle physics.
SciAm Ask an Expert on the Higgs Boson
Particle Data Book
posted by iceberg273 at 8:54 PM on December 11, 2001


Old Science news article is a much better link.

The problem with New Scientist is that it usually aims for inducing awe not dispersing actual knowledge or facts. Science, according to them, is being completely overturned on a monthly basis. I think last month it was Wolfram overturning all of 20th century physics.
posted by vacapinta at 9:00 PM on December 11, 2001


They are inviting that type of speculation by calling it the "God Particle"

The title, of course, was supposed to be funny.

When the physicist Leon Lederman titled his 1994 book about the Higgs boson, The God Particle, Robert Park of the American Physical Society criticized him for "pandering" to people's yearnings for a glimpse of God. (Park had missed the fact that the title was in jest.) source
posted by iceberg273 at 9:03 PM on December 11, 2001


Thanks, for all of the great links, ya'll. I've got my night's reading cut out for me.
posted by Optamystic at 9:08 PM on December 11, 2001


Boy I realize how much I don't know when I try to read about this stuff. I can hang for a while, but the deeper into it I go, the more I wish Venus Flytrap would come out and start explaining atoms to me a gain. That was a model I could get my head around.
posted by willnot at 9:36 PM on December 11, 2001


gd779: Try an experiment. Go into a Christian chat room where almost all of them are creationists (this is from personal experience of going in these chat rooms). Now, ask them to discuss creationism and specifaically the Higgs-Bosom. See how many of them would actually know what u're talking about. If anything, they would start to attack you and fail to recognize the arguement. I know many creationists, and when i asked them about the Higgs-Bosom or anything relating to physcis, they go back to The Bible and don't know what the hell i'm talking about.
posted by jmd82 at 9:40 PM on December 11, 2001


I know many creationists...

And there's your flaw right there. You can't possibly form a coherent picture of the scientific foundation of an intelligent design argument by going into a religious chat room and taking a poll. I could just as easily, and as honestly, say that I know a great number of evolutionists who are blithering idiots that only accept evolution because they're pissed off at Christians. I certainly know a lot of evolutionists who don't know what the Higgs boson is; that doesn't invalidate evolution as a concept.

My understanding is that, as skallas correctly points out, "creation science" is largely a religion in search of scientific support. And that's bogus, any way you look at it. Science is supposed to be objective. However, the lack of objectivity in that particular movement in no way invalidates the serious challenges that have been mounted against evolution as a viable theory.

And that was my point; stereotyping everybody who disagrees with you based on your "man on the street" experience is always ignorant. Because the same thing could easily be done to you. For every gun nut there's an irrational anti-gun zealot; for every slash-and-burn capitalist, there's an eco-terrorist willing to kill to protect nature. Just try and understand the depth of the issues, especially the position of your opponent, before dismissing them out of hand.
posted by gd779 at 9:59 PM on December 11, 2001


My question is at what point do you move from a stereotype to a fact? The fact is that creationists or evolutionists, The vast majority of people wouldn't know the first thing about this theory. Its not a stereotype, its just the way it is. And, i don't disagree, i partially agree w/ creationism as everything had to come from something. I don't believe the matter in the universe was just "created". I believe some force was behind the creation of the universe- God.
I still don't understand that concept of understanding the depth of the issue. I've studied Creation vs. evolution both in school and out of school, yet every argument has been based upon evolution, not physics. That is why i made the point that a creationists (or evolutionists) most likely knows the first thing about complex physics theories
posted by jmd82 at 11:23 PM on December 11, 2001


> and when i asked them about the Higgs-Bosom...

Hypothetical subatomic breasts?
posted by pracowity at 11:26 PM on December 11, 2001


oops, creationists (or evolutionists) most likely do NOT know the first thing about complex physics theories (Higgs Bosom in this case)
posted by jmd82 at 11:57 PM on December 11, 2001


[random retort in passing] Odd how all the "creationists" doubt the overwhelming evidence of evolution and natural selection, and yet nobody in Alabama's board of education doubts the existence and methods of AIDS virus, which is the most patently obvious proof of evolution that I can think of.

Horrid thought: Or do they?
posted by Hypnerotomachia at 12:12 AM on December 12, 2001


Obviously, we like things to be nice and simple, and the appearance of the Higgs Boson at the expected energy would have been nice. But the whole point about science is that it can cope with these little stumbles. We decide that the original theory must be modified in some way, or replaced by another theory, then we look again. Creationism or creation science offers no such objectivity. It's ludicrous to say that the non-appearance of the Higgs Boson is one up for creationism.

In any case, I'm not sure that discovering the Higgs Boson would actually allow us to understand mass any better. All it would do is put mass one further particle down the line. It's like layers of an onion, we keep peeling away, and we have no real idea what's at the core.
posted by salmacis at 1:01 AM on December 12, 2001


...the serious challenges that have been mounted against evolution as a viable theory.

Actually, there haven't been any such serious challenges, and anyway evolution has been widely accepted by biologists (as all the empirical evidence is there to be seen) since way before Darwin. Do you have any links to serious flaws with it (evolution, not neccesarily Darwinian speciation)?

Also, talking about the "controversy" between Creationism and Evolution Theory is like talking about the controversy between the Aristotelians and the Copernicans.
posted by signal at 1:10 AM on December 12, 2001


The Waldegrave Higgs Challenge

Keen! This is just the kind of thing science ministers ought to be doing -- successful accomodations of complex science are really very difficult to write, and science journalists tend to sensationalize their subjects, as seen in the BBC article linked as the start to this thread. Yet without the accomodations, the public (including scientists with specialties that don't encompass the work at hand) has little to no access to the ideas. Specialists should be encouraged to write for audiences beyond their own field, and challenges of this sort are a charming way to do so.
posted by redfoxtail at 6:22 AM on December 12, 2001


Also, the consensus in the physics community is that the Higgs will be found. Why? Its too beautiful not to be true. A misguided Ptolemaic notion, I know but one which has guided much of modern physics.

If I remember my history of science correctly, in the late 19th century, the concept of the ether was vitally important to the physics of the time and was universally accepted. An experiment was devised (by two physicists with names beginning with "M", I believe) to confirm the existence of the ether, and it failed. So the physicists came up with something else. Is this situation really any different from what was going on then?
posted by anapestic at 7:15 AM on December 12, 2001


And if I remember my history correctly, "phlostigon" was in the middle of a very similar situation about a century before "ether" was.
posted by gimonca at 8:13 AM on December 12, 2001


don't forget Caloric
posted by signal at 10:11 AM on December 12, 2001


I think your thinking of the Michaelson-Morley experiment, anapestic.

I agree, that's what's so exciting about this. A negative result is as useful as a positive result when it comes to cutting edge physics, even though it's pretty much impossible to prove the non-existence of something.
posted by sauril at 10:37 AM on December 12, 2001


"phlostigon"

phlogiston

Scientific theories all evolve, and there's nothing tragic in discovering the need to refine them. What's interesting about this case is that so many high hopes for accounting for what seems to be such a fundamental element of nature seem to have been pinned on a quasi-religious belief in an otherwise dubious aspect of modern physical theory -- not to mention the possibility that a more rigorous account of mass might have troubling implications for related, existing theories (if they have to be reworked to fit in with it).

(I'm not sure I believe all that but it was the ugliest sentence I could put together on such short notice.)
posted by mattpfeff at 10:42 AM on December 12, 2001


As a committed idealist, I am not surprised. THERE IS NO MASS! The world is pure thought.
posted by quercus at 1:02 PM on December 12, 2001


THERE IS NO MASS! The world is pure thought.

/me kicks a rock. I refute it thusly!

Or something. Great article, thanks for pointing it out. I've really been enjoying the "hunt for the Higgs boson," and it's certainly an interesting theory to read about -- and just like the ether, or phlogiston, or most things, whether or not the theory proves accurate is much less interesting than the results in either case.
posted by j.edwards at 3:36 PM on December 12, 2001


In other news, LucasFilms released a press report detailing US Patent #256695878 dealing with Midichlorians. The patent covers the discovery and implementation of Midichlorians, a form of life found all around us.

Jim Fowler, a spokesperson with LucasFilms was quoted as saying, "Midichlorians are microscopic creatures that long ago took up residence in the bodies of humans and all other creatures. They're symbiotic organisms that live in all our cells." When pressed for an explanation of why the creature Fowler announced was similar to the long theorized Higgs Boson, he replied, "We appreciate any assistance from the international community in proving the existence of Midichlorians. However, our records prove that we discovered Midichlorians, which some might call Higgs Boson, long before those at Cern did."

"Furthermore, we would like to extend our congratulations to the scientists at their 'discovery' which corroborates our already long-known theory." Scientists from around the world were appalled that LucasFilms was awarded a patent for a phenomenon with years of prior art. Scientists were further outraged by Episode I: Phantom Menace, the music video at the end of Return of the Jedi, and the complete lack of nudity of Queen Amidala played by Natalie Portman.

The patent records the time and place of discovery as "a long time ago, in a land far, far away." The patent record then continues on for another 2:15 with bad direction and a dependence on overused story lines. LucasFilm's website was also reportedly brought to a standstill today by what experts call the "Slashdot Effect" a form of Distributed Denial-of-Service Attack. The FBI, CIA and Secret Service were dispatched to track down and prosecute those responsible for today's attack.
posted by plemeljr at 4:02 PM on December 12, 2001


signal: Well, there's always the Discovery Institute. Also, shylock and I had a conversation about this recently (starting here). Though, frankly, I learned a lot from talking with shylock, and I now wish that I could refine some of what I said.

As I learn more and more about evolutionary theory, the main thing that I realize is that the issue is not as black and white as some people would like to believe.
posted by gd779 at 9:30 PM on December 12, 2001


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