16 March 2009

Higgs Mass Bounded

The Higgs boson is one of two particles (the other is the graviton, which would be a particle that would transmit the gravitational force in the same way that a photon transmits electromagnetism), predicted by the "Standard Model" which has not been discovered. It would explain particle mass and inertia.

I'm among a minority of those with an opinion who think that it probably doesn't exist (although honestly, I suspect that most people have never considered the issue or don't know that the issue exists, and hence have no opinion).

The possible range of masses for the Higgs boson, if it does exist, has been narrowed.

Physicists announced March 13 that . . . the particle’s mass window, indicating with 95 percent certainty that the Higgs cannot have a mass between 160 and 170 GeV. That means the Higgs could only range between 114 and 160 GeV, or between 170 and 185 GeV.

The Large Hadron Collider will likely settle the question definitively, but closed for repairs shortly after it opened (PhD comics had laugh compelling coverage of this hurry up and wait event).

My reasons for thinking that a Higgs is unlikely are essentially the same as those that favor loop quantum gravity (LQG) theories over more traditional quantum gravity theories. Both the Higgs and the graviton deal with phenemona that general relativity treats as functions of open space itself, as an approach that makes "background independence" easier to accomplish in a mathematically rigorous theory, which is why LQG approaches the issue in a way that describes the underlying nature of time-space. Achieving background independence and other properties of time-space under general relativity with particles is a more difficult, and possibly mathematically impossible task.

LQG also provides a natural way to explain the four dimensionality of time-space as an emergent phenomena at a macro-level (the dimensionality of time-space at a quantum level is less well defined), a plausible way to explain some of the weirdness of quantum mechanics with a time-space structure that is not perfectly local at the quantum level (i.e. some seemingly distant points are directly adjacent to each other quantum mechanically), an explanation for something very similar to the gravity of general relativity, and the suggestion that matter itself may be essentially lumpiness in time-space itself rather than different in kind.

In short, LQG doesn't sorely need new undiscovered particles in the way that the Standard Model and most string theory based models do. So, a definitive ruling out of the existence of the Higgs boson in the two remaining mass windows that fit the Standard Model concept of the particle could very well tip the balance of theoretical physics towards LQG and away from currently leading theories in the theoretical physics community.

Now, of course, someone would quickly come up with some alternative to the Higgs that is a less radical departure from the majority view, indeed, I'm sure that someone has already done so. But, any replacement theory would not have nearly the momentum of the Higgs boson idea. Then again, the LHC could offer up "new physics" that send scientists in entirely different directions as well. After all, in the "good old days" of science, people got unexplained evidence first, and theories second, and we could surely do so again. The current era of multiple theories that all explain the evidence equally succesfully can be tiresome.

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