CERN is announcing that the LHC has amassed enough evidence to provide mathematical “near-certainty” that the Higgs Boson (aka “the God Particle”) exists.
GENEVA (AP) — Scientists working at the world’s biggest atom smasher plan to announce Wednesday that they have gathered enough evidence to show that the long-sought “God particle” answering fundamental questions about the universe almost certainly does exist.
I don’t feel like trying to get into all the arcana of how they “prove” the existence of a particle. Let’s just say that it involves running literally billions of collisions, mathematically categorizing the results, and then sifting through the terabytes of data to demonstrate that the actual results of the collisions are consistent with what are predicted mathematically if the Higgs Boson actually exists.
The thing is that the Higgs is the most massive particle ever “discovered.” And as such that means it decays almost immediately into a shower of other particles. Of course a shower of particles is what you get every time you collide two massive nuclei together in a particle accelerator, so just looking at one or two, or ten or ten thousand, collision results doesn’t tell you much beyond “Yep, there’s a whole friggin’ lot of particles in there!”
The theory says that the Higgs, if created, will decay in such a way that if enough of them are created, you will see a slight shift in the distribution of particles in the resulting shower of particles.
So what CERN is saying is that “we’ve sifted through billions of collisions, and the results show that the resulting showers of particles are consistent with what the math says we can expect from Higgs Boson creation within, say, 99.5% certainty…”
Now… does that mean the Higgs Boson actually exists?
Well, I think what it shows is that there is something that behaves enough like the Higgs Boson that it might well be the Higgs Boson.
But my issue with modern particle physics is that the entire process is so opaque that it is incomprehensible to most people, even people with some significant schooling in quantum mechanics. The math is so difficult that there probably aren’t more than a dozen people in the world who can truly claim to understand the mathematical basis for the discovery.
I have no doubt that something that looks and acts like the Higgs Boson can be created by smashing heavy nuclei together at near light-speed.
What I’m not yet convinced is that the Higgs Boson plays the role it is said to play.
Basically, the Higgs Boson is the source of mass in modern quantum mechanical theory.
How it does that is beyond my level of knowledge I’m afraid. I wish I could figure it out. It might well be that everything they say is true. But I still have this nagging sense that when you generate that much energy in one tiny spot, and energy and mass are indistinguishable at that scale, calling anything that “massive” a particle is really verging on the metaphysical, not just physical world.