What does it say about particle physics that the Higgs boson has generated so much hullaballoo lately? Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland have reportedly glimpsed “tantalizing hints” of the Higgs, which might confer mass to quarks, electrons and other building blocks of our world. Not actual “evidence,” mind you, but “hints” of evidence. “Physicists around the world have something to celebrate this Christmas,” the physicist exults in The Wall Street Journal.
Actually, the Higgs has long been a mixed blessing for particle physics. In the early 1990s, when physicists were pleading—ultimately in vain–with Congress not to cancel the Superconducting Supercollider, which was sucking up tax dollars faster than a black hole, the Nobel laureatechristened the Higgs “the God particle.” This is scientific hype at its most outrageous. If the Higgs is the “ ,” what should we call an even more fundamental particle, like a string? The Godhead Particle? The Mother of God Particle?
Lederman himself confessed that “the Goddamn Particle” might have been a better name for the Higgs, given how hard it had been to detect “and the expense it is causing.” A more fundamental problem is that discovering the Higgs would be a modest, even anti-climactic achievement, relative to the grand ambitions of theoretical physics. The Higgs would serve merely as the capstone of the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes the workings of electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces. The Standard Model, because it excludes gravity, is an incomplete account of reality; it is like a theory of human nature that excludes sex. Kaku concedes as much, calling the Standard Model “rather ugly” and “a theory that only a mother could love.”
Of course not. To read more, click here.