Science Sundays with John Duffield: Higgs Spin Zero

I’ve read an interesting book called A Zeptospace Oddyssey. I liked it. It’s by CERN physicist Gian Francesco Giudice, who tells us about the physics of the LHC. He gives a bundle of history too, in an authoritative yet accessible text that is a veritable treasure-trove of information. And there, on page 173, is gold dust. It starts like this:

“The most inappropriate name ever given to the Higgs boson is ‘The God particle’. The name gives the impression that the Higgs boson is the central particle of the Standard Model, governing its structure. But this is very far from the truth”.

Huh? A CERN physicist says the Higgs boson isn’t central to the standard model? That doesn’t square with what we’ve been hearing. Your detective eyes narrow, because there’s more:

“The Higgs sector is that part of the theory that describes the Higgs mechanism and contains the Higgs boson. Unlike the rest of the theory, the Higgs sector is rather arbitrary, and its form is not dictated by any deep fundamental principle. For this reason its structure looks frightfully ad hoc.”


Frightfully ad hoc? Now that’s fighting talk. Gian then says mass is the intrinsic energy of a body at rest, and reminds us of E=mc² wherein Einstein said the mass of a body is a measure of its energy-content. No problem there. The problem comes when he says the Higgs mechanism gives quarks their mass, but that quarks only comprise 1% of the mass of matter. Because he ends up saying this:

“In summary, the Higgs mechanism accounts for about 1 per cent of the mass of ordinary matter, and for only 0.2 per cent of the mass of the universe. This is not nearly enough to justify the claim of explaining the origin of mass”.

Now that definitely doesn’t square with all that mystery of mass stuff we’ve had shoved down our throats. Nor does the fact that Gian thinks the Higgs boson is like the toilet of the standard model. Ever been into a house that’s been a squat? I have. I remember walking up the stairs and opening the door, wondering at the buzzing sound. Then the smell hit me and I saw the flies. There was the toilet. It was full of shit and it stank to high heaven. Come on now, have you ever sat down and thought about that cosmic treacle you’ve read about? Space isn’t like molasses, not one bit. Light doesn’t slow down and stop. Nor do electrons. Give an electron a push via Compton scattering, and it doesn’t slow down at all. Cosmic treacle is a fairy-tale. So is the celebrity at the cocktail party. Look closely at that. The celebrity on her own is supposed to be massless, and she supposedly gets her mass from people in the room. But hang on a minute, they’re massless too. So this analogy is just some turtles-all-the-way down non-explanation. A fairy tale.

For a real explanation, take a look at Einstein’s 1905 E=mc² paper Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy-Content? He refers to energy as L rather than E, but no matter, because he also refers to the electron. There’s a sentence that says like the kinetic energy of the electron (§ 10)”. Follow the link to §10 and you find yourself reading Einstein’s special relativity paper On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies. Look at the title. Then do a find on “electron” and there’s 33 matches. So you’re going to fail Forensic Physics 101 if you think the mass of a body depends upon its energy-content unless it’s an electron, whereupon it depends on something else. The bottom line is that the Higgs mechanism is at odds with E=mc². Because Einstein solved the mystery of mass over a hundred years ago, and it is incredibly simple. Bear with me:

The photon is a single light wave with energy instead of mass. It has energy like an ocean wave. The water has mass, but the wave doesn’t. Anyway, in Compton scattering some of the photon energy is converted into the motion of an electron. The thing is, you could do another Compton scatter on the residual photon, and another and another ad infinitum. In the limit there’s no photon left. When you take all the energy out of a wave, it just isn’t there any more. It has been converted entirely into the motion of electrons. And yet in pair production, you can make an electron (and a positron) out of a photon. So in a way, matter is made of motion. Or kinetic energy if you prefer. Or energy-momentum. Or just energy. Hence E=mc². And you can diffract electrons, they have a wave nature. The flip side of pair production is annihilation. That’s where an electron and a positron destroy each other, releasing light. Each is a radiating body that loses mass. Only in annihilation, the bodies lose all their mass, and then they aren’t there any more. Simple. It’s even simpler when you know about atomic orbitals, where electrons exist as standing waves”. You don’t have to be much of a detective to work out that photon energy is a measure of resistance-to-change-in-motion for a wave propagating linearly at the speed of light c, and that electron mass is a measure of resistance-to-change-in-motion for a wave going round and round at c. Especially since there’s such a thing as Dirac’s belt wherein a Mobius strip is reminiscent of spin-1/2 particles”. And a c in the Dirac equation.

People have written papers about this kind of thing, but they struggle to get past peer-review and they don’t make it into the media. Do your own research and maybe you’ll come across Light is Heavy by van der Mark and ‘t Hooft (not the Nobel ‘t Hooft). It’s all about trapping a massless photon in a mirror-box, which adds mass to that system. Open the box, and like Einstein said, a radiating body loses mass. Catch the photon in another mirror-box, and like Einstein said, radiation conveys inertia between the emitting and absorbing bodies. It all makes perfect sense when you understand the wave nature of matter and can conceive of a wave that boxes itself in. What doesn’t make sense is that the Higgs mechanism is supposed to be responsible for the mass of “fundamental” particles like the electron, but not the Higgs boson. Yes. You can read about that here and I quote: “the W and Z particles, the quarks, the charged leptons and the neutrinos must get their mass from a Higgs field. It’s not possible for them to have masses any other way. But this is not true of the Higgs particle itself”. Yes. Because the 125GeV mass of the fabulous Higgs boson comes from the kinetic energy of the accelerated protons.


You haven’t seen a picture of the Higgs boson, have you? No. There are no particle tracks because its lifetime is so conveniently short. Instead its existence is “inferred” from a bump on a graph. Not a spike, a bump. But that’s OK, it’s a five-sigma bump. The fact that this could be anything hasn’t made it into the media. Nor has the fact that what we’re dealing with here contradicts E=mc² and is responsible for only 1% of the mass of matter, but not for the mass of the Higgs boson. But the hype has made it into the media, and how. Because there are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics. And when a church needs a miracle, a church gets a miracle. Appoint a bunch of well-paid knights in shining armour to search for the Holy Grail, and you can guarantee that it will never be found. Instead they will spin you a line, and like the Higgs boson, it will be… spin zero.

13 comments on “Science Sundays with John Duffield: Higgs Spin Zero

  1. Bit Twiddler
    August 18, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    Carrying on from one of my comments in your last blog entry. I can’t find any physicists claiming that the Higgs explains more than 1% of the mass of ordinary matter. It’s never been a secret that it is only responsible for quark, lepton and W/Z masses, not in anything I’ve read or watched.

    True enough, most of the proton and neutron mass comes from the strong nuclear force (like your photon in a box analogy, except with gluon and quark fields – the “box” coming about from the fact that gluons themselves carry colour charge). But at least in the current theory you need something like the Higgs field to allow electrons and quarks to have rest mass, because they aren’t a bound state of anything more fundamental as far as experiments can tell.

    And all of this is public information – I found it, after all, and I’m just a lowly software developer. 😉

    On this 5-sigma result. In layman’s terms, what 5-sigma means (this will be familiar to a lot of statisticians and business quality professionals) is that there is only around a 1 in 2,000,000 of a signal like that being generated by random noise. AIUI, it’s the standard level of confidence required to claim a discovery in high-energy physics, whether you’re talking about Higgs bosons or new hadrons or whatever. On that basis it’s almost certain that *something* with a mass of about 125 GeV has been discovered, and so far (AFAIK) it seems to have the properties expected of Higgs bosons. As for it possibly being something else, if you are aware of some viable alternative candidates for a spinless 125 GeV particle which decays in just the way the standard model’s Higgs boson should, please share!

    • James Eadon
      August 18, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

      @BT – remember the faster than light neutrino results, that were due to a faulty cable? Those results were accurate to 6 sigma! But all it meant was that they had a six sigma level of certainty that they had done the experiment wrong.
      So sigmas by themselves are not enough, you also need independent experimental verification.
      In the case of the Higgs a the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, there were too teams operating different detectors, Atlas and CMS. As they both saw the signal, then this provided reassurance that the signal was probably the Higgs and not an artefact of the apparatus or data processing.

      • Bit Twiddler
        August 18, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

        @James – a very good point, and AFAIAA the 5 sigma level was obtained by combining the results from both teams. I suppose they’ll be able to give us a much clearer picture when they start colliding again in 2015, as to exactly what manner of Higgs particle we’re looking at. It must be an exciting period in high-energy physics just at the moment.

    • duffieldjohn
      August 18, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

      Bit Twiddler: have a read of “The Discovery of What?” by Unzicker and Jones, the authors of Bankrupting Physics. Here’s a link: . Note the acknowledgements.

      • Bit Twiddler
        August 18, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

        Hmm, it would probably take us too far afield to discuss Unzicker and Jones’ points here in detail, and some of it you and I would be unqualified to speak on anyway, but it’s certainly not a scientific paper (and I think the authors are not claiming it is), it’s an opinion piece. They’re entitled to hold their beliefs and publish them, but I’m not overly shocked it was rejected for hosting by arXiv, which is a preprint hosting server for papers awaiting publication in peer-reviewed journals, not a blog. Just my 2p-worth.

      • duffieldjohn
        August 19, 2013 at 10:29 am #

        Fair enough.

  2. James Eadon
    August 18, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    @Bit Twiddler – ” It must be an exciting period in high-energy physics just at the moment.”
    Oh the irony. The reality is that the Higgs has been reported to appear to be identical to the same particle that is described by current theory (The Standard Model). That’s bad news because it means no “new” physics, it’s the least exciting outcome.
    If you combine that outcome with the disappointment of no unexpected new particles discovered by the LHC (i.e. no surprises) then this means that particle physics is, for the first time in its history, looking to be a case of nothing to see here, please move along.

    • Bit Twiddler
      August 18, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

      @James – that’s one way of looking at it, and certainly valid – it depends what you find exciting I guess 🙂 – but it’s the physicists’ excitement I’m thinking of. As I said elsewhere perhaps I just need to get a life, but if it were me, I’d be excited just to be exploring the previously inaccessible collision energy ranges – whatever the results are, they tell us *something* we didn’t know before! No-one knew whether the Higgs boson would be found until they looked, and now no-one knows (yet) whether the particle is just the vanilla variety or endowed with odd properties (roll on, 2015). Perhaps I just have a low stimulation threshold, or perhaps it’s a case of better managing the public’s expectations?

      There have been non-Higgs related discoveries at the LHC too. While the Higgs currently has the limelight (being the last major piece of the standard model puzzle), the LHC has done far more – it has found anomalies in proton-antiproton collisions, falsified many of the proposed extensions to the SM, discovered the chi-b(3P) particle, and found anomalies in meson decays which are inconsistent with the SM (at the 4.5 sigma level). Though not as sexy as finding a particle named after a deity as far as the general public is concerned, I’ll bet that doesn’t diminish the excitement for the high-energy physicists! 😉

      • James Eadon
        August 19, 2013 at 5:53 am #

        Hi BT,
        “I’d be excited just to be exploring the previously inaccessible collision energy ranges” –
        Definitely, and all physicists were extremely excited about the LHC. But they had a “Nightmare Scenario”, which was that the LHC would find a common and garden Higgs (exciting but not too surprising) and nothing else. (Nothing else in the sense of finding a new particle or a violation of the standard model).
        There is no verified disagreement with the SM yet, though one of the experiments does have a signal that might not just be a fluctuation – but more data is needed to confirm.
        In general the nightmare scenario has happened – no new physics, and not much prospect of new physics in the near future. The LHC agrees so well with the SM that theorists reckon it might be decades before a machine is built that can discover anything beyond the SM. We don’t know at what energy the SM deviates from experiment but the LHC has seen no compelling hint of the frontier.
        Of course, as Duffield says, there are aspects of the SM itself that are fishy and that is where the next break through might come from.
        The silver lining is that the LHC has killed low energy supersymmetry and that has deflated the String theorists 😉

  3. duffieldjohn
    August 19, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    @Bit Twiddler: Have a look at Resonaances, where Jester expresses HEP concerns, and refers to headless chickens:

    @James: I wouldn’t say the standard model is fishy, it’s just hugely incomplete. But the press releases tend to say that the discovery of the Higgs boson “completes the standard model”, so the HEP community have painted themselves into a corner.

  4. James Eadon
    August 19, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    @John, “incomplete” is fine by me 😉
    The SM is a strange beast. It is too successful in that we can’t find physics that transcends it (apart from General Relativity and some tentative unexplained “charge parity violation” experimental results that are possibly different from SM predictions) and neutrino’s with mass (which extend the SM but not in a hugely radical way). GR is fun because it’s not compatible with SM but no one can figure out how to reconcile the twain. Another failing of it is that it is a “model” in that it needs too many ad hock inputs.


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