Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Higgs and Time

It's coming up on a year now since the confirmation of the Higgs particle and field. This was an exciting reaffirmation of the Standard Model of modern particle physics. But after a year of refining measurements, it seems the version of the Higgs found fits too well with the current model and offers no hint of any unexpected strangeness that could lead physicists to further insights and discoveries. The Higgs mass has been determined to be 125.7 GeV (gigaelectronvolts). Quite remarkable measurement but one that agrees so perfectly with the Standard Model that it leaves little room for current theories that tried to go beyond it to a more unified physics. Most varieties of supersymmetry and string theory – the simpler, more beautiful ones that physicists prefer – cannot meet the constraints imposed by the Higgs value. The current model cannot account for gravity or relativity and can't explain dark matter or dark energy. This means that while it can explain very well 5% of the universe, it cannot say a thing about the remaining 95%.

But it may be even more interesting to ponder the fact that the particle that gives other particles mass also has a mass. The Higgs field interacts with some particles (the quarks) and gives them mass while others (neutrinos and photons) are lightly or un-affected and have little or no mass. But if the Higgs interaction gives mass, what gives mass to the Higgs? This is another of the strange places that our modern science leads us. (Are you watching St. Thomas?)

Mass may also be at the root of time. Things with mass cannot travel at the speed of light and therefore exist immersed in time. Things without mass do travel at light speed and therefore are not subject to time. It's as if mass is really a measurement of the degree to which stuff is trapped in time, separated out of what would otherwise be an eternal now. Or to put it another way, introducing mass is a way to throw things out of heaven and down to earth?