Monday, February 22, 2016

Broken Symmetry – An Interlude on Potholders and the Big Bang

Was working on finishing a potholder recently – on one of those old-fashioned hand looms – and ran out of the colors I needed to finish it in my preferred manner. I usually like to do symmetrical color schemes where warp and woof mirror each other. But this time, though I thought I planned it out properly, I came up short on a key color. I thought of trying to hide the misalignment by using a near match but that didn't seem right. I eventually decided to just break the symmetry in a way that suggested a kind of purpose. It later occurred to me that this might have been at work at the Big Bang as well.

When the energy released by the Big Bang cooled enough to allow the appearance of charged particles, an equal amount of matter and anti-matter should have been created. But if that had been the case, the two would have combined in mutual annihilation. This obviously didn't happen since we are here. For some reason, the symmetry broke. So far, every measurement seems to confirm that particles of matter and their anti-matter counterparts are identical except for charge. So how did matter baryons come to outnumber anti-mater baryons and thus survive annihilation to form the observable universe? Now maybe – and here come the potholder point – there was simply not enough of something. Perhaps the very singularity that expanded into the Big Bang was already imprinted with some characteristic that meant less of one flavor of charged particle than the other, just as it seems different particles were imprinted with varying degrees of stickiness in the Higgs field?

The search for the physics determining the basic constituents and constants of the universe may simply have reached the point of having to think about these matters in a different way

                                                       The potholder in question

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