# A basic question about light, mass, and the Higgs field

What happens to an object when you negate the Higgs field to give an object zero mass? Does it behave like light and travel instantly without force (or is there a gap here?) I heard if you took away mass from something like a baseball it would just float. How does this reconcile with the properties of light?

Drakkith
Staff Emeritus
All massless particles would travel at c, but they would not be 'without force' as far as I know. There would still be interactions.

I heard if you took away mass from something like a baseball it would just float.

You have heard incorrectly. A massless baseball would zip away at the speed of light. Or, rather, it would explode into a huge shower of particles that would then zip away at the speed of light as the particles making it up suddenly became massless and no longer bound to each other (there are still forces, but they wouldn't be able to keep the baseball bound together).

phinds
Gold Member
2021 Award
I suspect that "negating the Higgs field" would be like "negating gravity"; something that can't be done.

In any event, "I heard ..." is not an adequate citation for PF.

vanhees71
Would these interactions change the speed or would the speed change? Isn’t the speed of light constant for all frames of reference? Sorry, I’m trying to clear up misunderstandings.

Is this connected to the idea acceleration is similar to gravity? Can you get into more detail for me?

Drakkith
Staff Emeritus
I suspect that "negating the Higgs field" would be like "negating gravity"; something that can't be done.

Perhaps, but we can simply look at a situation where the Higgs field is zero and see what happens. In such a case nearly all fundamental particles lose their mass, and several particles no longer exist, instead being replaced by a different combination of particles.

Would these interactions change the speed or would the speed change? Isn’t the speed of light constant for all frames of reference? Sorry, I’m trying to clear up misunderstandings.

They would not change the speed of massless particles, no.

Is this connected to the idea acceleration is similar to gravity? Can you get into more detail for me?

No, that's part of General Relativity. The Higgs mechanism is part of Quantum Theory. The two theories have yet to be entirely reconciled with each other.

Orodruin
Staff Emeritus
Homework Helper
Gold Member
2021 Award
I suggest you leave the Higgs field out of your question. How it gives rise to particle masses and what would happen if it was not there (or did not take a vev) is a difficult and involved discussion in itself. As was also stated, it is more high-energy physics than relativity. You also cannot "negate" the Higgs field, it is even dubious what one would mean by such a statement.

That being said, it is a prediction of relativity that massless objects travel at the speed of light.

vanhees71
Mister T
Gold Member
What happens to an object when you negate the Higgs field to give an object zero mass?

You mean make one object massless and leave all other objects unchanged? I don't think physics can answer that. You would have to change the laws of physics to describe that, so you're asking what the laws of physics tell us about a situation where the laws of physics don't apply.

Or perhaps I'm misunderstanding your question?

PeterDonis
Mentor
What happens to an object when you negate the Higgs field to give an object zero mass?

How would you negate the Higgs field? In the early universe the temperature was extremely high; but then the effects of high temperature are much more important than the effects of the Higgs field not giving particles rest mass (because the rest mass is so much smaller than the average energy per particle at that temperature that it is negligible). So if your method of negating the Higgs field is "heat everything up to the temperature it was in the very early universe", and you somehow collected enough energy to do that, then the answer to your question would be "whatever happens to things at that extremely high temperature".

If you are looking for some way to negate the Higgs field without having to heat everything up to that extremely high temperature, I don't know that one exists.

PeterDonis
Mentor
we can simply look at a situation where the Higgs field is zero and see what happens.

And what happens has to include whatever conditions are required to make the Higgs field vanish. AFAIK the only way to do that is to have an extremely high temperature, well above the phase transition temperature at which the Higgs field acquires a nonzero vacuum expectation value. And, per my previous post, at those temperatures the effects of rest mass are negligible anyway, so whether or not the Higgs field is giving particles rest mass does not matter in analyzing what happens.

Drakkith