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Higgs Boson Confusion

  1. Jan 2, 2014 #1
    Hi, please could someone kindly answer a few questions regarding the higgs boson. Everywhere I read about this topic I seem constantly faced with information that is not consistent. I have focused on sources (mainly YouTube videos) of well known physicists and other Physics Forum threads in an attempt to get a truer understanding. From what I gather, the Higgs field is what gives the particles their mass not the higgs boson. However, some people seems to suggest that the Higgs field is composed of virtual particles called higgs bosons. This link () is from a physicist at fermi lab who says that the higgs field is made up of higgs bosons where I am guessing he means virtual higgs bosons? But a higgs boson that is detected in the LHC is apparently a real higgs boson. This is where I am becoming confused. So I guess the main questions I have are:

    Can the higgs field really be interpreted to be made up of virtual higgs particles. So when one talks about interacting with the higgs field can this be thought of as an exchange of virtual higgs bosons?

    What does a real higgs boson actually do as it seems you only get them in the LHC?

    If the field is responsible for the mass then what role does the higgs boson itself actually have?

    Thank you for any help given.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 2, 2014 #2
    The Higgs boson it's self has a small role. You can think of it having no role, but there are more technical requirements like WW scattering.

    I haven't listened to the fermion link but I am reckoning they are talking about imaging what the equation of the mass term looks like. For this you can imagine fermions coupling to virtual Higgs, if it helps.

    For fermions the mass comes from the Higgs field sandwiched between left and right handed fermion fields. For gauge bosons the mass comes from the broken generator from symmetry breaking of su2 x u1 gauge symmetries at the electroweak transition.

    Interpreting these things in other ways is possible, but potentially confusing if you have not a lot of experience with field theory
  4. Jan 2, 2014 #3


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    I would avoid that picture.

    Nothing relevant today. The more interesting discovery is the Higgs field, and the real particle is the way to study the field.
  5. Jan 4, 2014 #4
    Thanks for your answers. If real higgs bosons decay really quickly then there would be none around today but how could they predict a particle that isn't around anymore? I understand the importance of the field but what relationship does the higgs boson have to the field as there seems to be a field there anyway without the need for a higgs particles?
  6. Jan 4, 2014 #5
    Predicting particles that aren't around today takes insight and a bit of luck in model building.

    The prediction of the higgs boson is necessary, if the process for generating gauge boson masses (W Z) and fermion masses is the higgs mechanism. There are strict relations between W, Z bosons and the vacuum expectation value, however the higgs boson is kind of a remnant of the higgs mechanism.

    So in fact, measurements of the W and Z bosons, already hinted at the presence of this higgs boson - the higgs mechanism was the most likely candidate for explaining where these masses came from - though for nature, it may not have been correct.

    For our universe, it was recognised that there was a gauge symmetry of SU(2)_L x U(1)_Y which if spontaneously broken to U(1)_EM can account for the W and Z masses. A result of the implementing the higgs field as an SU(2) doublet meant that 3 of 4 degrees of freedom each become the W+, W- and Z mass while the remaining one is the higgs boson. This is why Higgs and Englert won the nobel prize after the discovery of the higgs boson. It confirmed that this was the true mechanism.

    Though, this may not be the whole picture... there may have been some larger gauge symmetry present earlier in the universe. These sort of details are things that many people work on now and that the LHC experiments look for signs of!

    I hope this helps a bit.. if not I can try again or leave it to someone else.
  7. Jan 4, 2014 #6


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    We see the effects of the field (particles have mass), and you cannot have the field without the particle.
  8. Jan 4, 2014 #7


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    That's why you need a collision in the LHC -- to produce one! :smile:
  9. Jan 5, 2014 #8

    The "predictions" like this one come from the need for physical theories to be logically consistent. Math is a strict subject, there is no place for handwaving (as opposed to philosophy or religion).

    The Higgs was predicted to exist because Standard model theory has a part which explains how particles acquire rest mass. This part has such a form that it says "also, there should be yet another particle with such and such properties". That's Higgs boson.

    The whole business with finding Higgs boson is about testing whether we do in fact see what SM predicts. If we wouldn't see Higgs, it would mean that that part of SM does not match physical reality, and theorists need to go back to their whiteboards and devise alternative explanations.

    It may very well be so that real Higgs bosons don't have any important role in making Universe work. They can be created only because Nature is a good mathematician and dutily makes it exist because laws of physics say it must.
  10. Jan 7, 2014 #9
    Philosophy in the same list as religion? Ouch...you forgot to include science in your short list, even logically "strict" science like physics. handwaving aka - postulates/axioms

    Also the standard model isn't arranged by mathematics. The were a bunch of particle discoveries in the 60's and took bright philosophical thinking, that is logical thinking to form a rational argument, perhaps supported with math. Forming a "mess" of empirical evidence into something logically consistent is a realm of philosophy; not mathematics (generally speaking from the perspective of forming a theory)

    Mathematics didn't form the logical & rational structure of the various element periodic tables

    Religion is from a whole other realm then science, math and philosophy.
  11. Jan 7, 2014 #10
    Philosophers tend to not bother themselves with proving their postulates.

    I am mathematician by education. When I was in Uni, after linear algebra, calculus, probability theory lectures etc the lectures about philosoply were always feeling weird. "When this guy [the lecturer] will start proving his 'theorems'? Talk's cheap, and without trying to prove the stuff how do you know you aren't taking a false conjecture as truth??"

    I can tell you that almost all my fellow math students felt the same.

    Theoretical physics, just like math, doesn't work that way.
  12. Jan 7, 2014 #11
    A postulate isn't meant to be proven, and is postulated specifically for this reason. At least that's how I read it.
    And " linear algebra, calculus, probability theory lectures" are mathematical, those lectures are not comparable to philosophy lectures, and you shouldn't have have expected them them to be.

    That said, no doubt the realm of philosophy has a disproportionately large amount of "opinion" compared to the sciences. That however is not the fault of philosophy itself, but the "philosopher". I don't wanna get into things like bias and predisposition.

    Talk is cheap and all those philosophy lecturers where doing is "talking" as opposed to reasoning well then you weren't in a philosophic lecture.

    Good philosophers are few and far between, I'm sure most use the doctorate mostly as a form of presuming an authoritative opinion, which I see as completely opposed to principals of science and philosophy. i.e. just because so and so said it, doesn't make it "true". The main difference of "true" being reproducible experiment and reproducible conclusions via logic/reasoning. So in other words, good on ya for questioning "how do you know you aren't taking a false conjecture as truth"....though the same could be said for many things in physics/cosmology too, of course we don't ever know everything, however must agree on a starting basis, lest any discussion be pointless.

    This is far far far from the conjecture there is an intelligent designer that made everything we know of. That's too far a stretch from reality for playful thought even for a philosopher.

    So is my point to not spoil the "craft" of philosophy, from which the sciences stem, into the same nonsensical list as religion.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2014
  13. Jan 8, 2014 #12
    Philosophers try to prove their claims all the time. What philosophy have you been reading? And this attitude that mathematicians don't care about philosophy is a bit sad, and is a discredit to the hard work spent by many mathematicians in the early 20th century to put the field on a sound philosophical footing. Many of the best mathematicians over the centuries have cared very deeply about philosophy, as have the best physicists.
  14. Jan 9, 2014 #13


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    I highlighted the important difference to mathematics.

    Can we get back to the Higgs boson, please?
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