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Question on Higgs analogy - any answers?

  1. Aug 22, 2012 #1
    Hi all

    I was looking at ways to teach about the Higgs and came across the old 'well-known scientist walks across a conference hall' analogy (see link below)


    My interpretation of this goes as follows:

    1. massive particles strongly 'attract' the Higgs field, slowing them down - giving them inertia (mass)
    2. less massive particles only weakly 'attract' the Higgs field, so they aren't slowed down very much and have lower inertia
    3. massless particles like photons don't 'attract' the Higgs field at all so aren't slowed down at all, have no mass/inertia and travel at the maximum possible speed (c)

    Ok. Let's imagine particles A (massive) and B (less massive).

    NOW... I would like to know what it is that makes the Higgs field cluster strongly around particle A - (slowing it down, giving it more mass/inertia) - but only cluster weakly around particle B (slowing it down less, giving it less mass/inertia).

    The answer can't be that "particle A has more mass" since then we'd have a circular analogy as follows
    1. Particle A is massive
    2. so the Higgs field strongly clusters around it
    3. slowing it down and thereby giving it it's large mass

    ... circular see!

    So; apart from mass, what is the difference between particle A (The popular scientist) and particle B (the less popular scientist), that results in particle A attracting more Higgs field?

    And what could be added to the 'popular scientist' analogy to make it non-circular? (or is it, in fact, a rubbish analogy?)

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 22, 2012 #2
    I might be wrong here, but the analogy of a popular scientist walking into a room, is only meaning that they attract MORE mass than what they had, thus gaining more mass than they originally had themselves. It's not a matter of the mass of the popular scientist attracting the students, it's a matter of how attractive the scientist is to the students. Another way to think about it, might be a cereal bowl. If you've ever eaten cereal in your life, I'm sure that you will have noticed that as you reach the end of the cereal, the pieces begin to clump together. The ones that move around most from one place to another are able to attract a larger gathering of other cereal pieces till at last they become so large that they barely move at all. There will also be a few "stragglers" left behind that only clump in a group of one or two, and these are able to move more freely due to their smaller size as a group.
  4. Aug 22, 2012 #3
    I thought the Higgs field is the source of all mass (meaning there's no such thing as 'the mass the particle originally had') ... or are you saying that there are two kinds of mass, 'original-mass' and 'extra-mass-caused-by-Higgs-field'... in which case what is the source of 'original-mass'??

    ok, so what makes the popular scientist more attractive to the students (what makes particle A more attractive to the Higgs field?) ????

  5. Aug 22, 2012 #4


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    No one knows.

    The Higgs field is responsible for the mass term for the gauge bosons (W, Z), the elementary fermions (electron, etc) and the Higgs boson itself. The values are
    MW = ½gv
    MZ = ½v√(g2 + g'2)
    Me = Gev/√2
    Mh = v√2λ
    where v = 246 GeV is the value of the Higgs field. In every case there's a coupling constant involved whose value is not determined by the standard model.
  6. Aug 22, 2012 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    You have to accept that an analogy is just that - an analogy, not a perfect description of what's happening. That description is mathematical. Trying to capture more and more features of the mathematics in the analogy quickly comes to a point where the whole thing collapses. ("The scientist is carrying a pair of trained ferrets, one pregnant....")
  7. Aug 22, 2012 #6


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    Staff: Mentor

    In the Standard Model, particle masses come from the coupling strength of the Higgs to the individual particles - those are free parameters in the theory, and we have no explanation for their values.
    Maybe there is some deeper theory which can explain the parameters.
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