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Why did we search for higgs boson when we knew it couldn't be useful?

  1. Mar 8, 2013 #1
    Firstly, thank you all for creating this forum, thank you all for tolerating my questions. As an expert in another subject, I know it's not easy to take time out of one's schedule to answer the questions of non-experts, and I am grateful that you guys have.

    That said, this question is a special case, because non-experts, like me, contributed to the discovery of Higgs Boson though billions of tax dollars. So with respect, I must insist on the best explanation that can be given.

    I know that the relationship between basic research and technological application is complicated, but Higgs Boson was unique. In the case of Higgs Boson people were very confident of what this particle was, and they must have known that if this particle was found we would be able to do nothing with it. So why did we do this?

    Thank you all for your time.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 8, 2013 #2
    Almost all of astronomy, particle physics, and mathematics are practically useless. So the question is whether there is (billions of tax dollars worth of) value in knowledge itself. Personally, I like to think that there is.

    A relevant quote from Edward Titchmarsh: "It can be of no practical use to know that pi is irrational, but if we can know, it surely would be intolerable not to know."

    It's worth noting that while the Standard Model gives a complete description of a Higgs boson, it was by no means clear, before the LHC, whether the Standard Model was actually right (in fact the Standard Model is still almost certainly incomplete at some level; the question is at what energy scale the new stuff appears). So the discovery of the Higgs has not confirmed something we already knew, but has told us something we didn't know before about Nature.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2013
  4. Mar 8, 2013 #3
    To improve our understanding of the laws of nature.
     
  5. Mar 8, 2013 #4

    Mute

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    How do we know it won't ultimately be useful? There are so many possibilities - the theory could have turned out to be wrong, and we could have found something else. Perhaps this something else could have been useful? Perhaps one day we will be able to do something with the Higgs Boson that is "useful". Just because we can't see it now doesn't mean it can't happen.

    But perhaps the possibility that something could maybe one day prove to be useful directly isn't good enough. But, the search still produced indirect useful things - the technology required to find it had to be pushed to the limits, or invented! There are practical things that come out of these sorts of experiments - in fact, the internet is arguably one of those things.

    Even then, why does the Higgs Boson have to have some use? Is the Eiffel Tower useful? Is Mount Rushmore useful? Are paintings by Picasso or Van Gough worth the money people pay for them? What 'use' does a painting have? Something can be culturally valuable and worth lots of money even if it doesn't have a practical use. Understanding the nature of the universe, the stuff we're made of and beyond is culturally valuable to us - worth, in some people's eyes, spending billions of dollars in search of the answers.
     
  6. Mar 9, 2013 #5
    It is such a fascinating question because of its duality, its dichotomy, in so many ways.

    On the one hand, practical applications of fundamental science surround us, underlie so many things in our daily lives, and we take them for granted. We do not reflect on where they come from. Take this very conversation on a modern computer through internet. No computer without quantum mechanics.

    But on the other hand, there was no way to predict what would emerge from quantum mechanics. At the beginning, it was a mere anomaly in the amount of heat produced by a oven, and the mysterious stability of atoms. Nothing very groundbreaking it seems, in fact pretty much everyone thought physics was mostly completely written.

    So : this question is both of paramount importance, and at the same time unfair. But when every technological item and human progress has been listed, we have forgotten the most essential. That :
    It is curiosity that springs fundamental science, and curiosity is a human value which we ought to nurture. Possibly, it is a quality more constructive than greed. Scientific discoveries span the pages of a universal book written by passionate individuals whose life ethics consists in exploring reality, and it tells a crazier story than fiction ever dreamt of.
     
  7. Mar 9, 2013 #6
    Wow. These are really thoughtful replies.

    I suppose part of my confusion lies with the fact that I have a different way of seeing knowledge. To me knowledge is at its most meaningful and useful when combined with imagination. The trees did not evolve to be our houses, nor do the rushing rivers flow to give us electricity, and neither is a microwave made to be a grenade (no I will not tell you). Yet through creativity all these thing can be put to a new purpose and hence they are useful. Indeed, I am certain much knowledge that is considered esoteric now will combine with imagination to become useful.

    What makes Higgs Boson different is that one needs little imagination to recognize its power, for to control it is to control an important building block of the universe. What is needed to tame the Higgs field is a monumental temperature that we petty humans have little hope of reaching and even less hope of controlling. In this way, we can do nothing but pound the table in frustration, because something so wonderful is beyond our grasp.

    All that said I must admit the world is better with the Mona Lisa, with Mount Rushmore, and with a our esoteric knowledge of the stars.

    Not possibly. Curiosity is more constructive than greed. As someone trained in economics I can assure you that is the case, but that is another discussion.

    P.S. Please don't try to calculate how many microwave grenades would be needed to manipulate the Higgs field. Thank you.
     
  8. Mar 9, 2013 #7

    Bill_K

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    Billion-dollar projects must be approved by politicians, and research is a difficult concept to explain to politicians. "To go where no man has gone before" is insufficient, there must be an easily understandable goal, and the search for the Higgs boson provided one.

    Many times, funding decisions are made on the basis of other factors unrelated to science. The Superconducting Supercollider was a planned 20 GeV/beam collider, triple the energy of the LHC. In 1993 it was killed. Due to cost overruns, as well as lingering bitterness over the choice of location, plus political preference for an International Space Station, to demonstrate that Russia and the US could cooperate on a large space project.

    In all honesty, the LHC itself was built for other reasons besides Higgs hunting. The quiet hope was that something unexpected would be found. "Beyond the Standard Model" physics. Either no Higgs, or multiple Higgs, technicolor, supersymmetry, extra dimensions or whatever, something that would give theorists something new to think about. By far the worst-case scenario has always been that the Higgs boson would be found and nothing else.

    So far, that's exactly what's happened.
     
  9. Mar 9, 2013 #8

    mfb

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    As a rule of thumb, fundamental science today can be an application 50 years in the future. There are so many examples - quantum mechanics has been mentioned, the laser is another popular one, and we should not forget electricity and particle accelerators and detectors.
    And the side-products are worth the investment anyway. The world wide web was invented for particle physicists, for example.
    So true...
     
  10. Mar 10, 2013 #9

    ZapperZ

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    Actually, we need to make sure that is clarified, because I can easily see some anti-science junkie claiming that the LHC has done nothing else and has no other purpose than just to discover the Higgs. Let's be clear that no country and no funding agency in this world would spend $10 billion just for a single-task machine.

    The LHC has advanced elementary particle physics in other ways, beyond just looking for the Higgs. Just do a search on the literature and the evidence for this is clear. In fact, just this past week, LHCb announced a definitive evidence of the D-meson mixing between its matter-antimatter state. We can also talk about ALICE detector and how it has surpassed BNL's RHIC for heavy ion collision that has already produced results. And we haven't talked about CMS and ATLAS yet that had done more beyond just hunting for the Higgs.

    I know you are aware of all these, but leaving that comment hanging like that is ripe for someone else to have the wrong impression that the LHC has done nothing else. While they haven't seen any new physics beyond the Standard Model (SUSY signature is still missing), they certainly have not produced nothing else beyond the Higgs.

    Zz.
     
  11. Mar 10, 2013 #10

    mfb

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    That is not as new as it looks like, the study was already presented and uploaded on arXiv in November.

    As far as I know, the ##\Delta A_{CP}## measurement mentioned there is the only result which is not so compatible with previous theory predictions.
    On the other hand, charm mixing is problematic to predict, as it is really hard to calculate things there.
     
  12. Mar 10, 2013 #11

    ZapperZ

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    It could be announced a year ago, and it still wouldn't change the point that I was making that to say the LHC hasn't produced nothing else is not only misleading, but also wrong.

    Zz.
     
  13. Mar 10, 2013 #12
    Science and knowledge even if worth billions of dollars and with no actual physical use in the next ten years is still useful and I think should be done.
    I think the problem here is different.
    it's about our selfishness there are so many billions lost in wars, attacks, economic struggles , bankers who want fast money or other things.Those sum up to hundreds of times the money we spend on science.
    One has to ask isn't that a disgrace to the human race and the nature of it? I think it is.

    This is a broader discussion than just one science project being too costly.


    P.S. Sorry if this is too vague or out of topic but I believe I need to insert it.
    History shows that if the human race want's to achieve something great and in fast terms there needs to be a driving force behind it , something like the cold war or something like that.Politics aside the cold war was basically two science classes fighting for the best solution and equipment.Now if we could learn how to do that peacefully without death threats or enemy provocation (cuban missile crisis or flight KAL007) then maybe we would see a world that's progressing much faster.
    imagine all the children starving and with bad conditions if all of them would be willing to learn and have the right conditions who knows how many professors we would have , how many great people more would we have and how far would we have gotten.
    But politics , groups, many fanatic religious or secular organizations and many other things stand in the way of that.
    No mechanism can ever be productive if it's parts each go in a different direction or work when they want to.
     
  14. Mar 11, 2013 #13
    So that I don't leave this thread "cold" I will have one more post reviewing what I learned.

    Higgs Boson is ironic.

    It is the particle that is the critical part of the standard model and its discovery was hailed as a great achievement of physics, except it's possibly the one thing that the LHC found that can serve no purpose, other than to be admired.

    The physics community was able to perfectly predict the existence and the properties of Higgs Boson, and have been proven correct on every aspect of the standard model, which is a disaster, because we are running out of frontiers to explore.

    Also ironic is that Higgs Boson, for all its uselessness and all its troubles, was the rallying cry that excited governments and the public at large, even though the LCH will produce so many things that will have a more profound impact on our society.

    Do I have this all right?
     
  15. Mar 11, 2013 #14

    ZapperZ

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    Wow! I don't think you got it at all!

    This topic, unfortunately, is no longer about physics, but rather about sociology.

    Zz.
     
  16. Mar 11, 2013 #15
    Would it have been possible not to search for Higgs Boson after the LHC was constructed?
     
  17. Mar 11, 2013 #16

    Bill_K

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    I'd much rather talk about physics. :smile:

    What else, besides the "Brout-Englert-Higgs boson", has the LHC found? Well this page from the LHCb experiment, lists about a dozen important accomplishments to date. Most of them unfortunately are pretty obscure and would probably not make headlines. IMO the ones that stand out are the ΔACP result that mfb mentioned, and the X(3872) observations.

    ΔACP is explained in more detail here. It's the difference between the CP asymmetry of two decays: D0 → K+K- and D0 → π+π-. The standard model appears to claim zero difference, so as mfb said, its importance lies in the possibility that a nonzero difference may be symptomatic of genuinely new physics. But this is not yet certain - it may be due instead to "large penguins". :eek:

    The X(3872) particle has long been suspected of being "exotic matter", e.g. a tetraquark or a charmonium molecule, and LHCb tends to confirm this.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2013
  18. Mar 11, 2013 #17

    ZapperZ

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    This question is puzzling and makes zero sense.

    Is it possible to not search the Higgs after the LHC was constructed? Sure! They don't turn on the machine and everyone goes on vacation!

    Zz.
     
  19. Mar 11, 2013 #18
    Like I said, the LHC will find many things that are useful to humanity.

    Brout-Englert-Higgs Boson was not one of them.

    ZapperZ to clarify; could it have been used for other things instead of finding Higgs
     
  20. Mar 11, 2013 #19

    ZapperZ

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    Such as what? And how are you able to peer into the future to know that the discovery of the Higgs won't be "useful to humanity"?

    Have you skipped through this entire thread? I've seen several examples already being given!

    Zz.
     
  21. Mar 11, 2013 #20
    Nope. I have not. It's simply a matter of priorities. Since LHC operates under tight constraints it might have been better to put Higgs Boson on the back burner unless....unless...

    Someone can find a use for the particle.
     
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