Monday, July 02, 2012

Island thoughts on the Higgs

Another day another ferry. In our four star hotel on a misty, drizzling Isle of Wight my thoughts turn to the Higgs particle.

Rumours suggest that the CERN press conference July 4th will announce a five sigma-ish discovery of the simplest Standard Model Higgs. Last year's bump at 125 GeV has apparently reappeared this year.

At one level this is an extraordinary triumph for theoretical physics. Quantum Field Theory, the most accurate theory physics has ever created, predicts the Higgs field as the mechanism by which ordinary matter acquires mass. Now you have a deep explanation of why you have weight - from first principles, you might say.

Quantum Theory's weirdness derives from the fact that it's not a theory of reality; it's a theory of what we measure when we observe reality. It's not crazy to imagine that the universe has some kind of structure - an ontology - which accounts for why Quantum Theory works. Corroboration of the Standard Model, awe-inspiring though it is, does not tear the veil of reality aside, however, nor does it help with Grand Unification (with General Relativity).

Let's just enjoy the success and the great game of deciding who now gets the Nobel Prize.