Wednesday, October 13, 2010

John Ellis dreams about the non-existence of the Higgs

A funny two-minute NSF video shows John Ellis, the 2nd most cited high-energy physicist (and, by the way, the father of the term "Theory of Everything", Nature 1986), who thinks it would be healthy for physics if the experiments showed that the Higgs boson were just like the luminiferous aether and the physicists have been idiots for 40 years once again:

Does he really believe this scenario?

Well, obviously, he doesn't. You can be sure that he doesn't from the beginning because of his T-shirt with the Standard Model Lagrangian: the last line contains both the kinetic and potential terms for the Higgs field. These terms do belong to the Standard Model, after all. The Higgs boson hasn't yet been seen but it's in the theory.

You may be sure that the truncated Standard Model without any Higgs - and without anything that plays its role - is inconsistent. It predicts that the scattering of longitudinally polarized pairs of W-bosons may occur with probabilities that are outside the 0%-100% range. Too bad.

These proclamations about proofs that the physicists have been idiots are very politically correct. In the case of the Higgs, Ellis obviously doesn't believe that Higgs doesn't exist. (And how "extra dimensions" themselves, without any fields in them, could replace the Higgs is beyond me.) He has the Higgs terms on his T-shirt. In fact, Ellis believes much more than the Higgs. There is a Lagrangian of the supersymmetric extension of the Standard Model printed on his underwear, too. (Thankfully, it's not shown in the video because it could diminish Susy's generally perceived sexiness: sorry, Dr Ellis.)

Dreaming about complete inconsistencies

However, more generally, I personally don't dream about new experimental proofs that many physicists are idiots because I have already seen more proofs of this fact than what was needed. ;-) And I don't mean just idiotic physicists in APS playing the role of mindless sheep of Al Gore who repeat preposterous proclamations about the upcoming climate Armageddon.

Even in the realm of serious recent experiments, physicists have been shown clueless too many times. The observation of the positive cosmological constant in 1998 is one such example. It was almost as unexpected as the absence of the Higgs boson would be. But it wasn't healthy for the field.

The observation of the dark energy, however valid it might be and however natural it will look to the future generations of physicists, has thrown the "cosmological" part of fundamental physics of our generations into quagmire that has lasted for more than a decade so far.

The expansion of intellectually impotent and often downright incorrect memes about the anthropic principle and similar concepts simply reflects the immense surprise that the cosmological constant is there, while being unnaturally tiny. This surprise hasn't gone away and it was a source of a disease for physics. Needless to say, physicists will eventually be sure what's going on so the insight will be important and helpful in the long run - but in the short run and the medium run, it wasn't good.

If you're unconstrained by internal consistency and agreement with the real data, you may imagine many things instead of the Higgs mechanism, including the Fractastic Voyage above. Things are much more unique if you actually care about the consistency and the agreement with the observations.

If the Higgs is shown not to be there, I guess that it won't be a beginning of a clear new revolution, either. Why? First, there has to be some deviation from the Higgs-less Standard Model because the Higgs-less Standard Model is internally inconsistent, as I have mentioned above.

But imagine that the WW scattering is slightly modified from the Standard Model prediction, so that it stays in the logical range of 0%-100%. Something that looks like coming from a completely non-polynomial, perhaps non-local Lagrangian (or even a non-Lagrangian theory) - yet not manifestly inconsistent - may be suggested by the data. Will we know what to do with such a situation?

I don't think so. The possible totally Higgs-less alternatives are so attractive a possibility that people have already spent a part of their efforts in the recent decades - and as far as I know, they haven't found anything that makes much sense. The actual results of this research are much less attractive than the motivation. So I don't see a reason why they should suddenly find such a theory in the next 10 years. The non-discovery of the Higgs wouldn't really help us much because people have looked to this possible situation before the measurement, anyway.

Of course, if the experiments already said "there is no Higgs", many new (and maybe smarter) people would be looking at possible Higgs-less theories. But the change would only be quantitative. Even if it makes sense to speculate about such matters, the new alternative research won't explode before 2013-2014 when the LHC is expected to find the light Higgs boson.

(Note that SUSY will probably be discovered before the Higgs if it occurs at low enough mass scale.)

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