Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Leonard Susskind on Higgs boson

If you have 75 minutes, you may want to listen to the July 30th, 2012 post-discovery talk about the Higgs boson by Leonard Susskind that was addressed to the curious pensioners in Palo Alto, California.

At the beginning, he reminds you that you have already heard that the Higgs boson – called the Weinberg toilet by Sheldon Glashow – is the best thing since the invention of the flush toilet.

Instead, he discusses the quantization of spin and he shows you his hat and semitechnical properties of the Higgs potential, the relationship between fields and particles, the impact of the vacuum condensate (compared to dipoles) on other particles, the role of the uncertainty principle for the finite i.e. short range of the weak force.

So as you can check, Susskind focused on different issues than toilets.

Incidentally, because the Higgs boson seems to behave in the single a priori most likely way – the plain vanilla, Standard Model way (its deviations from the SM behavior have apparently faded away and shrank to an undetectably modest level) – journalists are saying that maybe, it was just a summer romance.

Clearly, we will have to wait for quite some time before some hypothetical exotic qualities of the Higgs boson become visible. Some other discoveries may be done earlier than that, independently of the Higgs sector. I find the English term "plain vanilla" for "boring common things" somewhat bizarre because vanilla is a flavor extracted from orchids in the exotic country of Mexico. :-) Moreover, the extract of vanilla costs about $30 per kilogram – buy via amazon.com – which is as expensive as the best type of South Indian coconut oil that I consider the "fanciest part of my food" now.

Nima on the Higgs

Concerning the Higgs boson talks, you should also watch this IAS talk by the Milner Prize winner Nima Arkani-Hamed:¨
The Inevitability of Physical Laws: Why the Higgs Has to Exist (live or download)


  1. Oh yeah :-)

    this Lenny-lecture I have not yet seen, I'll watch it before sleep tonight.

    Concerning the term "vanilla", when first reading it in this context I thought it means something like "damn" and people are very annoyed about the corresponding "plain vanilla" thing ... ;-)


  2. Dilation - That's an extreme exaggeration of what it usually means. For example, a car without any of the optional features would be "plain vanilla," and of course it would be deemed inferior in that degree, but that's a far cry from condemning it.

    Actually it just means "plain." I don't how "vanilla" is supposed to add anything to the concept, but I guess it's more colorful. ;-)

  3. Lubos - Why vanilla is thought of as plain is a good question. As you may know, the "basic" American ice cream menu is chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. I don't know how things are in Czechia, but when I was in Ireland in the 1970s I was surprised to find that the Irish did not have this concept. You'd go to the supermarket, and find that, in that week or month, they had nothing but (I'll invent) banana-coconut, black currant ripple, and lime sherbet. It was just random, except that, actually, vanilla was pretty common.

    Well, for some reason, when we're kids in the U.S., we prefer chocolate and strawberry, while the grown-ups are more partial to vanilla. Similarly, as a kid, I could never understand my father's liking for plain doughnuts, but now that I'm in my late 60s, I love them, and I have loved them for 20 years or more.

    Also, the whiteness of vanilla ice cream makes us think of plainness, just like plain milk vs. chocolate milk.

    The same goes for an unpainted or uncovered plaster wall.

    We had no such idea about vanilla cookies, though.

  4. Yeah thanks,
    I'm sure people would have been rolling on the floor laughing if I had tried to swear by applying such a statement because I did not know what it really means first ... :-D

  5. That's funny!

  6. Dear Smoking Frog, please don't overstate my feeling that vanilla is exotic. When it comes to ice creams, I surely agree that vanilla ice cream is the most ordinary one, even more so than chocolate or strawberry, and it was the case even during communism.

    For example, when I was 10, in 1983, I learned how to say "please one little" in English, so we went to buy a little ice cream, usually vanilla one, for CSK 0.70 while the actual size was actually bigger than if it were the big one for CSK 1.40. These days, I don't actually know whether the clerk believed that we were American or English kids. ;-)

  7. Oh, OK, but I don't think it's so ordinary, if you confine your attention to the taste.

    "Please one little" - you were just like the signing chimp. :-)

  8. I don't understand why you were speaking English to a clerk in Czechoslovakia - or how you were in the U.S. or U.K? What the heck are you talking about?

  9. Because I wanted a large ice cream for the price of the small one, it worked, and I wanted to have some fun, too. What the heck do you fail to understand about it?

  10. I understand now. I didn't understand what I said I didn't understand. There's an explanation, but a message to give it to you would be too long. Here's one part of it: As a kid, I knew several foreign phrases. I don't think I would have thought any of them would fool an American clerk, but had I been visiting the country corresponding to one of them, I might have thought it would fool a clerk there.

  11. In banking, the difference between vanilla instruments and exotic instruments is global economic meltdown.

  12. The spin switching = mass is a new concept to me. It seems inconsistent with the entanglement ideas that I acquired here.