Of Particular Significance

Cosmic Conflation: The Higgs, The Inflaton, and Spin

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 03/26/2013

Over the past week or so, there has been unnecessary confusion created about whether or not there’s some relationship between (a) the Higgs particle, recently discovered at the Large Hadron Collider, and (b) the Big Bang, perhaps specifically having to do with the period of “Cosmic Inflation” which is believed by many scientists to explain why the universe is so uniform, relatively speaking. This blurring of the lines between logically separate subjects — let’s call it “Cosmic Conflation” — makes it harder for the public to understand the science, and I don’t think it serves society well.

For the current round of confusion, we may thank professor Michio Kaku, and before him professor Leon Lederman (who may or may not have invented the term “God Particle” but blames it on his publisher), helpfully carried into the wider world by various reporters, as Sean Carroll observed here.

[Aside: in this post I’ll be writing about the Higgs field and the Higgs particle. To learn about the relationship between the field and the particle, you can click here, here, here, or here (listed from shortest to most detailed).]

Let’s start with the bottom line. At the present time, there is no established connection, direct or indirect, between (a) the Higgs field and its particle, on the one hand, and (b) cosmic inflation and the Big Bang on the other hand. Period. Any such connection is highly speculative — not crazy to think about, but without current support from data. Yes, the Higgs field, responsible for the mass of many elementary particles, and without which you and I wouldn’t be here, is a spin-zero field (which means the Higgs particle has zero spin). And yes, the “inflaton field” (the name given to the hypothetical field that, by giving the universe a lot of extra “dark energy” in the early universe, is supposed to have caused the universe to expand at a spectacular rate) is also probably a spin-zero field (in which case the inflaton particle also has zero spin). Well, fish and whales both have tails, and both swim in the sea; yet that doesn’t make them closely related.

[Aside: Spin is a tricky concept which you don’t need to understand for this post, but in case you want to know something, here’s a sketch. Unlike the electric or magnetic field, which (at each location in space) has a magnitude (i.e. size) and a direction in which it points, a spin-zero field doesn’t point; it just has a magnitude at each location. And unlike a particle with spin, which in some ways behaves as though it is rotating, a spin zero particle doesn’t behave this way.]

The main issue I’m concerned with in this post isn’t the science itself (though I will say some things about it), but how it is communicated to non-experts. Personally, I think it very important for scientific experts to be clear, when they speak in public, about what is known and well-established, what is plausible and widely believed but still needs experimental checks, and what is largely speculative and could very well be false. (For example: The Higgs particle and field are nearly established; inflation is increasingly plausible; any connection between them is speculative.)

Clearly scientific integrity and clarity are enormously important in subjects such as climate change, applied genetics, and nutrition. Are they important in particle physics and cosmology? Well, it seems to me that when particle physicists, string theorists and cosmologists get in the habit (or, in some cases, can’t get out of the habit) of stretching the truth to make headlines bigger and eyes wider, then not only our own credibility, but also that of our colleagues in other research areas, is undermined. Many non-scientists have somehow come to that believe science is just about tossing wild ideas around, and that just as in politics, it’s simply a matter of one person’s opinion against another’s. I meet many people who think scientific research is all about money and fame, with the search for knowledge and understanding no more than window dressing.  To turn this trend around, it seems important to me that there be a code of ethics, written or unwritten, that governs scientists speaking to the public about scientific knowledge.  And those who won’t abide by it need to be pointed out by their colleagues.

Just as we widely agree the Higgs particle must have zero spin, and that the inflaton is quite likely to have zero spin, I’d like to see a consensus emerge that public communication of particle physics, string theory and cosmology should also have zero spin. Too bad that’s still a rather speculative idea.

Now Some Details

Back to the Higgs and inflation. Let’s look at the logical options, and evaluate them.

  • Might the Higgs field and the inflaton field be one and the same? Yes.
  • Might they be closely related fields, perhaps members of a larger family? Yes.
  • Might they be very weakly related, perhaps with just a vague resemblance? Yes.
  • Might they be completely different types of fields, completely unrelated? Yes.

In other words, nothing is known for sure — and among these options, there isn’t even a favored possibility. In my view, no popularizer of science should be going around giving the impression that the situation is otherwise. It is especially weird, if not irresponsible, for anyone to say that the Higgs particle is important because the Higgs field might be the inflaton field, or might be closely related to it.  The importance of the Higgs field and particle is certainly not predicated on some speculative idea, one that might be false, about the distant past of the universe!  Independent of what happened during or before the Big Bang, if the Higgs field weren’t doing what it does right now, right here, then much of the stuff from which we, and our planet, and all ordinary matter are made wouldn’t existIsn’t this important enough?  And discovery of the Higgs particle confirms the Higgs field really is doing this, and opens a new window through which we can learn about the Higgs field in unprecedented detail.

Just to give you confidence that what I’m saying about the Higgs field and the inflaton field isn’t merely a matter of personal opinion, I invite you to take a look at one of the papers (admittedly rather technical) made public by the members of the collaboration who operate the Planck satellite, which reported data just last week. In their new paper entitled “Constraints on Inflation”, http://arxiv.org/abs/1303.5082, the Planck collaboration considers various suggestions theoretical physicists have made for how inflation might have occurred, and looks to see if those suggestions are consistent with the data that they’ve obtained. Here are some things they found (though you should keep in mind that some aspects of their results have not been confirmed yet by any other experiment.)

First and foremost, the Planck data are completely consistent with some form of inflation having occurred. (See section 4.1, paragraphs 2 and 3, of the Planck paper.) Essentially, what they see is that the distribution of non-uniformities in the nearly smooth cosmic microwave background [CMB] (the after-glow from the Big Bang) agrees with what one would expect had cosmic inflation occurred. Since inflation is currently the leading theory of how the universe became so large and relatively uniform, and there aren’t widely accepted and clear alternatives, this new data gives inflation additional plausibility. That said, we can’t really regard the Planck data as a direct proof (in the way that the discovery and study of the Higgs particle is a direct test of the idea of the Higgs field) but it is a big step forward. Direct proof may be a long way off, I’m afraid.

Second, many specific ideas for how inflation might have occurred are now excluded by the data; others are perfectly consistent with it, and still others are now a bit borderline. This is partially discussed in section 4.2 and Figure 1 of the Planck paper (and there are discussions of even more models later in the paper.) I’ve reprinted their Figure 1 here. The Planck authors spend three pages (small print) going over a wide variety of theoretical ideas, and as you can see in the figure, quite a few of the various ideas make predictions (dots connected by short lines, or curved swathes) that are found within the outer edge of the light-blue-shaded area, which means they are reasonably consistent with the Planck data combined with other measurements. In fact, there are more theories studied there than it might appear, as certain ideas that differ quite dramatically in their origin give similar predictions, and are represented by a single dot. And here’s the point: among the dots and swathes found inside the shaded area you will find speculations in which the Higgs field and the inflaton are (a) identical, (b) perhaps closely related, (c) possibly vaguely related, and (d) completely unrelated with no resemblance at all.

From the Planck paper "Constraints on Inflation"; briefly, dots and the purple swath inside the light-blue region represent a wide range of ideas for how inflation might have occurred that are all consistent with existing data.
From the Planck paper “Constraints on Inflation”; briefly, the dots and the purple swath (representing a wide range of ideas for how inflation might have occurred) that lie inside the light-blue and dark-blue regions (representing Planck data combined with other experiments) are still allowed, while those that lie far outside are excluded with good confidence.

For instance, the notion that the Higgs and the inflaton fields are the same gives (if you trust the calculational methods) almost the same result as the orange dots in the figure, which are inside the blue region and are thus allowed by the data. But also allowed is a part of the purple-shaded area [referring to a theory called “natural inflation”] which has an inflaton field similar to the pion field, a type of spin-zero field that (unlike the Higgs field) is very common in nature and quite familiar to scientists. [It’s called a pseudo-Nambu-Goldstone boson; Nambu won a Nobel prize for work on this subject, while Goldstone was passed over.] Other theories with more complicated inflatons also appear on this figure. Thus, despite what some have said on other websites and to journalists, it simply isn’t true that discovery of the Higgs particle makes inflation more plausible, because for all we know today, the inflaton might be a type of field that is quite unlike the Higgs field. To say otherwise is conflation on a cosmic scale.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Planck’s data could have strongly disfavored the idea that the Higgs field is also the inflaton field. It didn’t. The value of the Higgs particle’s mass, measured for the first time as the particle was discovered in July, could also have strongly disfavored the idea, but didn’t. So the suggestion that the two fields might be one and the same has more credence now — though I hasten to add that there are still big theoretical problems with the idea. Perhaps what is more important for the non-expert to know is that the Higgs field’s average value during inflation, if it were serving as the inflaton, would have been trillions of times larger than it is today (when it has a value of 246 GeV, thus assuring the known elementary particles can have masses no larger than about 1000 GeV.) And we have no idea, from any experiment we’ve ever done, how the Higgs field would really behave if its value were so large. So this is an interesting idea worth thinking about and investigating, but if we’re going to talk about it on national television, we should probably point out how speculative it remains at this point.

Speculation — in particular, grounded speculation, involving that special combination of creativity and mathematics that turns conversation over beer into a serious scientific theory, with detailed predictions — is an essential part of physics, and of other branches of science. I have nothing against speculation! It’s part of my job. But it’s important, when talking to non-experts, to distinguish well-established facts and consensus beliefs from speculations that may well prove false and are viewed with skepticism by most people in the field. Journalists and the public already find it challenging to understand our discoveries and their significance, so how can it be wise to confuse them? Unnecessary forms of cosmic conflation frustrate those who wish science well, and deliver ammunition to those who don’t.

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60 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for clearing up this concept for me. I now know more about the subject of higgs inflation (which isn’t explained very clearly elsewhere). Just 1 thing.
    Could you type a new article explaining how the higgs inflation actually works. For example, how does a field/ particle that gives mass able to inflate the universe? Thanks

  2. A different understanding of the higgs field.
    I am not a scientist, so forgive me, but I encourage you to see
    what I discovered, and tell me what it is?
    A natural layer of the universe at the sub atomic level,
    that records every atom shift.
    If you will, we are constantly moving through this layer, and leaving behind
    a trail, almost like a bullet through a jello block, but we do not go through whole, it’s more like water through a strainer, we pass through atom by atom. and leave a traceable trail.
    All history is recorded in the highest quality and retrievable and with the correct tools, you can actually tune to a place and time in history and see and hear what happened there. Like reading tree rings, like sound captured in clay pots, like ripples in a pond.


    Respectfully, and humbly

  3. Hello there! Do you know if they make any plugins to
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  4. It seems that continuum always has these tenuous and inpenetrable
    boundaries. The universe seems mostly empty, The atom, with it electrons form a boundary of size, but inside it is almost empty. The nucleus as well has firm boundaries but is tenuous at the same time. Inside it probably more of the same. Always a boundary that is solid to some, but penetrable to others.

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  6. “The new big-bang sound was created over the weekend by John Cramer, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Washington. The audio file follows up on Cramer’s decade-old audio rendition of the big bang, which was based on data from NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP. ” …


    Does this mean the speed of light is slowing down, resonances in the various fields are attenuating?

    Maybe the theory of matter dissipating to zero vacuum could be valid, after all?

    Please note that many articles are wrong saying that CMB was 10^-27 sec.after BB , WHILE IT IS 380000 YEARS AFTER BB.

  8. How could be the anti-matter context in the higgs boson’s world? Is there an anti higgs boson?

    1. yes. might exist a snti-boson of higgs-maybe more-because the antiparticles are particles reversed in the spacetime. and the spacetime must be symmetry in the end of all the things

      1. There may be different types of Higgs particles, but they will all be their own antiparticles. There is no ‘anti Higgs’ particle out there.

    2. Like the photon or Z particle, the Higgs is its own antiparticle. (So when two meet they can annihilate each other.)

      1. the antiparticles to exist might be linked to asymmetry of matter,for that reason the space and time must to be relativistic and the spacetime is variable.the antiparticles are part of symmetry of the spacetime ,through
        of violation of symmetry CP that implies differences in the rotation inversions.it is the left-right handed rotational invariances are broken.
        then the antimater doesn’t exist in the universe,because for it existence might occur the asymmetry of matter.then the asymmetry does appear the time dilatation and contraction of space as symmetry of left-right handed rotations systems.thyen the spacetime might be generated by two opposite directions.then the transformations of energy into mass and viceversa that
        not are totally conserved with conection of spacetime evolutions

  9. On the other hand, really poor quality cheap sunglasses can be the reason for images to distort, so here is a quick and simple test you can perform at home to check the quality of your shades: Find a repeating pattern, like a tiled floor. Hold your sunglasses a few inches away from your face, cover one eye, and move your sunglasses slowly up and down and left and right. The lines on the tiled pattern ought to remain straight. If the lines twist or seem to move, then that is a clear signal they are not of optical quality and will likely warp your vision and damage your eyesight for life.

    1. the universe must have seen created by several “bangs”.then occur several transitictions of the universe till the that appear be “today”.the proper speed of light was generated by the pt symmetry breaking to
      have it value as constant and limit deiving the cosmic structure( quantic topological geometric fields) that implie the curvatures of spacetime generated by the speed of light and simultaneouly by the breakdown of symmetry Pt ( or conservation of CP to strong interactions) that lead us to the time splitted by two opposed orientations that curve the space creating the spacetime continuos and its indefinite metrics)

  10. Matt, I appreciate your conservative stance but I think the connection between the Higgs, cosmology, and the inflaton is pretty strong. Here’s a twelve minute popular talk I gave a month ago, posted yesterday, describing the Higgs:
    http: // www. youtube.com /watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wfALJzn1hE8
    The talk isn’t technically perfect, and it’s hard to come up with a good visual presentation of the mathematics involved, but I’m pretty happy with it overall. I’m sure you’ll dislike the conflation of the Higgs with cosmology, and yes, it is somewhat speculative, but I’m willing to bet that will change!

    1. Thank you for your opinion. As I said, there is nothing wrong with speculation, but it should be stated as what it is: an opinion held by some but not held by many. In general, I’d prefer you not advertise your personal theories on this website, please; I don’t advertise my own speculative theories, or anyone else’s individual ideas that aren’t widely held. Let your arguments filter through scientific channels, which is where they belong, not on blogs or TED talks…

      1. I’m just working on the best ways to present the Higgs, and symmetry breaking in particular, to the public. Seemed on topic.

  11. Just pasting my own comment which I copied from preposterousuniverse…

    “…. this brouhaha about Kaku is telling me something related to quantum fields and how particles behave in it. It seems to me that Kaku’s remarks about higgs boson and the big bang is spin1/2, and it intrigues, inspires, and provoke the thoughts of his intended audiences which are in spin1/2 field. I believe Kaku is capable too (he should be) of spin zero behavior especially in physics symposium among his colleagues i.e. his magnitude must be precise, accurate, and unambiguous anyway you look at it… left to right and vice versa, upside down, or flipped. Spin zero, Hawking said behaves like a point, I said yep but to me it’s more like the word NOON.”

    1. i think that existed a quantum quantum flutuaction that permited the appearing of universes,some appeared or disappeared,
      the non-euclidean 4-dimensional manifolds appear by two torsion fields( one left handed and other right to the spins),with the broken rotational invariance to transformations of left-handed systems into right-handed and vice versa but that in the all the symmetry is conserced,are the transformations of particles into antiparticles and viceversa into to both lorentz’s ttransformations( orthochrous and antichrous) linked to the violation of PT but conserving CPT

    2. The context of that post is that I saw a youtube video of Kaku telling about the atom smasher that he built in their garage, when he was a kid. And he also told about the 1+1 billion dollars superconducting supercollider which was scrapped by the congress mainly because, the concerned physicist who was called to explain its justification lacked the necessary oral articulation in explaining it to layman. Layman who happen to have authority to release the remaining budget.

  12. 1. How did they verify that the recent discovered Higgs boson has zero spin?

    2. If I can put a “spin” to this discussion, if the Higgs has no spin, it lacks “angular momentum” then how could it give mass (and more specific, spin) to the fundamental particles?

    3. Is there another particle (unknown or maybe the graviton) missing in this equation?

    1. The Higgs field does not give particles spin, they would have (or not have) that if the Higgs field were zero. The mass particles gain in a nonzero Higgs field relates to their being formed via the ‘mixing’ of other particles. (To put it very roughly, there is a great article on this site about the known elementary particles if the Higgs field was zero.) Spin is an interesting concept in that it is not easy to visualize. I should like an article on it sometime.

  13. For clarity’s sake, I would suggest three additional categories beyond the three (established, plausible and widely believed, and largely speculative) that you suggest.

    1. Between plausible and widely believed and largely speculative, there are many times when there are “competing plausible theories” none of which holds a consensus position in the scientific community at the time. Often one is a majority or plurality view, and a small number of other theories (typically just one to three others) are minority views, each with a base of reputable scientists who support them. Often more empirical evidence can resolve these disputes eventually (e.g. until the LHC there were a number of viable Higgsless theories that otherwise replicated Standard Model results), but the evidence necessary to distinguish between the different positions can be contested, inconsistent, or simply unavailable with existing scientific resources. When discussing these kinds of theories one must strike a balance between acknowledging that viable theories are indeed not inconsistent with the evidence and are plausible, while also making clear that the theory in question is not the only possibillity and saying something about its status relative to the competition (e.g. “the majority view”, or “a less widely accepted alternative”), ideally without unduly prejuding minority views that are still plausible.

    2. Below the ranks of largely speculative ideas of respectable scientists which you discuss, there are “crackpot” ideas that are clearly contrary to empirical evidence, contradict well established theories without a good basis for doing so, or are deeply flawed internally (e.g. they are mathematically or dimensionally incoherent). Perpetual motion machines, quantum theories that deny the existence of entanglement, theories that deny the existence of special relativistic time dialation, creationist theories of evolution, and the like are in this category. Informed scientific speakers should call these crackpot ideas out for what they are, while making clear that largely speculative ideas that are not crackpot ideas are not crackpot ideas.

    3. It is also not uncommon for there to be a situation where it is well established that one of several possibilities is the correct one, but there is also a consensus that we don’t know enough to be sure which possibility is correct (or there is at least no consensus on which of the possibilities is correct). For example, it is well established that neutrinos have mass and that there are at least three neutrino mass eigenstates. But, it is also widely acknowledged that we don’t have sufficent evidence to determine if those three masses follow a “normal” hierachy or an “inverted” hierarchy. This situation should also be spelled out to a general listener who isn’t familiar with the situation.

  14. Great article and I agree that physics speculation should not be presented to the public as fact. But I have a question:

    I picture the inflaton field phi starting at 0 at the big bang but the potential energy V(0) is large. The field slows rolls out to a larger value causing inflation. Finally it drops into a well causing reheating and ends up with V(phi)=0 with phi at some finite non zero value.

    But you say “Perhaps what is more important for the non-expert to know is that the Higgs field’s average value during inflation, if it were serving as the inflaton, would have been trillions of times larger than it is today (when it has a value of 246 GeV, thus assuring the known elementary particles can have masses no larger than about 1000 GeV.) ”

    My questions are:
    1. For the Higgs field, is phi=246 GeV today or is V(phi)=246 GeV today?
    2. if the Higgs IS the inflaton field, are you saying the phi value at the big bang would have been trillions of time bigger than 246 GeV and that it would have slow rolled down to the 246 GeV value it has today?

    I’m confused because I thought the Higgs field would have been 0 at the big bang when electro-weak symmetry was not broken and that electro-weak symmetry was broken when the Higgs field became the value it has today. HELP!

    1. what the relation between the inflaton fields and the casimir’s effect?
      and therefore with higg’s fields?

  15. Is this analysis of validity of various inflationary models reliable in absence of a theory of quantum gravity?

    1. Great question! I was asking myself that question too. Maybe that’s the reason Matt wrote: if you trust the calculational methods.

  16. As no viable alternative to inflation exists —-faster that light sound ….etc—– that does not mean inflation is obligatory , maybe reality is hidden beyond our power of “” speculating “” .at least for now .

  17. Matt: “Yes, the Higgs field, responsible for the mass of many elementary particles, and without which you and I wouldn’t be here, is a spin-zero field (which means the Higgs particle has zero spin). And yes, the “inflaton field” (the name given to the hypothetical field that, by giving the universe a lot of extra “dark energy” in the early universe, is supposed to have caused the universe to expand at a spectacular rate) is also probably a spin-zero field (in which case the inflaton particle also has zero spin). Well, fish and whales both have tails, and both swim in the sea; yet that doesn’t make them closely related.”

    Thanks for pointing out this important point which is widely ignored by the mainstream community.

  18. Hi Matt,
    I think an issue you must consider when discussing science and its benefits with the general population is how much will your vocabulary differ from the vocabulary of your target audience? How many words and concepts will you have to define and explain in order to make your point? How many new questions will those definitions and explanations raise? Maybe an even greater need is to be honest with yourself about who your target audience is, and what will capture their interest.

    One person out of seven (Statistics released by the U.S. Education Department in 2009) in the US can’t read a newspaper. Educators in the South and Midwest are still insisting that Creationism and Evolution should be given equal weight in the classroom. The general public has such a short attention span (as indicated by the increasing popularity of twitter and other “micro-blog” social media) that anything requiring more than a moment’s thought is rejected out of hand. I’d be willing to bet a six-pack of your favorite brew that out of ten people chosen at random, you would be lucky to find one that would, on their own initiative, spend more than two minutes on your blog. Even when I posed a couple of basic (albeit speculative) questions, you questioned my vocabulary, the logic of my argument, and then sent me off on a research project regarding particle physics basics. You finally indicated you didn’t understand my questions enough to answer them. Now, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the research project, and I learned a lot. But I’m a science geek, and physics and cosmology are irresistibly fascinating to me. I am a very tiny minority of the general public.

    Mr. Kaku is filling a need, just as you are. A little truth is better than none. If he happens to capture the interest of some people who would have otherwise been watching Law and Order or FOX News, then he’s helped the cause. They might actually be enticed to do a little reading. Maybe they will even discover your blog and you’ll have the opportunity to correct a few misunderstandings =) You don’t have to expose yourself to his sensationalism–I avoid him at all costs–but trying to generate censor from the scientific community seems to me to be at cross purposes with what you’re trying to do here.

    1. Question for you. you are saying “Educators in the South and Midwest are still insisting that Creationism and Evolution should be given equal weight in the classroom”. Are these educators (school teachers) or politicians and other ignorant religious zealots? This is interesting for me since I am fighting a battle in the local paper (Indianapolis star) with some politicians who want school teachers to teach creationism! If you think the answer is not relevant to this blog I can give you my e-mail address although perhaps Prof. Strassler might object!

      1. Sorry. I forgot to write. The above was addressed specifically to Sam Hawk.
        kashyap vasavada

  19. Heh, I read half the article before I started to notice the spelling “inflaton”. I must have been subconsciously glossing it over as a spelling error. Then I had to go back and check all the occurrences of “inflation” and “inflaton” before I was sure the distinction was deliberate.

  20. Let us not forget that already the theory of inflation only makes qualitative predictions. For example, the variable ns (scalar spectral index) should be a little less than 1 but inflation doesn’t tell us its exact value or once ns is measured predicts other quantities (as far as I know). This means (sadly enough) that any theory of inflation can only be excluded but not shown to be correct.

    1. I think the situation’s a little better than that… although inflation in general can give many possible results for things you can observe, any particular version of inflation DOES make quantitative predictions (as you can see in Figure 1, where certain dots are ruled out already and others would be if the uncertainties on the results decreased). And in general, not just for inflation: on the negative side a theory can be shown to be false using data, but on the positive side a theory can only be shown to be consistent with data, not to be true… so in this regard inflation isn’t special.

    2. Thanks Matt. I looked more carefully at the picture and the situation is indeed not as bad as I thought. In that respect I suppose that the Higgs as an inflaton is indeed special. For other models the “scalar spectral index” is used to put limits on the possible parameters of all possible potentials. For the Higgs the potential is completely known and (again as far as I know but correct me if I’m wrong) ns can be calculated. The orange dots are in the right place so that does justify some excitement. Maybe Kaku’s excitement is also amplified by the fact that the top mass and Higgs mass put the Higgs field close to the boundary of stability and instability?

    3. After some (still superficial) reading on the subject I do think that Kaku’s version is reasonable and even (in a studio, real-time) admirable. The Higgs either as the inflaton, cause of false vacuum inflation or as part of a family of scalar fields seems not overly speculative and there were enough “we think and could be” in his answers.

  21. As a non-scientist, but a science fan, I think I have to (somewhat) disagree with Cormac about whether it ” weakens scientific findings terribly when speculation is given the same gravitas as well-established facts.”

    I think that what we are speculating about is equally as important as what we know because it shapes the direction of our research (and thus our knowledge base). I also think it’s very important that we communicate these speculations just as much as we communicate the facts. After all, it can be very inspiring and exciting to hear someone say, “Well, we know this fact, so we think maybe that idea.”

    The problem lies with not placing enough emphasis on the fact that it is speculation when communicating with the layman. A great many people listen to popular scientists like Michio Kaku and think they’re only talking about established facts because they don’t always make it really clear when they’re heading off into speculative territory. And let’s face it, most laymen aren’t rabid science fans who search out and read blogs that they sometimes can’t even grasp half of or just don’t have the math for, but are so thrilled by what they do understand that they’re always looking for more, so popular science shows are sometimes their only sources of knowledge.

    Unfortunately, popular science shows are more about the show than the science, so I do see where you’re coming from, Cormac.

  22. Yes, a very good post. As a science writer myself, I think it weakens scientific findings terribly when speculation is given the same gravitas as well-established facts. I think cosmology in particular has been quite damaged by this over the years, with discussions of , say, the cosmic microwave background being constantly accompanied by references to the multiverse or the cyclic universe (actually the sigularity itself is pure speculation as you know).
    I had thought until recently that the Higgs field had been ruled out as a candidate for the inflation because of the exit problem, looking forward to reading the new papers.
    Re fishes and whales, you could argue that the first sighting of a fish (scalar field) gives a small boost to the idea that whales (the scalar field responsible for inflation) exist: but I absolutely agree this should be in a paragraph headed ‘speculation’!
    Regards, Cormac

  23. I particularly liked this spin on spin and the fleshing out of why hb may or may not be related to bb.


    Sent from my iPhone

  24. According to your statement that planck data is not a direct proof of inflation , is it correct to say : planck data is not proof that inflation concept it -self is obligatory ?

    1. There has to be a reason for the extreme flatness of the early universe. There is no proof, as yet, that that reason is inflation (of whatever sort) but some sort of inflation almost falls in to Matt’s “known and well established” category, but for the extreme implausibility of us ever being in a position to conduct any experiment that might prove it.

  25. how appeared the higg’s fields after the inflaton fields? are the same thing?
    the spin to the inflaton fields could have had negative values of quantic states going decreasing until the value zero spin? is correct?

    1. The Higgs field, along with fields like the gravitational field did not ‘appear’ after inflation (and they are certainly not the same thing as the ‘inflation field’) they, as far as we know, fill empty space, if you have space you have those fields. They may not have any disturbances in them (No particles or such.) but they are there.

  26. Analysis is done AS IF one model of inflation is a fact , the fundamental question is : does CMB results allow for no-inflation scenario where a new cosmology is to be ” speculated ” as we will be back to starting point ?

  27. I have just started to read this article,

    but I’d already like to mention that since quite some time ago, I have come to the impression that maybe it would have been better for physicists to talk in the public and in the popular mass media, and maybe in popular books too, exclusively about “known and well-established” things. Mentioning or even trying to explain ” plausible and widely believed ” ideas, let alone things called “largely speculative “, should better be avoided alltogether.

    As one can see from the fact that it is impossible to talk about and discuss beyond the standard model physics, certain cosmological ideas, etc… in physics blogs, below online news articles, and in other popular mass media without the corresponding comment sections turning quickly into a hell of ugly flame wars which prohibits any reasonable physics reasoning (sometimes even the purpose of the blog or news article itself is nothing else than to start flame wars!), trying to explain not (yet?) directly experimentally established ideas and concepts to people who have not any knowledge of their own in these topics, has done the field of fundamental or particle physics no good.

    The bad things have gone that far by now, that I always hold my breath and close my eyes in anticipation of the bad things that too often get started, as soon as somebody dares to mention cosmology, BSM physics, SUSY, and worst it gets with string theory, at places that are visited, read, and commented on by nonexperts too.

    1. I am definitely a non expert, I didn’t even know what the higgs field was until I saw them winning the prize on the news, But when they described it, It was exactly to me, kind of what I had been talking about for a year, with no one believing even now.

      One more vein attempt, to find some one who might take a chance
      and believe.

      Every atom shift is recorded at the sub-atomic level, atom shift patterns
      can be retrieved and understood as light and sound patterns.
      IN SHORT
      with the correct tools one can tune to a place and time in history
      and see and hear what happened there.



      Respectfully and humbly

    1. One problem with using the LHC to prove something is that we can only observe what happens when two particles are smashed together and observe the results, we are not observing what created the particles in the first place. The higg’s field is a loose term (very loose, since everyone wants to clain any observed field is a higgs field — whether the standard model theories are correct or not). It’s obviously clear the Planck constant was incredibly huge at one time as the universe expanded and only the fine structure constant has proven to be invariant in just about every decent model I have seen — this implies this expansion was FAST — very FAST when it first happened. At any rate, I am not holding my breath for any more data from the LHC since so far it’s been the biggest edsel in the history of physics — a 10 billion dollar edsel and no one has been able to explain the results or verify anything. The particle has not been directly observed, only the decay products have been seen. I know this is not the mainstream position but to be honest, when you only have a hammer every problem looks like a nail. What’s needed are new approaches with new technology and not 10 billion dollar versions of souped up cloud chambers and cyclotrons since its clear we are not going to get any closer with the current technology and tools we have. If what I suspect is true, technology has to advance beyond the standard model to comprehend the forces which shape reality and matter and energy. BTW, I have visited a lot of blogs on physics and this is the best one I have seen so far. Hats off to you guys. 🙂

      1. All history, every atom shift, recorded at the sub-atomic level in a natural layer of the universe and beyond.
        Please investigate and comment.
        Crazy? Fiction? or possible?


        Respectfully and humbly

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A decay of a Higgs boson, as reconstructed by the CMS experiment at the LHC


A quick reminder, to those in the northwest’s big cities, that I will be giving two talks about my book in the next 48 hours:

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 04/17/2024

The idea that a field could be responsible for the masses of particles (specifically the masses of photon-like [“spin-one”] particles) was proposed in several papers

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 04/16/2024