Of Particular Significance

Will the Higgs Boson Destroy the Universe???

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 09/10/2014


The Higgs boson is not dangerous and will not destroy the universe.

The Higgs boson is a type of particle, a little ripple in the Higgs field. [See here for the Higgs FAQ.] This lowly particle, if you’re lucky enough to make one (and at the world’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, only one in a trillion proton-proton collisions actually does so) has a brief life, disintegrating to other particles in less than the time that it takes light to cross from one side of an atom to another. (Recall that light can travel from the Earth to the Moon in under two seconds.) Such a fragile creature is hardly more dangerous than a mayfly.

Anyone who says otherwise probably read Hawking’s book (or read about it in the press) but didn’t understand what he or she was reading, perhaps because he or she had not read the Higgs FAQ.

If you want to worry about something Higgs-related, you can try to worry about the Higgs field, which is “ON” in our universe, though not nearly as “on” as it could be. If someone were to turn the Higgs field OFF, let’s say as a practical joke, that would be a disaster: all ordinary matter across the universe would explode, because the electrons on the outskirts of atoms would lose their mass and fly off into space. This is not something to worry about, however. We know it would require an input of energy and can’t happen spontaneously.  Moreover, the amount of energy required to artificially turn the Higgs field off is immense; to do so even in a small room would require energy comparable to that of a typical supernova, an explosion of a star that can outshine an entire galaxy and releases the vast majority of its energy in unseen neutrinos. No one, fortunately, has a supernova in his or her back pocket. And if someone did, we’d have more immediate problems than worrying about someone wasting a supernova trying to turn off the Higgs field in a basement somewhere.

Now it would also be a disaster if someone could turn the Higgs field WAY UP… more than when your older brother turned up the volume on your stereo or MP3 player and blew out your speakers. In this case atoms would violently collapse, or worse, and things would be just as nasty as if the Higgs field were turned OFF. Should you worry about this? Well, it’s possible this could happen spontaneously, so it’s slightly more plausible. But I do mean slightly. Very slightly.

Recently, physicists have been writing about this possibility because if (a) you ASSUME that the types of particles that we’ve discovered so far are the only ones that affect the Higgs field, and (b) you ASSUME that there are no other important forces that affect the Higgs field other than the ones we know, then you can calculate, with some degree of reliability (though there is a debate about that degree) that (1) the Higgs field could lower the energy of the universe by suddenly jumping from ON to WAY WAY SUPER-DUPER ON, and (2) that the time we’d have to wait for it to do so spontaneously isn’t infinite.  It would do this in two steps: first a bubble of WAY WAY ON Higgs field would form (via the curious ability of quantum mechanics to make the improbable happen, rarely), and then that bubble would expand and sweep across the universe, destroying everything in its path.

An aside: In particle physics lingo explained here, we say that “the universe has two possible ‘vacua’, the vacuum we live in, in which the Higgs field is ON a bit, and a second vacuum in which the Higgs field is HUGELY ON.” If the second vacuum has lower energy than the first, then the first vacuum is said to be “metastable”: although it lasts a very long time, it has a very small but non-zero probability of turning into the second vacuum someday.  That’s because a bubble of the second vacuum that appears by chance inside the first vacuum will expand, and take over the whole universe.

Ok. First, should you buy the original assumptions? No. It’s just humans assuming that what we currently know is all there is to know; since when has that been true?  Second, even if you do buy them, should you worry about the conclusion? No. The universe has existed in its current form for about 13.7 billion years. The Higgs field may not perform this nasty jump for trillions of years, or trillions of trillions, or trillions of trillions of trillions, or more. Likely more. In any case, nobody knows, but really, nobody should care very much. The calculation is hard, the answer highly uncertain, and worse, the whole thing is profoundly dependent on the ASSUMPTIONS. In fact, if the assumptions are slightly wrong — if there are other particles and forces that affect the Higgs field, or if there is more than one Higgs-like field in nature — then the calculation could end up being way off from the truth. Also possible is that the calculational method, which is subtle, isn’t yet refined enough to give the right answer.  Altogether, this means that not only might the Higgs field’s nasty jump be much more or less likely than is currently believed, it might not even be possible at all. So we don’t actually know anything for sure, despite all the loose talk that suggests that we do.  But in any case, since the universe has lived 13.7 billion years already, the chance is ridiculously tiny that this Higgs field jump, even if it is possible at all, will occur in your ultra-short 100 year-ish lifetime, or even that of any of your descendants.

What about the possibility that human beings could artificially cause the Higgs field to turn WAY WAY ON? Again, the amount of energy involved in trying to do that is extremely large — not a supernova, now, but far, far beyond current human capability, and likely impossible.  (The technology required to build a particle accelerator with collisions at this energy, and the financial and environmental cost of running it, are more than a little difficult to imagine.)  At this point we can barely make Higgs bosons — little ripples in the Higgs field; now you want to imagine us making a bubble where the Higgs field is WAY WAY WAY MORE ON than usual? We’re scientists, not magicians. And we deal in science — i.e., reality.  Current and foreseeable technology cannot turn this imaginary possibility into reality.

Some dangers actually exist in reality. Asteroidlets do sometimes hit the earth; supernovas do explode, and a nearby one would be terrible; and you should not be wandering outdoors or in a shower during a lightning storm.  As for the possible spontaneous destruction of the universe? Well, if it happens some day, it may have nothing to do with the Higgs field; it may very well be due to some other field, about which we currently know nothing, making a jump of a sort that we haven’t even learned about yet. Humans tend to assume that the things they know about are much scarier than they actually are (e.g. Yellowstone, the “super”-volcano) and that the things they don’t know about are much less scary than they actually are (e.g. what people used to think about ozone-destroying chemicals before they knew they destroyed ozone.) This is worth keeping in mind.

So anyone who tells you that we know that the universe is only “meta-stable”, and that someday the Higgs field will destroy it by suddenly screaming at the top of its lungs, or that we might cause it to do so, is forgetting to tell you about all the assumptions that went into that conclusion, and about the incredible energies required which may far exceed what humans can ever manage, and about the incredible lengths of time that may be involved, by which point there may be no more stars left to keep life going anyway, and possibly not even any more protons to make atoms out of. There’s a word for this kind of wild talk: “scare-mongering”.  You can safely go back to sleep.

Or not. There’s plenty to keep you awake. But by comparison with the spread of the Ebola virus, the increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and acidification of the oceans, or the accelerating loss of the world’s biodiversity, not to mention the greed and violence common in our species, worrying about Higgs bosons, or even the Higgs field in which a Higgs particle is a tiny ripple, seems to me a tempest in a top quark.

Share via:


121 Responses

  1. Idrop a leave a response each timje I appreciate a article onn a website or
    I have something to valuable to contribute to the conversation. Usually it is caused by the sincerness displayed
    in the post I read. And on this artile Will the Higgs Boson Destroy the Universe???

    | Of Particular Significance. I was movved enouygh to drop a leave
    a responsea response 🙂 I actually do have some questions for
    you if it’s okay. Is it simply me or does iit llok like like some of
    these responses appear as if they are coming frrom brain dead visitors?

    😛 And, if you are posting on additional social sites, I’d like to folllow
    you. Could you make a list the complete urls of all your communal pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook
    page or twitter feed?

  2. I agree that (as if it is important) the LHC experiments will lead to new and better understanding of how we were “born”. What I cant understand is that, people worrying about “these diet sodas”

    1. We like to worry about things we can easily control. This lets us be lazy and also feel that we are in control of our lives. Politics is confusing and complicated, but if all the world’s ills arise from what you drink, well then you can do anything.

    2. Well, diet soda is evil for other reasons but I doubt diabetes is the big problem, or if it is, it’s because of the fact that you’re also eating at Micky D’s with sugar-dosed rolls and syrup-flavored sauce. Those nasty sweeteners and their side effects are the more pressing concern. A chemical that makes everything taste better – for ‘diet’ sodas. An appetite enhancer, in other words. Yeah, that couldn’t possibly go wrong. 😀

    3. Well a little Occam’s razor here. Assuming this is possible, it most likely has already happened to within a very small degree of the most it ever can, even assuming that it can happen more than once? What kind of energy would be released in a hypothetical ‘turning way up’? Enough to reach the equivalent of a Curie point for the Higgs field? Or would it be guarenteed to not exceed that which allowed our existing seemingly stable value to ‘crystalize’? Temperature is related to volume but is this where the analogy breaks down with magnets and it’s the total heat for all space (assuming finite), not the average? These are some nice unknowns. There probably is some principle that keeps it just barely near the ‘critical doomsday value’ that we haven’t discovered yet.

      That supernova power supply thing is the sort of arguments against any sane civilization building giant Deathstars and the like. It’s much simpler to just send a small asteroid their way at a good portion of light speed. That’s right – merely using the power of the engines to move a rock is just as effective as some super ray beam. Or you know, melt only the crust of a planet instead of heating it to quadrillions of degrees or some such stupidity. But hey, that wouldn’t look as cool as an exploding globe! 😀 Hell, even a nova might not destroy an Earth-like planet like that?

      As a side note, I was wanting to joke that the Higgs particle already destroyed the universe in the first second, but we just hadn’t noticed ‘yet’. This is a reference to the idea that our universe is in fact very unstable and we’re just living like microbes in a corpse, blissfully unaware of larger temporal or spatial scales. Especially the fact that the universe is slowing down from a certain POV. In other words expansion makes it take longer for information to ‘compute’ or ‘move’ between a given amount of mass, not to mention the classical definition of entropy.

      Another joke could have been that it’s happening all the time, and like in a certain science fiction story, we just keep branching off of that possible timeline. I’ll feel like a chump if you tell me these wild guesses turn out to be likely or least not impossible. This is freaking Boltzmann territory! :/

      I wonder what a hypothetical universe with different Higgs-like constants or even no Higgs field at all would be like. This can count as speculative physics (like speculative history fiction), I guess…

  3. Sorry, I should make more clear the comment “Another important fact is that the correction of the coupling due to loop of top-quark pairs may result its value ( effective coupling strength) ” in my previous post , i.e. to say

    Another important fact is that the correction of the coupling due to loop of top-quark pairs may result its value ( effective coupling strength) to be negative ……

  4. Dear Matt
    I have seen in explicit calculation that the contribution to the value oof Cosmological Constant(CC) due to the self coupling of Higgs field violently exceeds the upper bound of CC, found in experiment. Another important fact is that the correction of the coupling due to loop of top-quark pairs may result its value ( effective coupling strength) , as an consequence the Hamiltonian wouldn’t have lower bound. So these facts show the instability of universe due to “Higgs potential”. Could you please comment on that ?

    Thanking you.

  5. How can a meta-stable universe ( since 13.7Billions years) decay because of Higgs boson or Higgs field which is a part or among a group of sub atomic particles which was formed during big bang or found or assumed to be validated for its existence for that tiny period in time.

    I have not read Hawking’s book. Is he talking about a Higgs Bomb which is powerful than a nuclear bomb which can come out of this research?

    1. The metstability of the universe does not relate to how many Higgs particles are in it and in fact the high energy of the early universe opposes the sort of decay posed here. When the universe was ‘born’ it was high energy ‘Higgs-off’ Later on when the energy of the universe dropped it decayed to ‘Higgs-on’. This could only happen once the universe was old enough.

      So what happened ‘early on has little to do with what happens now. Also, if a ‘Higgs bomb’ were possible it would be as suicidal as the fictional ‘Ice nine’; what government or organization would want to end the entire universe as we know it? As far as I aware no scientists are taking research into such a device seriously.

        1. Why I define it in the same way I define my own birth of course! ‘That point in time when an object begins a significantly independent existence apart from whatever object(s) constructed it.’

          1. ‘That point in time when an object* begins a significantly independent existence apart from whatever object(s)** constructed it.’

            Be careful how you use these philosophical definitions. Objects** bearing objects* is only valid for “life” i.e. DNA replication. As for fundamental particles, not so sure.

            Here is a thought, what if time does not exist, what if we (and all the universe) lived in the “now”, only? Then it could start making more sense.

            We all live in a sea of ever lasting change, no beginning and no end. Just transformations (quantum jitter?) that never stop and because of this chaotic change could very well explain the difference between the electron and muon g-2 factors? i.e. the fundamental unit of change, the time variable in the energy-time uncertainty principle.

            All this mumbo jumbo has given me a headache, see you later, 🙂

        2. But is it only valid when thinking of life? We talk of particles decaying though they do not rot, of stars being born and dying and so on. I might well ask you what is so special about life that it alone has the right to the term ‘born’ Of course in reality humans have invented the idea of objects in the first place…

          I must also wonder how quantum ‘jitter’ (Jittering being something that takes time to do) can work in a universe without any time.

          1. Simply put, I dare say, one needs to differentiate between “born” and “transformation”, the former associate to life, DNA replication which evolved, and the latter associated with particles which were created at the Big Bang.

            As for time, again need to differentiate between the time variable in Schrodinger’s equation and the time variable in the energy-time uncertainty principle. Former is used to describe the evolution of a system, which I believe is causing much confusion, and the latter is the fundamental unit of “time” it takes for a single change of state, quantum jitter. The difference being there is an arrow associated with evolution and its pointing in only one direction, wrong, but the “jitter”, the jitter is the build block which everything is made of and has no arrows. It only lives in the “now” reference frame.

            If only we can develop the correct math to properly describe the “now” we would be much further ahead.

        1. There’s always commotion about everything. This week my mother is afraid diet soda causes diabetes.

          The detection of Higgs particle is an important confirmation of a longstanding scientific idea that will lead in future to new physics and developments that may trickle down to our everyday lives, but there’s no need to pay it any more mind than any other scientific endeavor unless you have a particular interest in physics.

          If ever something threatens the world you will hear it from scientists. (I would suggest worrying about asteroids and ebola.)

      1. The speculation Strassler wrote about a future society somehow maybe, but not likely deliberately increasing the value in a ‘seed’ space brings up an interesting moral dilemma. What if you knew that life would 100% surely end if you didn’t do it like a fire with no more air and fuel, but that there was a small chance that the new vacuum state would support any kind of complex life? Small being smaller than my chances of getting hit with a meteorite as I’m typing this.

        BTW, Supernova was a way awesome movie! It’s about this exact idea of some super-smart people(we assume as viewers) creating a universe-ending device and leaving it just sitting around for the new kids on the block to destroy themselves with. Me thinks the inventors from who-knows-how-long-ago didn’t survive the first ‘test’ in that story. The writer must have been thinking of stuff like the hysteria over LHC and classics like ‘Ice-9’. BTW, there are many know types of ‘ice’, just counting H2O variants. Just like with diamonds, there’s forms that seem to only exist (or form) in special circumstances.

  6. I assume there is a field for every fundamental particle that we know exist, so far. Am I correct to assume that the Higgs boson ( and hence the Higgs field) is not the fundamental that creates all the others because it does not explain the difference between the muon and the electron g-2 factors.

    Further since the electron g-2 factor is the most precise number in existence that we can measure, then the correct path should go the electron, yes/no?

    Further, the most intriguing is the electron can exists on its own. Does this mean the electron must have a “partner” attached (at least one) in order to do this dance on its own. And hence is a composite and not a fundamental particle.

    Will results of the Fermilab muon g-2 experiment shed some light whether the muon and/or electron are composites?

    1. Oaktree,

      You might also want to look into experiments to measure the proton charge radius by electrons and by muons producing a small (~4%) difference in results. Matt may chalk it up to experimental error, but I’m not so sure. The experiment was repeated in 2013 – still a 4% difference. If true, current physics cannot account for it.

  7. Is it true that the Higgs field plus gravity waves would have crushed Inflation leading to big bang big crunch in the same time IF no physics beyond the SM exist ?

    1. No. At the time the Higgs field and gravitational waves appeared the universe was expanding at an incredible rate. Though the unbelievable expansion of inflation was stopped rapid expansion still occurred and continues to occur to this day. Of course inflation itself is quite likely physics beyond the SM.

      1. @Kudzu :
        I must be honest with you , i only trust all scientific statements i receive from Dr. Strassler , no one else , but thank you for your responses .

        1. Indeed, good advice. Certainly I have oft stated something knowing I was right only to be shown by Mr Strassler that what I had been taught was totally wrong. It is unfortuante he does not have the time to answer all the questions raised on his blog.

  8. Chicken Little’s are always saying the sky is falling, I do believe we’ll be here far, far into the future. Life has just begun.

    1. I repeat Many.
      Could Quantum tunneling be a good drainage (decay) into the so called black hole – to conserve the stable universe ?

    2. We don’t know. IF the SM is all there is (It REALLY looks like it’s not) and IF the current approach is completely correct (There’s good evidence it’s still ‘fuzzy’) THEN yes.

      But our current understanding of the universe also suggests there’s a tiny possibility of a primordial black hole wandering up to earth and eating it, these things are possible in theory, but not anything to worry about. Certainly global nuclear war is far, far more likely.

  9. Assuming any grand equation of which the solution give us all the values of the Standard Model parameters / constants , it the case that the mentioned grand equation itself will contain a higher category constants that need an ultra grand equation to find …….infinite regress .
    My question is :
    It that presents an evidence that solving for the cosmic constants is Unreachable ?

    1. You can always ask ‘Why’; if we came across a ‘grandest equation’, one with no constants, one that was the only way the universe could possibly be… why? Why is that particular arrangement the only valid one?

      So science will never know everything. If it did, it would stop.

      1. Can there be any equation related to the universe at large without constants ? I doubt it , so according to that and to what you said , the grandest equation is unreachable in principle , right ?
        I am not asking why , i am just saying that there always be constants whereby the grandest equation constants are unreachable ….think about that , it is very transcendental fact , awesome fact .

        1. All equations involve constants, especially since ‘1’ is a constant and can be inserted into any equation.

          However it is possible to have an equation governing the universe that has nothing but ‘trivial’ constants. (That is integer numbers like 1, 2, 3, -1 and so on).

          It may also be that the universe is governed by a ‘program’ (This is the hope of those who study cellular automata.) In that case equations and their constants would arise from the running of ‘commands’ much like the force of gravity in a video game arises from the repeated application of code.

  10. Matt, I was sad about you to change the subject to “welfarism”, solace, moral support, reassure people, etc., without addressing the physical aspect of the fact. It does not matter whether or not, if it is possible or impossible, is only interested in themselves and the fact you did nothing to overturn this thesis. Just stayed in the lamentations. I’m sad for a great physics teacher that you are. I did not expect this from you.

  11. Silly, totally silly. “Turn off the Higgs field.” Complete nonsense. Certainly this kind of thought experiment can be useful. However they can get out of control; someone may start selling the concept and the next thing you know it becomes standard theory. Look what happened with “space-time” and also with the “big bang.” Perhaps we could get in the habit of including a warning with these wild ideas. “All right boys and girls, we are going to imagine unreal stuff; so let us all pretend we are in Kansas with Dorothy; now turn off the Higgs field.”

    1. … Also include Higgs boson, W and Z boson masses through Higgs mechanism – along with “so called”… “space-time” and “big bang” !

    2. Are you suggesting the big bang is fanciful? Or rather that we should carefully guide people’s thinking, lest they end up thinking things we don’t want them to?

      1. Thank you Mr. Kudzu. It is the complacent of mainstream folks to think perpetually “DECOHERE” – that, informations by good schooling shapes the history – so that, preventing that information can control everything.
        But in reality, everything is correlated and informations changes along with space coordinates, cannot be controlled. Thus a street urchin can also prodigy.

      2. Yes. The “big bang” is sustained by faith, politics, and job security. The scientific contortions necessary to keep big bang creation alive would be comical if this was just an aberration of human judgement.

        1. I am always skeptical of such claims, it seems to me that they can be used to dismiss any view. An eternal universe supports a certain politics (For one it could be used against Christianity.) and also provide job security. While I am aware the big bang has its share of problems I have yet to see anything better. (And there are certainly groups out there trying.)

  12. *strong evidence* from theoretical studies of quantum field theory that fields, and even space itself, are *not* ontologically fundamental
    ——would you please elaborate on this essential point …..thanks.

  13. Hello Professor and welcome back, hope you didn’t get lost too many times walking through those curve streets of Bawston? 🙂

    Anyways back to the mysteries of the universe. I am sure you have already an article here somewhere on the technical (derivation) definition of “ON” re: fields and specifically Higgs, if you could reference it, please?

    Suspicion it has something to do about a “mexican hat”? Where we leave in a “ditch” and praying it won’t be washed away by an avalanche of that central cone (dark energy)? Something like that?

    Btw, are the edges of the sombrero, dark matter? Is that what keeping the Higgs on?

    For good clam chowder you have drive sawth of Bawston in those little beautiful fishing port where you you can eat excellent breakfast waiting for the fishermen to bring in their morning catch. Greatest city in USA, Bawston.

    1. The “mexican hat” shape describes the behaviour of the process of spontaneous simmetry breaking induced by the Higgs field.

      It is due to the breaking of symmetry that some particles gain mass and others do not gain mass: the particles that do not gain mass do not suffer from symmetry breaking.

      The breaking of symmetry is a clear indicator that some conservation principle has been broken too, so, the conservation is lost and through that, mass is attained by that particle.

        1. I think “ON” simply means that the vacuum expectation value of the field is non-zero, and “OFF” means that it would be zero.

          All quantum fields fluctuate in the vacuum, but most of them (the “OFF” ones) fluctuate about an average value that is zero in the vacuum. The Higgs field is different as it fluctuates about a non-zero average value.

          1. Respectfully, I don’t think “zero” exist nor would be possible, which is, IMHO, our collective block in our imagination (creative cognition). If zero would be possible then there would be no universe, since there is indicates to me that there is a “single” field which derives all others, unification theory.

            This concept of “ON” and “OFF” is misleading us and blocking us from further progress. We must invest more resources in figuring out quantum “jitter” and redo the math not with the time variable but rather the fundamental frequency of the quantum fluctuation.

            I ask again, what does “ON” mean?

        2. ‘On’ means to have a value that is, on average, not zero. By this it does not mean the field does not exist any more than a lack of wind means air doesn’t exist. In this case off\on is merely a shorthand like hot\cold or day\night.

          The Higgs field is unusual in that it is having a big effect everywhere there is space.The average electric charge of space is zero, its average gravitational pull is zero and so on. But its average ‘Higgsness’ is nonzero.

  14. But DM is not an obligatory part of the BB model like the Higgs for the SM so i guess it is very possible that DM is not part of physics beyond SM , maybe a kind on new law of Gravity is the part ????

    1. There IS physics beyond the Standard Model: neutrino masses, dark matter, dark energy, quantum gravity itself. Since nothing certain is known about these things, the conclusion drawn by the authors has to be understood as extremely weak.

    1. Because it would cost a huge amount of energy. Only [according to the calculations I referred to] by jumping to a much, much larger value could it lower the energy. Conceptually, the equations are the same as those that describe the possibilities for the marble at the bottom of a bowl. The marble is quite happy at the bottom of the bowl and to make it move away from the bottom costs energy. The only way the marble can lower its energy is by getting outside of the bowl and onto the table. In quantum physics this is extremely unlikely, but not impossible. There are more details to cover in a future post, but this is the basics. See http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/particle-physics-basics/tunneling-a-quantum-process/

  15. Supposing it is possible for the higgs field to turn super-on, would it make particles super-heavy causing a universe big crunsh? If yes, those fluctuations could cause a possible infinite number of “big bangs”?

    1. Even if the particles of the universe became much heavier due to the Higgs field becoming much larger, this would not necessarily cause a big crunch. The equations are both complicated and partly unknown, so what would happen next isn’t obvious.

      1. Indeed. The Cosmological Constant (or Dark Energy, or whatever) that is pushing the expansion of our universe has to be taken into consideration to propose what could happen to galaxies and clusters and other celestial structures, if particles were heavier due to an Higgs field working at a “higher level of ON”.

  16. If ‘Higg’s’ is science, why would there be so many versions/ interpretations of it from the top physicists. There are umpteen number of imaginations and explanation of Higg’s field with each having its own believers and followers.

    And something that is claimed to be ‘visible’ only to the intelligent minds is probably not real but is likely to be a mere delusion of the intelligent minds.

    1. Do not confuse speculative theory (of which there are often many variants) with experiment and data (of which there is only one version.)

      There’s clearly a new particle — everyone agrees that the bump in the middle of this plot is a real physical effect. You will not find much debate about that.


      This particle is roughly similar to the simplest possible type of Higgs particle (a “Standard Model” Higgs particle.) Everyone agrees about that too.

      Beyond that, it’s too early to say more for sure. But science works by gradually narrowing down the possibilities, and increasing the level of understanding. It takes time.

      1. Well, even clear cut observations/ experimental data do always mean the same to everybody. In other words, the same experimental data may be ‘concluded’ differently by different people depending upon their beliefs and pre-occupations. Take for example the double slit experiment. While you the top physicists (who believe that our world is weird and hence readily embrace illogical propositions) accept the data as proof of photons wandering in all directions simultaneously, logicians like me would argue the same data as proof of existence of some kind of Ether.

        Imagine that we undertake double slit experiment with water molecules fired through vacuum. Obviously the water molecules produce ‘particle pattern’ of impacts on the detector screen.
        And then we undertake the same experiment under water and fire water molecules exactly as before. This time, the water molecules obviously produce ‘wave pattern’ of impacts on the detector screen. By looking at the data (i.e. the wave pattern of impacts on the detector screen) anyone with little commonsense would suspect that the second experiment was carried out under water.

        Similarly when photon particles produce wave like pattern of impacts on the photosensitive detector screen, a logical conclusion would be that our space must be permeated by a sea of photons (‘photonic Ether’) and hence must have been the wave like pattern produced by photons. (My wild guess is that what you guys portray as Higg’s field is nothing but the Ether)

        And I can continue to argue why the ‘null’ result in Michelson’s experiment doesn’t rule out Ether wind and also why the aberration of star light doesn’t disprove Ether drag.
        And finally, just because all the intelligent men are in agreement, a weird proposition neither stands proven nor does it become the truth. What matters is not how strong the mandate is from the top brass but how logical is that proposition.

        1. One problem I would note is that you can perform the double slit experiment with water molecules in a vacuum, you get a wave pattern quite easily. We can in fact do this with molecules as large as C60 ‘buckyballs’

          I would also argue that ‘logic’ is a poor criterion for truth. So many times what we have thought of as simple and logical has crumbled under the weight of new observations. The sun orbiting the earth is logical, certainly it’s what appears to happen from our vantage point. And it’s not like we feel we are moving. An orbiting earth breaks a lot of nice, sensible ideas.

          1. Logic is the basis of all human knowledge including science. No experiment or observation straight away proves or disproves any theory. One has to logically analyse the data and logically interpret the observations to prove or disprove any theory. Otherwise any silly observation or experiment can be argued as proof of any weird theory. For example, an illogical mind may argue flying kites as proof of return of Dinosaurs onto the Earth after about 4000 years. You can’t argue against that weird proposition if you don’t believe in the importance of logic in interpreting things. (Of course you could show falling flights as disproof of that wild proposition because there is no logical restraint!)

            Whenever some experiment yields results that appear to go against our logic, it doesn’t mean that Nature is illogical. It just reflects our logical inability and ignorance. Only when we dig deep enough we will realise the logical link there.

            Coming to the double slit experiment, I am aware that ‘bucky balls’ have been observed to produce wave like interference after sufficient number of them have passed through the slits. (And so it is logical to assume that water molecules and other larger particles would also in principle produce the same pattern) But why isn’t that we don’t observe the wave pattern after ‘firing’ just one particle? Why it is required to fire a large number of particles to produce wave pattern? In contrast, firing even a single water molecule is enough to produce the wave like pattern on the detector screen if the experiment is performed under water.

            Imagine that we are undertaking the double slit experiment with footballs. When we do the experiment in ‘vacuum’, we probably have to fire ‘infinite’ number of footballs before we could see them producing the wave pattern. Until then we will only get a particle pattern. Now imagine that we do the experiment in an environment filled with foot balls. In this scenario, even a single football would produce wave pattern of impacts on the sensor screen.

            More over, in former scenario, most footballs will be stopped by the first wall and only those few which manage to pass through the slits will produce an impact on the detector. But in the latter scenario, each and every time a football is fired, the detector will receive an impact.
            So there is huge difference between the two scenarios i.e. water molecules producing wave pattern in vacuum and the same producing wave pattern in an environment of water. Why is it so?

            Ether theory has all the answers.
            And it can explain why particles (water molecules, electrons, bucky balls, foot balls etc) produce wave pattern of interference even in ‘vacuum’ i.e. outside their ‘own environment’.

        2. We don’t see the wave pattern after one particle because if that were so the particle would have to be having far more than one particle’s worth of effect. The detector is set up so that each point of it can be triggered by one or more particles. Firing a single particle through can there fore only trigger one point at a time. The detector may receive a wave, but it can only respond in a particle-like manner.

          Performing the double slit experiment underwater gets you nothing; the motion of the particle you fire is absorbed and redirected by the other randomly moving water molecules. Indeed the detector is swamped with random noise; a massive number of water molecules need to be moved before the wave survives viscous forces and reaches the detector. The same goes for footballs.

          1. I am glad that at least you are trying to use some sort of logic (may be subconsciously!) to argue against something (whether that logic is right or wrong is a different issue!)

          2. You get nothing not because nothing really happens there but because the detector is not sensitive enough to pick up the extremely weak impact that results when a single molecule is fired. If nothing really happens, then nothing should happen even when you fire trillions of molecules at once.

  17. Dr. Strassler :
    Please enlighten me about the following :
    We are not dead sure that fields are the fundamentals
    We assume that they are
    We mathematize the assumption in QFT equations
    We got observations
    We interpret observations by the field assumption
    Now : is this a proof that fields are ontological fundamentals or we interpret it as fields because we assumed fields in the start ?
    No one answered me till now .
    Thank you professor .

    1. There is no proof that fields are ontological fundamentals; moreover, there is every reason (based on the historical past) that they are not, since every previous concept has eventually been reinterpreted and superceded. Moreover, it is not even obvious there is meaning to assignment of such a firm concept as “ontologically fundamental objects”; in fact (though I have not had time to explain this very subtle point on this website) there is *strong evidence* from theoretical studies of quantum field theory that fields, and even space itself, are *not* ontologically fundamental. But these subjects are not settled, while the point of this website is to explain as clearly as possible what we currently understand about the universe — always with the caveat that this is the best current picture of particle physics, and likely not the final one.

  18. Like a universe, your post is a way of seeing things?

    ” Physically, the effect can be interpreted as an object moving from the “false vacuum” (where = 0) to the more stable “true vacuum” (where = v). Gravitationally, it is similar to the more familiar case of moving from the hilltop to the valley. In the case of Higgs field, the transformation is accompanied with a “phase change”, which endows mass to some of the particles.” Phase Transitions in the Early Universe- http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/research/gr/public/cs_phase.html

    1. I have asked you before not to advertise here. This website is not for either mainstream physicists or self-proclaimed physicists to publish and advertise their speculative ideas; there is a journal system for that. Please desist; I do not want to have to ban you from this site.

  19. Recently the EU published regulations banning high-powered vacuum cleaners in a effort to conserve electricity consumption. CERN’s LHC has got to be one of the largest single consumers on the grid. Touted as the largest and most expensive set of experiments in history and still not well understood by the public. Hawking’s highly disseminated science fiction musings are particularly worrying in a climate where pure scientific inquiry is valued less than commercial or military applications. The real danger at CERN is not minuscule black holes or metastable Higg’s bosons it is the public’s inability to grasp the significance of experimental data and the politicians ability to pull the plug. Doomsday scenarios from respected and influential scientists do nothing to dispel ignorance and may do harm to genuine science.

  20. I would be a much much much more concerned about the possibility that we might annihilate our dear planet Earth and potentially couple of neighbouring planets as well (and with “good” luck our Sun also).

    I’m referring at my own post about The Great Filter.

  21. With an assumption of the metastability of the universe, could the big bang have originated by the Higgs field switching OFF? And could it eventually switch WAY ON to form a massive collapse, from which, after turning OFF, say, in another big bang event, a new universe is formed and the cycle repeats?

    1. Not likely; the equations don’t relate the two issues directly. The point: the Higgs field isn’t just free to do what it wants. There are equations which govern it. And those equations contain dependence on what space-time is doing, just as the equations of space-time depend on what the Higgs (and other fields) are doing. So it’s not like the Higgs field can simply determine what space does; each affects the other.

      What IS possible and even likely is that the Higgs field was off during the early part of the Hot Big Bang — but that was due to the temperature being high — much the way a magnet will demagnetize if you heat it and remagnetize when it cools. That’s not what you’re suggesting, however.

    2. The problem with that scenario is that these events only occur when going from a high energy state to a lower one, like a ball bouncing down stairs. To loop like you describe would be like a ball bouncing down the stairs to create the universe, then somehow bouncing back up to do it all over again.

      Also turning the Higgs field ‘way up’ won’t cause spacetime to collapse as far as I am aware; it is a rearrangement of the energy in the Higgs field to mass, not an increase in the energy-mass density of space.

      It is of course possible that some other field or combination of fields acts in a cyclic manner; they wouldn’t even need to cause collapse; repeated bursts of ‘new vacuum’ would be in of themselves new universes no matter what happens to the rest of the ‘old universe’ around them.

  22. Dear Matt,, could you imagine that the growing number of black holes could eat ( absorb) the Higgs field? leading to contraction of the Higgs field and the universe as a whole?

        1. I think what you mean to ask the professor is whether the increasing number of black holes will affect spacetime itself; if there is enough mass in a given volume of spacetime then that volume will start to contract, this is due to curvature of spacetime and not the absorption of fields. The problem there is that BHs just rearrange existing matter (And its effects on the Higgs field) If more mass was somehow being added to space everywhere that would be another siutation entirely. As it is it seems the reverse is true, the universe’s expansion is accelerating.

          That said your image raises questions; I am unsure if your model allows fermionic matter to enter a BH. If it does not then rather obvious effects occur; the BH should quickly pick up a very strong negative charge and surround itself with an increasingly massive shell of ‘orbiting’ fermionic matter until that shell’s mass becomes large enough to overcome any degeneracy pressure and collapse. Am I perhaps reading it wrong?

      1. Welcome back Matt. Interesting situation. What happens to the field if the ripple is captured in the black hole and disappears for ever and the field stays outside! May be the answer has something to do with the blackhole information paradox!

        1. IMHO, rest mass and particles itself is a decohere. Degree of freedom shows there is something outside lowest energy level of photons. There is correlation and decay beyond this.
          Photoelectric effect shows this heavyness of massless photons.
          So the information is distorted by entering the so caled BH.
          So if you are correlated with that information, like photoelectric effect, you can knock down a mountain with your hand like a monster ?

    1. In Sean Carroll’s latest book, he asserts that to seriously disrupt the Higgs field would require more energy than exists in the known universe; IOW a bit beyond the capacity of even all of us puny denizens of this insubstantial dust mote of an obscure planet in a garden-variety solar system in a basically average galaxy among hundreds of billions.

  23. Hello Matt,

    I rather applaud your explanation below. In a way it leaves an entre’ for the causative case for our ES ( Emergent Space ) concept. Then maybe something which may wish to be considered next year on the LHC power up where substantial energies may indeed come to light. And become more than a cheesy stick at a cocktail party.

  24. Curiously, one assumption, that hasn’t received the attention it might deserve is that, when we’re talking about the “energy of the unverse”, we’re really talking about the cosmological constant. We do not have as good an understanding as we would like about how quantum fluctuations affect gravitational perturbations-the reference here is the work of Coleman and de Luccia and they present the caveats quite clearly. So I don’t think any conclusions about the fate of the Universe can be drawn from the calculations discussed here.
    What these calculations *do* highlight is that there are degrees of freedom, that have not been accounted for and whose effects might be observable. *How* they appear, remains to be found. That’s all-and it heralds exciting physics, without the need for sensational fiction.

    1. Hmm, makes me wonder how one would go about measuring that sort of thing in a region of space with extreme blue shift. A ‘frame of reference’ with ‘gravity-well-like properties’ in Einsteinian lingo. Anyone want to volunteer for the first near-light-speed ship? Not that we’ll ever build one anytime soon if at all, hehe.

      1. Anyone who’s been to Cambridge or Oxford and then spent time in St. Andrews would understand the attractions of the latter.

    1. In some sense it’s probably really the same universe (i.e. space-time hasn’t changed) but with completely different particles in it. But it’s even possible to have transitions where space-time changes too… possibly even ending up with more large spatial dimensions than 3. Lots of wacky stuff is possible, according to our equations. Very little of it is likely to happen, however.

      1. Even if atoms did not break apart, if additional dimensions where to appear all of a sudden, just about all planetary systems, including ours, would become gravitationally unstable, with planets and satellites either flying away from or falling into its star.

  25. If the Higgs particle is 125 GeV, are there any theories that call for two Higgs particles ? And if so, would that mass be about 140 Gev. There appears an energy level already seen and some, (very liitle) evidence. Sense the masses are nearly the same, the probabilities and decay rates should be close.

    1. There are MANY theories that call for two, five, seven, etc. Higgs fields. None of them make a definite prediction for the masses of the other ones; they could be 10 GeV, 100 GeV, 1000 GeV, or anything in between.

    2. Just in case anyone is interested the combined ATLAS/CMS Higgs mass has been announced: 125.36 ± 0.37 (stat) ± 0.18 (sys) GeV. The systematic uncertainty has been reduced.

      1. Thanks, both of you. This would put the Higgs2 particle at 142.2. Which is right at the 142 GeV where you could see very small activity above the background. Can anyone find that plot from LHC and confirm that data ? The data may have been presented right here on this site also.

  26. IHMO, we should take these kinds of commentaries from Dr Hawking with a pinch of salt.

    It is regarding Hawking’s liberal tinkering with concepts that Dr. Leonard Susskind aptly named Hawking the “Evel Knievel of Physics”.

    Kind regards, GEN

      1. Well, if one looks a bit more carefully, one finds that, whereas it’s been *claimed* that he stated something, it’s not obvious that he *did*. For example (after going over many links about wiping out the Universe),

        in http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Professor-Stephen-Hawking-says-Higgs-boson-8216/story-22898716-detail/story.html

        one can read that he’s written in the preface (that would be useful to find) that:

        “The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn gig-electron-volts,” he writes.

        “This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.”

        Of course one should pay attention to the conditional tense that he does use-obviously the news channels replaced conditionality by assertion…

        1. Plus we don’t know how the Higgs field arose, whether there’s only one, what all fields exist, the origin and role of dark matter, and we’re to worry about something that has NOT happened in 13.8b years happening within one ten millionths of that scale? Even conceding your point, the Strassler ‘s right.

        2. In quantum mechanical terms, transitions from metastable states are “forbidden” and are much less probable than the “allowed” transitions from other excited states.
          If you were in a system above the electroweak temperature you would be surrounded by a sea of very real W and Z bosons – They have been observed in particle accelerators at high energies, therefore they can certainly be real. At low energies Radioactive decay.

          Heavy particles like spin zero particles (Higgs potential) undergoes mechanisms – which cause negative pressure.
          At high energies, the lack of meaningful physical properties of this negative pressure became real and metastable. Again at normal energies, could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay – due to conservation of space-time ?

          1. No, transitions from metastable states to a stable state are *classically* forbidden, but do occur due to tunneling, i.e. when taking quantum fluctuations into account. The question is, whether the statement about metastability of a given state is only an approximation, itself and the state is, in fact, stable (*not* metastable), due to other contributions.

          2. Thank you Stam, what is symmetry breaking in this context ?
            IMHO, symmetry came from classical conservation law. If symmetry is broken, conservation of energy level is broken – for a while before metastable or stable ?

  27. Then , is it physically possible that some unknown field or force or law or you name it can turn th H . F . Off or on in a fraction of a second ?
    Age of the universe is of no help since that unknown thing may itself be turned on by the universe present condition whatever that means ?

    1. Physically possible, yes; but the age of the universe IS of great help, because “present conditions” are much the same as past conditions for most of the last 13.7 billion years. And I don’t say this in some vague way; if you write equations for the expansion of the universe and how it might interact with unknown fields, you will not see any special feature that would cause things to happen now that would not be true of the distant past and distant future.

Leave a Reply


Buy The Book

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


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

Although I’ve been slowly revising the Higgs FAQ 2.0, this seemed an appropriate time to bring the Higgs FAQ on this website fully into the

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 04/15/2024