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Monday, September 24, 2012
Science ...

The existence of the Higgs Boson particle has been confirmed by experiments at the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Europe, and particle physicists now have proof that a mechanism exists within their “Standard Model of Particles” that imparts the quality of “mass” to various particles (i.e. most everything except the photon, the force carrier of electromagnetism, and the gluon, the particle that holds quarks together as protons and neutrons in the interior of atoms). Does that explain everything? Well no, there is still a big problem that they call “The Hierarchy Problem”. This problem is a bit tricky for we physics junkies who don’t understand all the heavy duty math behind it. I will now cite three articles that try to explain this important Problem in three different ways, and see if I can weave them together into a “hierarchy for dummies” presentation.

Ethan Siegal’s “With A Bang” column gives a brief overview of the huge disparity in energy levels between gravity and the old familiar electrical force (light, magnetism) along with the weak force (radioactive decay and neutrino interactions — rare as they are). Gravity is extremely smaller than electrical and weak forces, by a factor of 10 with 40 zeros following it; i.e., one big number. Well yes, but just what is the problem with that arrangement? Mr. Siegal doesn’t really take you across that divide, he just forges ahead to reviewing the possible solutions, and how they imply some interesting future discoveries for the CERN collider.

Fine, but . . . maybe you’d like to know more about the problem before you jump to the solution. OK, so let’s try out Matt Strassler’s often insightful blog called “Particular Significance”. Dr. Strassler lets you in on a bit more. First, he informs you that the newly discovered Higgs Boson is at the root of the hierarchy problem — sort of. Actually, the Higgs Boson itself is just a side-show. It is not the thing that coveys mass to particles. That is done by the Higgs Field, the cousin to the Higgs Boson (in a sense, the Higgs Boson is just a wave on the ocean of the Higgs Field). The reason why they are studying the Higgs Boson so intently is that the family relationship can tell you how the Field does its job of “stuffing” elementary particles with mass. I.e., the Higgs Boson should reflect the characteristics of the quantum exchange between the Higgs Field and a particle cruising through it. I.e., just how much energy-mass (remember E=MC2, so energy and mass are equivalent) the Field conveys at any one point in space and time.

What Dr. Strassler focuses on is the big difference between how much energy-mass the “Higgs Field quanta” or “virtual Higgs particle” conveys versus the energy-mass of the smallest possible particle of pure mass. The latter would be a black hole at the Planck length, the tiniest distance by which anything can exist or operate. The tiniest black hole is HUGELY bigger in energy-mass than the Higgs Boson (and thus it’s cousin, the Higgs Field’s “virtual” exchange mechanism). But then Dr. Strassler fast forwards to consider possible solutions. So, you are farther down the road, but still not quite there.

Finally, let’s look at the Quantum Diaries blog. OK, this writer starts by explaining how the common, well known electron could be seen as having a Hierarchy Problem, and what the solution is for that particular particle. So the electron has been observed to have an energy-mass. Very good. But the problem comes in when you consider the strength of the electrical field that is infused into it (in a sense, the electron is a particle which has both electrical charge and magnetism stuffed into it by the electromagnetic field, and mass packed in it by the Higgs Field). The electron is considered to be a “point”, but not an infinitely small point; it does have some radius dimension to it. The problem is, stuffing all that electrical charge in a small space should require a LOT of energy; because one side of the electron repels the other, every imaginable bit of it wants to get away from the rest of it, due to electrical repulsion (remember that electrons repel other electrons; so why shouldn’t the stuff inside of the electron repel itself?). That energy would hugely exceed the actual measured mass-energy of the electron. As a crude analogy, think of the energy that you need to stuff the spring of a Jack-in-the-box back into the box after it pops out. The spring stores a certain repulsion energy within the box. So, something has to make an adjustment to the electron particle because of its electrostatic repulsion energy; there’s some sort of mechanism that counters all this energy except for the tiny bit that survives as the measured mass.

What could that compensating mechanism be? Well, for the electron, it turns out to be the process by which virtual electrons and positrons are continually created in the vacuum, which exist for a microsecond before destroying each other as if it all never happened. The thing is, since these creations and destructions keep on happening very rapidly, there are almost always some short-term electrons and positrons around the real electron, even though each pair only lasts for a blink. Despite their very short life, the positrons and electrons occurring near the real, permanent electron arrange themselves so that the positron end of the team is closest to the real electron. As such, this helps to neutralize the inner repulsive force, as the positive positron and the real electron attract; the stuff within the real electron diverts its energy into attracting the fleeting positrons, versus repelling the rest of itself.

In a sense, the short-term electron that was born with the short-term positron outside the real electron substitutes for the charge-neutralized portion of the real electron. In effect, the internal charge of the real electron gets spread out into a wider circle by this mechanism. So, it doesn’t take so much energy after all to keep it packed together. All of that “internal repulsion angst” in the real electron gets spread out into the vacuum by all the continually created and destroyed short-term positron-electron pairs. Just a little bit of energy is left behind to manifest itself as the observed mass of the real electron.

OK, so that’s the solution for the electron and its “Hierarchy” differential between the electrical field strength and the actual observed mass-energy of the electron. As to the Higgs field, given how much energy is packed into a pure quantum expression of mass (i.e., the Planck-length black hole), you’d think that the Higgs field quantum mass exchange mechanism (again, cousin of the observed Higgs Boson particle) would convey this huge amount of energy. But no, it only coveys a tiny fraction of that mass-energy; like a flea on an elephant. So, we need to find some sort of compensating mechanism; something that interacts with the proverbial elephant with the flea, takes the elephant away, but leaves the flea behind. (Imagine a vacuum cleaner that sucks in the elephant but leaves behind the flea . . . ) For the electron, there is the never-ending vacuum energy creation of short-run positron/electron pairs, to compensate for all the electromagnetic field strength that should otherwise be in it. What device / process / particle-system could do something similar for the Higgs field and its virtual quantized interactions with quarks and other stuff?

OK, all three of these articles spend a lot of time reviewing the possible candidates. One candidate, the coolest one, is the existence of extra dimensions!! Something supposedly happens in an added space dimension that drains off the mass-field energy from the Higgs interaction; this is the flip side of the same coin that says that the gravity force we observe is so weak because it is only the tip of an iceberg existing in extra dimensions. The big energy component for gravity is lurking out in some other dimension. Arguably, the CERN LHC has enough energy to create some kind of fleeting particle that would prove this extra dimension to exist — that is, if that extra dimension really does exist! I.e., maybe we find that particle (and thus the extra dimension that it implies), and maybe we don’t.

The other main candidate is ‘supersymmetry’, i.e. the existence of boson-fermion inverses to the bosons and fermions known today to the Standard Particle Model. I don’t understand exactly how, but some sort of Higgs supersymmetrical particle (the “Higgsino”) would somehow do something with the excess mass energy, maybe again on a virtual, vacuum fluctuation basis. The “mini black hole” that we considered earlier just happens to be a place where this supersymmetrical energy draining mechanism isn’t happening, and mass-energy is expressed to its full potential.

Well, that’s how I see it. My explanation probably isn’t fully accurate, I’m sure there are gaps or mis-impressions created by it, given how complex and mathematical these interactions and processes are. But that’s the best I can do on my descriptive layman’s basis, for understanding some really interesting (and incredibly complex) mechanisms that weave reality together at the most tiny levels there are or can be. This stuff is getting so complex, that we now need at least three different PhDs (or doctoral students) to make any sense of it!!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:26 pm      

  1. Jim, I tend to think that if YOU think 3 Ph.D.’s are needed to understand this “stuff”, then what chance do I have? None at all.

    Yet. . . of course, I did have my own peculiar tho’ts as I read this. I’m not even sure I can express these tho’ts in words as I think them in the tho’ts of my mind. But I’ll give it a try.

    I have often found myself considering the difference in various beings in a “time sense”. By that I mean, it seems to me that each individual different thing has its own experience of time. E.g., dogs, on a rough estimate, every year of their lives live 7 of ours. Each being has its own experience of time. Again, for instance, it seems to me that while for us dogs live one year to our seven years, the dog itself must experience the time it is in existence as a full life—somewhat the same as we experience a full life.

    I realize that speaking of dogs and the Higgs boson are not the same at all; YET, I found myself considering each of these “things” discussed in these articles that exists for however briefly, perhaps so briefly it’s impossible to measure the “time” of its existence. Even tho these things you are speaking of (bosons, protons, neutrons, etc.) may not have consciousness as we experience consciousness, nevertheless, would each not experience existence in its own fullness?

    Which makes me wonder about all the various dimensions involved in all these “small-nesses”. Obviously, I am not a scientist and obviously I am looking at this in a strange sort of way, but I find myself wondering if scientists might get further in their thinking if they approached some of this from a different standpoint.

    Then too, as I’ve said before (and will probably say too often again), if the scientists are right that the observer changes the observed, I can’t help but wonder if the “things” scientists are looking for are “there” only in the minds of the scientists. It may be then that the scientists are bringing into being what it is they are pondering. Thus, perhaps it’s not how many Ph.D.’s one has (or in what) but, as has been put so simply but truly before, it’s the thought that counts. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — September 26, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

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