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Higgs Boson and Mass

Updated on March 22, 2013

What is the Higgs Boson? By now most people know that it is a particle that gives us mass. Some call it the god particle because if it weren’t for this particle nothing would exist. Without mass atoms wouldn’t form.

But what do we know about it besides that it must exist if the standard model of physics is right? After all, if it doesn’t exist the standard model is wrong, because without it the standard model cannot explain mass.

If we go back to the beginning of the big bang we find a uniform universe that is full of free mass-less particles traveling at light speed. It is thought that at this stage the Higgs Boson field was high potential, but it didn’t exist as a field yet.

Potential in physics is as important as actuality because the void of space is full of potential energy waiting to come forth into actuality.

At any rate, in the beginning we are stuck with a universe that has no interactions going on between particles. But as it cools, small perturbations enter the scene and the Higgs field changes from potential to actuality and gives mass to everything.

Remember I said small perturbations. This is how it is described by leading physicists at the collider that claims to have probably finally found the Higgs Boson. Of course, they are only 95 percent certain about that and in physics that isn’t enough to say it’s a fact.

Small perturbations is also how Lorenz described chaos: Small perturbations in the system originating/inherent in the system’s starting point. Looks like the big bang was already a chaotic system from the beginning.

What the Higgs did was to slow everything down to sub light speeds and make it possible, or actually inevitable, that particles would bond to eventually form atoms.

Now one might ask how a particle so small as to be almost impossible to find lends mass to almost everything. Some people imagine it hitching a ride on other particles. But that’s not what is happening. The Higgs Boson is a field, not one potential particle in the field. You might say it is a cloud that permeates the universe, slowing down almost all other particles. It’s kind of like ether. It’s like running in neck high water.

So if it is a field, why are we looking for a particle? Why not look for a field? Well the reason we are looking for a particle is because the field itself is even harder to find. We smash particles together in specific ways to try to force the formation of a Higgs particle from the field. When we do, we expect the particle to die within nanoseconds.

In effect, scientists are trying to compress the field into a particle, like turning a drop of water into ice.

As it happens, if we have found the Higgs, the particle produced turns out to be many magnitudes bigger than a proton. So it is large, not small at all. And that’s what we expected.

So why is it called the Higgs Boson? Well, in the 1960s there were many scientists working independently to find the correct mathematical reason why things have mass. As it turned out three papers were published just weeks apart. Higgs’s paper was the second to be published, but the reason it was named after him and not after one of the other scientists working on the theory is because he told scientists it was a field, and his paper was written in the mathematical language of physics, so it appealed to the largest percentage of scientists. They soon started referring to it as the Higgs Boson, and the name just stuck.

As to who will win the Nobel Prize if the theory is proven is anyone’s guess. The prize can only be given to three individuals for the same work. The problem is there are at least five people in the running, and possibly as many as 8. Oh well, we’ll see. But chances are Higgs will be one of them, unless he dies before the prize is given out.

A Boson is a type of particle named after an Indian scientist named Bose who worked with Einstein developing what is known as: Bose–Einstein statistics. Since all particles end in: on, it became a Bose-on or Boson. Bosons are essential particles that are not divisible in to smaller particles. Many Bosons have been found, but up till now the Higgs hadn't been.

So what is mass?

The mass of an object is not its weight, though weight is a measure of mass here on earth. Things in space have no weight, but they still have mass. So the Higgs Boson is not gravity. Gravity acts on mass giving weight, while the Higgs field gives us mass. Mass is usually thought of as inertial mass. That can be defined as resistance to acceleration.

In other words, mass prevents things from constantly traveling at light speed. Or framed another way: Resistance to acceleration is a measure of mass. This mass and consequently its resistance to acceleration increases the closer we get to light speed; so much so that nearing light speed, but never attaining it, mass becomes infinite; or close enough to it to say it is.

So particles themselves have no mass inherent in them. Mass is just resistance to acceleration caused by the Higgs field.

Matter, on the other hand has mass, but there is no clear definition of matter, as there are many conflicting definitions within the scientific world. That’s why the word mass is used instead in physics circles. But perhaps we can say that matter is anything made of atoms. So mass is also a way to measure the matter in a system. That’s the way Einstein’s equation E=MC squared is framed. It is telling us that mass (atoms/matter) and energy are in effect the same thing in different form. All mass is made up of energy, even though not all energy has mass. Light for instance (photons) have no mass. In other words they have no resistance to acceleration,

I know. it’s complicated. But we haven’t even talked about the definition of energy yet. The standard definition is that energy is just a measure of work a system can do. But in reality, due to Einstein’s wonderful intellect we can turn that around and say that work is a way to measure energy. Energy is not just work, it is something that does work. But I explain all this in another paper, so won’t repeat it all here.

Will it be a real boon to mankind if we really have found the god particle? Well it probably won’t help pay our mortgage. Not directly anyway. But it will mean our model for particle physics is on the right track. It’s another important piece of the puzzle. Who knows how much potential any one piece has?

If not then we will keep trying until we succeed or discover it doesn’t exist. Then it’s back to the drawing board for the standard model.

One thing is for sure, the more pieces we have gotten so far, the faster our technology has developed. The more we know as a species, the better off we all are in the end.

Let’s leave no stone unturned.

Update: The Higgs has been confirmed. It's a great day for the standard model.


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    • seigfried23 profile image


      5 years ago

      Very nice summation of the Higgs particle - particularly the field vs particle bit.

    • artblack01 profile image


      6 years ago from New Mexico

      Thanks for those, they were interesting. I will look into it further as well as your other hubs.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile imageAUTHOR

      Ron Hooft 

      6 years ago from Ottawa

      The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science publishes peer reviewed articles much like Lancet publishes peer reviewed scientific papers.

      Besides my own hubs, that would be a good place to start. ;)

      Wiki has a pretty good article on it:

      The kind of philosophy of science I am exploring comes out of materialism (now often called physicalism) where by we try to discover the way the world/human nature works by applying the findings of many fields of science to the subject.

      I am most interested in the relationship between the micro and macro world, and in particular I am trying to explain how the micro world results in the macro.

    • artblack01 profile image


      6 years ago from New Mexico

      Interesting, any links by which I can read about this philosophy that you recommend?

    • Slarty O'Brian profile imageAUTHOR

      Ron Hooft 

      6 years ago from Ottawa

      Sorry for the delay in responding. First of all, thank you for your comments. I am glad you found it interesting,

      I am not a physicist. I am a philosopher. Specifically I base my philosophical positions on the findings of science, so I need to have a good working knowledge of it. It is actually a relatively new field of philosophy which is aptly called: science philosophy.

    • artblack01 profile image


      6 years ago from New Mexico

      That was a great article, great explanations and very well researched. Are you a physicist by any chance?


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