Higgs and the Luminiferous Aether

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

– J R R Tolkien

Peter Higgs (* 1929)

Peter Higgs (* 1929) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The recent release of conclusive evidence of the existence of a Higgs(-like) particle is truly a significant step in the development of human knowledge. So as an adherent of digital physics (DP) it is natural for me to consider whether that fits well with DP or if it’s problematic. Well the good news is that I think it fits very nicely indeed and I’d like to weave a tale that tries to explain why. It will touch on various things such as special relativity, wave-particle duality, and other details of particle physics. But most importantly of all, it will be presented with graphics vastly improved on my previous pathetic effort.

When I started mulling over DP, I was interested in thinking through any and all of the known facts of particle physics and see how they stand up to digital models. I wanted to see if I could identify some fact that was unambiguously at odds with DP, so that I could stop wasting my time and move on with my life. I often thought I’d come up against one, but by perseverance it was always possible to see that you couldn’t actually completely rule out DP on the grounds of any known fact. Of which I was aware.

Except for one….

One problematic, persistent sticking point that simply would not go away. One annoying detail that would keep me awake at night. A “feature” of Einstein’s special relativity:

There is no absolute frame of reference.

In other words, there is no such thing an absolutely stationary object. Instead, any object “X” (that is not accelerating) has an equal right to claim to be stationary and all other objects have an equal right to claim that “X” is moving.

However DP appears to require an absolute frame of reference, because space itself is taken to be a network of joined points. It has structure. Things move relative to that network and both space and particles are parts of the network. There is no background of nothingness in which this network “floats”. Distance and position are emergent properties of the network. Any particle which is not moving relative to the network is absolutely stationary.

Well I’m certainly not going up against Einstein. All of his theory’s predictions that have been tested have been proven correct. Nor am I going up against the teachings of Wikipedia.

Well, I’m sure you can imagine my delight when after further reading it became clear that this principle is not actually a requirement, nor is it a consequence, of special relativity. Rather, it’s a presumption that is consistent with the results of special relativity and appears to be implied by it. What is true is that there is no absolute frame of reference as far as the equations of special relativity are concerned. This is not the same as saying there is no absolute frame of reference at all, and it is not the same as saying there are no possible experiments that will identify an absolute frame of reference. This is actually well-known but just tends to get overlooked. See for example this. So we can happily talk about an absolute frame of reference, about the luminiferous aether, blithely ignoring the facepalming of people who think otherwise.

What then about this particle thought to be the Higgs boson?

The Higgs particle is a little chunk of the Higgs field. Getting it to pop out of the field is difficult, hence the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). To create a Higgs particle, you need to smash other particles together at extremely high speeds. Why? Because the Higgs is really heavy weighing in at around 126 GeV. This is much heavier than most other particles, and is way heavier than protons which have masses of only just under 1 GeV. Protons are the particles smashed together in the LHC. So they need to be made heavier in order to get 126 GeV popping out of the cataclysmic disturbance of colliding particles. But E=mc2 (energy = mass times the speed of light squared) so if you give a proton enough energy this is the same as giving it more mass. Speed up the protons and let special relativity increase their mass. In the LHC their masses reach around 7,000GeV (or 7 TeV). This seems like overkill but it isn’t. (Interestingly, 99% of the proton’s mass of 1 GeV is also relativistic mass caused by the internal speed of the three quarks and the gluons that make up the proton, but you probably didn’t want to know that.)

Now, this Higgs field has properties quite different from more familiar fields such as the electromagnetic fields of charged particles. In particular, the Higgs field is a single field that covers the entire universe. And DP is pretty comfortable about things that cover all of space because of the network of joined points that creates space. Hey, wait a minute!

Maybe the Higgs field is space.

Maybe the Higgs field is the luminiferous aether! Maybe it is the network of points and joins. Maybe it is responsible for the 3-dimensionality of space, for its ability to establish distances between points, for the ability to physically create triangles that obey Pythagoras’ theorem. (Actually, the Higgs is not the only field that permeates all of space, it is one of four such fields introduced to explain electroweak symmetry breaking but let’s not go there just now).

How might this work? I’d like to show how a digital universe might give rise to space and particles, and wave-particle duality. I’m not trying to push this as the correct model, rather just something plausible. It’s very vague and relies on a lot of arm waving. It’s the best I’ve got. But I like it.

Consider the digital network of our universe evolving from a random state though the process of an algorithm, as I described here, that ends up falling into two distinct parts. The first part consists of the points that tend toward some form of large-scale orderliness so that a large-scale property of distance emerges. You can conceptualize this as a uniform flat grid of points. In the process of finding this orderliness, the second part consists of clumps or tangles of points that don’t find a stable place in the grid, but form their own local stable shape. These are the particles. A piece of the universe, in a very simplistic diagram, looks like this:

Space emerges from the blue points, a particle is the stable clump of red points, and the white lines joining the two are the particle’s wave function. Think of the particle’s movement like a spider walking across a web.

Source: Corner of my den.

Space is the web, a particle is the spider’s body and its wave function are its legs. If you’re interested in seeing a simulation of a particle’s movement, click here.

So where in this space is the particle located. Like the spider, its body is not anywhere in space but it does interact with it through the legs. The legs touch the web and interact with it lightly, like a wave passing through it. At the same time the particle remains intact, its location indirectly defined by the effects of the wave.

former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatche...

former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in October 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How then does the Higgs particle create mass? There’s a Margaret-Thatcher_cocktail_party analogy that’s doing the rounds. This analogy fits well with the digital model of the particle. As the particle’s feet move along the grid (the Higgs field) they interact with it, connecting to joins and pulling parts of the grid along with it, giving momentum to the structure as it moves along, and hence mass. It’s just an analogy. It falls down under close scrutiny as does the Thatcher one. If you want to understand how particle theory really says it creates mass, you just have to do maths. Sorry.

One more comment about the Higgs. It’s identified as the field that gives particles their mass. But there are two kinds of mass: inertial mass and gravitational mass. Inertial mass is how hard you have to push something to make it move. Gravitational mass is how strongly it attracts other objects through gravity. For all objects, these masses are identical. And no-one knows why. In fact they still do experiments to test this. The Higgs explains the source of inertial mass. The source of gravitation is left to the troubled theoretical particle, the graviton, whose existence is doubtful.

But not as doubtful as the existence of infinity.

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