• Register
PhysicsOverflow is a next-generation academic platform for physicists and astronomers, including a community peer review system and a postgraduate-level discussion forum analogous to MathOverflow.

Welcome to PhysicsOverflow! PhysicsOverflow is an open platform for community peer review and graduate-level Physics discussion.

Please help promote PhysicsOverflow ads elsewhere if you like it.


New features!

Please do help out in categorising submissions. Submit a paper to PhysicsOverflow!

... see more

Tools for paper authors

Submit paper
Claim Paper Authorship

Tools for SE users

Search User
Reclaim SE Account
Request Account Merger
Nativise imported posts
Claim post (deleted users)
Import SE post

Users whose questions have been imported from Physics Stack Exchange, Theoretical Physics Stack Exchange, or any other Stack Exchange site are kindly requested to reclaim their account and not to register as a new user.

Public \(\beta\) tools

Report a bug with a feature
Request a new functionality
404 page design
Send feedback


(propose a free ad)

Site Statistics

123 submissions , 104 unreviewed
3,600 questions , 1,219 unanswered
4,601 answers , 19,546 comments
1,470 users with positive rep
422 active unimported users
More ...

Is there an accepted analogy/conceptual aid for the Higgs field?

+ 6 like - 4 dislike

Is there an accepted analogy / conceptual aid for the Higgs field?

In Physics there are many accepted conceptual aids such as
* Schrödinger's cat
* Maxwell's Demon
* I'm sure I'm missing many, but you get the idea

Is there an accepted/standard aid for the Higgs?
I saw a popular treatment of the Higgs boson with Peter Higgs.
He talked about pearls being dragged through treacle.
But the analogy wasn't fully fleshed out, just a two second video clip

If there is not an accepted standard aid, what do the various professionals here use to aid explicating to non professionals?

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-17 04:06 (UCT), posted by SE-user Tommy Hinrichs

Closed as per community consensus as the post is Popular-level question; hence  off-topic.
asked Mar 7, 2011 in Closed Questions by Tommy Hinrichs (10 points) [ revision history ]
recategorized Apr 22, 2014 by dimension10

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-17 04:07 (UCT), posted by SE-user Qmechanic

This is more like a popular science question, isn't it?

Yes, it is already listed in the request for close votes thread ...

@physicsnewbie Yes it is, it is already in the close vote queue.  

4 Answers

+ 6 like - 2 dislike

This is not as easy as it may sound: in every analogy one has to make a choice between rigor and 'poetic license'.

Personally, the one i like better is Higgs for Waldegrave: where a crowd-analogy is given. But, as they say, your milage may very.

If you'd like, you can think in terms of a 'caramel pool', Milky Way Simply Caramel: Pool : when we say that a particle 'couples' to the Higgs field, we mean to say that this particle 'sees' this 'caramel pool', and this makes it "harder" for it to move, which we measure as this particle's "mass". And, as you can imagine, there are particles that do not couple to the Higgs field, meaning to say they do not "see" it: therefore, they move much more easily. ;-)

But, take all this with a grain of salt…

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-17 04:07 (UCT), posted by SE-user Daniel
answered Mar 7, 2011 by Daniel (675 points) [ no revision ]
reshown Mar 17, 2014 by dimension10

Crap analogy.

+ 4 like - 0 dislike

The Higgs mechanism is itself an extension to nonabelian gauge theory of an everyday tabletop phenomenon (at least in laboratories), called superconductivity. The origin of superconductivity is the formation of a charged Bose-Einstein condensate of electron pairs, which means that magnetic fields in the material are excluded. The exponential decay of electromagnetic fields means that the U(1) photon of EM at low-energies has become massive, and the reason is that the condensate has been eaten to supply the missing polarization state for the photon.

All this is explained in the Wikipedia page on Higgs mechanism. The original papers of Higgs, Brout Englert, and Guralnik Hagen Kibble, were all motivated by the suggestion by Nambu that the vaccuum can contain paired fermion condensates, just like the Bardeen-Cooper-Schriefer model of superconductivity. Nambu actively studied the BCS model before discovering the chiral quark condensate.

answered Nov 24, 2011 by Ron Maimon (7,295 points) [ revision history ]
+ 5 like - 1 dislike

This is my favourite simplified picture explaining the higgs mechanism:

In the first tree panels You can see how Einstein (a massless particle) enters a room with physicists (the higgs field) and gets slowed down by his colleagues wanting to talk to him (he couples to the higgs field and attains mass).

Panels 4 and 5 explain how the higgs field itself attains mass by coupling to itself: If a rumor propagates through the room, the physicists (higgs field) form a local crowd intensively chatting (self coupling).

answered Nov 24, 2011 by Dilaton (4,225 points) [ revision history ]
Ron`s example is of course much more sophisiticated and correct (+1) but I like this funny picture :-) ...

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-17 04:07 (UCT), posted by SE-user Dilaton
... in the above analogy the NEUTRINO would possibly be a very SCARY guy leading the physicists to run away into all directions (joking about NEGATIVE mass, FTL, etc) :-) ...

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-17 04:07 (UCT), posted by SE-user Dilaton

Funny, funny, but this is a bad picture. The Higgs is not dissipative, like a crowd, nor is it proper to think of it being "dragged along" giving mass to a particle, because the interaction is a direct point contact interaction between the fermion and the condensate, reversing chirality. it's really a bad analogy, downvoted, and I don't know why these jokes are imported into a serious site.

Agree ...
+ 0 like - 0 dislike

Here is a nice (and entertaining) video of Fermilab scientist Don Lincoln with a "different fish in water" analogy

(the analogy starts at 1:00)

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-17 04:07 (UCT), posted by SE-user ungerade
answered Nov 24, 2011 by ungerade (95 points) [ no revision ]

Another crap analogy.

The analogy of celebrities and rumors traversing a crowded room originally appeared in the Waldegrave Challenge competition is attributed to David Miller of University College, London.  It has appeared in various forms and featured celebrities like Margaret Thatcher and Angelina Jollie.

Imagine if there was a similar competition for the QCD sigma field.  What would it be like?  Does the sigma field interact with the Higgs field, or are they different descriptions of the same field?   Busy little vacuum you have there.  What else might be in there, besides a 10116 discrepancy in the estimated vacuum expectation value, that is?  No other area of science would tolerate such a deficit of exactitude for so long.  Why is this different?  Is this really science? Math got your tongue?

One of the principle weaknesses of the celebrity / rumor description of the Higgs field and Higgs interaction is that the force carriers are bosons, and as such, are perfectly capable of occupying the same space at the same time.  This is why the celebrity / rumor model is, as is said here not too indelicately, "crap".

Why are you explaining the history of a crap analogy? It is crap, so it doesn't need history, it just needs to die. The reason it is crap is not because of what you say, even in a fermionic condensate, like in the QCD ground state, there is no effect on electron propagation. The reason it is crap is because the effect is coherent and through point absorption interactions, and celebrities don't absorb other people. It's wrong in every respect, not just in the bosonic aspect.

The QCD sigma field (if by this you mean the radial oscillation of the pion condensate) is not easy to visualize, it's analogous to a order-parameter oscillation in a cooper-pair condensate, that is in a standard superconductor, except with more species of fermion. That's not a supercurrent, it's something else, I don't know what it is.

user contributions licensed under cc by-sa 3.0 with attribution required

Your rights