Oh My God Particle!

It would be amiss of me not to jump into the debate about what Michio Kaku said on CBS about the Higgs boson. If you don’t know what I am talking about see the blogs of Sean Carroll, Matt Strassler, Peter Woit, Lubos Motl etc.

The initial case for the prosecution was that Kaku had said incorrectly that the Higgs Boson caused the big bang. If you listen more carefully to the details, he is saying that the Higgs boson could be part of a family of scalars that includes the inflaton responsible for inflation. This justifies that the Higgs boson put the bang into the big bang. It is perfectly true that this could be how it works and despite accusations to the contrary Kaku used the words “think” and “could” to indicate that this was a speculative hypothesis, not settled fact. If you missed those caveats it’s your fault not his.

He rightly stresses that physicists dont like the term God particle used by the reporters but he is not making a great deal out of it. The term sticks because people remember it and it tells them that the Higgs boson is considered important. I think it has been explained enough times that it was a joke and was not intended to be taken literally. If the public still don’t get that then there is no hope for their understanding. Ina any case Kaku is not the one guilty of promoting the usage in this interview.

Motl has covered this in the blog post and I agree with what he says. There is just one thing that I think is worth adding. Kaku says that the Higgs boson could be the trigger that sets the big bang off. This is the part that has led to so much criticism  In the original inflation theory the era of rapid expansion does not start right away when the universe is created. If that is the case then it might be true to say that the Higgs boson puts the bang into the big bang but it would not be right to say that it triggered the big bang. So what is he referring to? The answer I think is a genre of big bang theory in which there is a time before the big bang when it was in a steady meta-stable state. According to these theories our universe was triggered by a transition to another vacuum in which the inflaton is responsible for its rapid growth right from the first instant of the new phase. The theory of eternal inflation is one sub-variety of this type of cosmological hypothesis. Personally I do not favour such theories because they seem to be inspired by a philosophical desire to explain the universe in terms of temporal causality and as I discussed at length in my most recent FQXi essay, that is not my philosophy. Nevertheless it has become a popular class of theory with cosmologists. Ironically Sean Carroll who sparked off this attack on Kaku seems to be one of its biggest supporters.

Matt Strassler criticises Kaku above all for not making it clear which parts of what he was saying were speculative. I invite you to listen to what he said again (see the links to the video on the other blogs). He actually stresses very clearly that “we do not know how or why” the big bang started, but “we think” the Higgs boson may be a key piece of the answer. I don’t think he could have made it any clearer that these are just possibilities.


If you are concerned that Kaku seems to think that the Higgs boson is responsible for inflation then be aware that this might actually be the case. Sean Carroll denies that this can be the case and Matt Strassler says that it is unlikely. Motl explains exactly why it could be the case and I remember hearing about this in a webcast talk at Moriond on the same day as some of the new results were being aired. The theory requires an extra coupling between the Higgs boson and the curvature tensor and it has its problems, but then so does every other theory of inflation. The model does at least have the virtue of not requiring other unknown fields. When Strassler says that this version of inflation is “unlikely” he is expressing his own opinion. He claims in a comment that he does not express his own personal opinion without indicating as much, yet here he does exactly that.

Kaku is an eloquent speaker and he knows his subject. He is very careful with his words and knows the kind of angle on a physics story that will get the general public interested. Most people do not have the time to digest the kind of details that are explained at length on some of the blogs, yet Kaku can convey a feeling of our excitement that ordinary people can appreciate immediately. Yes, the basic known facts about the Higgs boson are interesting and exciting too but the more speculative ideas that people are working on are what really gets people to sit up and listen. If some physicists fear that people cannot distinguish between known and unknown facts when words like “could” and “think” are used then they are simply not giving people enough credit.

Science reporting needs to cover the full range of news from the latest experimental results to the wildest new theories being discussed by physicists. If it does not do so then it will not inspire new young scientists to take up research. People like Kaku may not please everyone but they are getting the message across. I am sure he will not be discouraged by boring physicists who simply don’t get it.

24 Responses to Oh My God Particle!

  1. I don’t think anyone took or takes his minor interview commentary seriously. Those in the know –the impact of a Higgs and those who don’t have their own ideas. The rest probably just think he is a Higgs PR surfer to keep his name and face in the media – which earn dollars

  2. I don’t think the public are the least bit interested in speculative ideas as they all are lead by this prof and that prof via the media

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      I think if people were not interested then PBS, BBC, Discovery etc would have noticed the grim ratings and changed tack.

  3. […] Update: Philip Gibbs comes in on Kaku’s side here. […]

    • Dilaton says:

      LOL 😀 nothing can be discussed on any physics blog without the land of Mordor taking note of it and pinging back …

  4. carlmott5520 says:

    there several particles with characteristics to the higgs’ bosons.the bosons are reflections of others dimensions of spacetime that deform the others dimensions .these deformations are given by spontaneous symetry breaking,and others violations as cp -conserved to strong interactions,the dieformations of the spscetime dimensions impimplies in the violations and conservations of symmetries p.c.p cp ,or pt

  5. Charles Ivie says:

    The “God Particle” is important because it may provide the missing piece of the puzzle that unifies classical and quantum physics. The Standard model of quantum physics deals with three of the four known forces; electro-magnetism, the weak force and the strong force. It does not offer any explanation or even a place for gravitation. The Higgs Boson, if the theory is correct, is a quantum-mechanical particle but is, as the notion goes, responsible for mass. This means that it provides a link between quantum physics and gravitation and inertia. It suggests a relationship between particle properties and the space-time curvature described by Einstein in the General Theory of Relativity. The Higgs could reveal the underlying mechanism of the equivalence principal and may show why and how mass and space-time curvature are related. It is difficult to imagine a more important possible event in modern physics. This ranks with Newton and Einstein and Hawking and possibly beyond. I only hope that there is someone that is smart enough to understand it.

  6. The strange thing about mass and electric charge is that when a particle annihilates, its fields annihilate as well. Just before that event the fields (gravitation & electrostatic) had quite an extension. What happens to these fields?
    The quantum state function of the particle is a probability amplitude distribution. It means that its location is rather fuzzy. Does this mean that the gravitation field of the particle has the same fuzziness for its center location?

  7. Orwin O'Dowd says:

    Hi Hans

    I you remember, my last comment on your blog concerned relativity, and Einstein’s theory does explain this enigma, with fields propagating as waves at finite velocity. So we can be experiencing ghost gravity waves from exploded supernovas.

    As for the fuzz, Einstein always worked with centers of gravity, and Levi-Cittiva showed he strictly needed a symplectic manifold (infinitessimal particles) to deal with the Bianchi “freeze” problem. To open that one up is to confront what I call microcurvature, and that to me marks the next horizon in theory.

    • hansvanleunen says:


      This means that during its live the particle transmits its gravitation field and after annihilation the transmitted field keeps proceeding but is cut-off at its back by a tsunami-like wave?

      • Leo Vuyk says:

        Sorry for my late reaction.
        The field keeps proceeding bur is cutt-off at its back!
        For me this is easy if you imagine that Fermions have a real propeller shape with left or right handed pitch ( the difference between electron and positron).

        All fields and eigenenergy of the fermions can be interpreted as the Higgs vacuum collisionary information products radiated away with the local speed of light.
        If fermions annihilate they are supposed to change form back into vacuum Higgses (according to my Quantum FFF model.)
        However this is far out of the box thinking of course.
        fig 8 and 9.

    • Orwin O'Dowd says:

      That sounds about right, but I don’t think Einstein ever confronted particle annihilation – he was a continuum/continuity theorist. With a theory that wouldn’t really play ball. I think you particularly want to take t with a pinch of salt, because the Bianchi inequality is playing your kind of game. And many theorists now find themselves doing relativity through 2+1D images, where a field acts in the boundary-conditions.Of course gravity is harder if you take it as a body-force in Euler’s sense, and no-one has a neat answer.

      Felix Klein, who gave us the affine manifold idea which got Weyl going, actually managed to prove E=mc^2 rigorously and had another proposal for fixing Einstein’s theory – but that’s only remembered in Germany now. Still, here’s a current view of what you can do from Klein: a system that tidies up much of what Matti Pitkanen is attempting, but with an architecture more like yours:


      • Orwin O'Dowd says:

        This is a very deep topic, I’m glad you’ve come to it. The SM is looking more and more like an Einstein fudge, with massive neutrinos behaving like infinitessimals. Theory now gets a whole lot more focussed and subtle, and the whole gung-ho bandwagon fades away.

        This paper dares to treat the Schrodinger equation as an analytic function, with a central potential that is a real function, and then cracks the Cauchy problem for the Navier-Stokes equation: that’s the actual viscosity of the electron liquid!


        Here the non-linear Schrodinger equation is unexpectedly tamed due to a subtle cancellation of terms, The math is pretty similar:


        These are strong leads on the viscosity problem in QCD and what’s gumming up the Higgs search at the LHC. Cauchy always struck me as the most interesting Classical physicist, and this is all strangely dream-like: as if time were slowing down into an unprecedented concentration of minds.

      • hansvanleunen says:

        The Hilbert Book Model dives deep in what fields are and considers particles as coupled fields. It uses quaternions and quaternionic functions rather than space time and gauge transformations. This makes math a lot simpler and renders quantum physics into a kind of fluid dynamics.

        Fields describe distributions of “charged” objects. Quaternionic fields are combinations of scalar fields and vector fields. For the HBM a quantum state function is a quaternionic probability amplitude distribution (QPAD).

        In the HBM universe steps with universe wide progression steps. Progression is equivalent to proper time.

        In the HBM the fields of particles are generated with one distribution element per progression step. That element only lives through one progression step. Thus, when a particle annihilates, no further distribution elements are generated. On the other hand the information about the fact that a distribution element existed is transmitted by a spherical wave. This represents the (dynamic) gravitation field.

        The HBM does not care much whether its concepts are observable/measurable. For that reason it can dive deeper. For example in most circumstances proper time is not measurable.

  8. Dilaton says:

    I like the additional explanations of the cosmological ideas Kaku hinted at 🙂

    And good that you joined the party Phil 😉 😀

  9. Leo Vuyk says:

    A temporary causality of the Big Bang after a Big Crunch, seems to me paramount in the discussion about inflation and the Higgs based vacuum.
    However it could be that we need a different kind of (non Hawking) splitting Big Crunch Black Hole equipped with a huge Higgs compressed nucleus, splitting into multiple smaller black holes and each BH evaporating and creating the Casimir based oscillating Higgs vacuum during inflation with a Lyman alpha shape..
    The temporary causality is then explained by the variability of the Higgs vacuum pressure on the Different black hole nuclei.
    The trigger for the start of the splitting of the Big Crunch Black Hole is the decreasing Higgs vacuum pressure by BH absorption on the Big Crunch black hole nucleus.
    For symmetry reasons, such a splitting and evaporating BH system should create more than one Lyman Alpha forests with opposite chirality, charge and backwards (left hand) rotating clocks ( but positive running time!!) ; the Raspberry Multiverse!

    New Dark Matter Black Holes and a New Dark Energy Higgs Field, Lead to a Bouncing CP Symmetrical Multiverse, and New Experiments

  10. Robert L. Oldershaw says:

    One of the more interesting side issues arising from this controversy is the discussion at Sean Carroll’s website about how the proton “gets its mass”. There appears to be some serious disagreement between Sean Carroll, Matt Strassler and other luminaries on this very fundamental issue. VMarko notes that no one using QCD, or anything else, has been able to retrodict the proton’s mass to better than 2%, and even this requires using a ratio of the proton’s mass to that of another hadron’s mass that is “put in by hand”.

    On the other hand, there is a theory of principle that can retrodict the proton’s mass, the masses of the 7 other major baryons and the electron at the 99.5% level, or better, using General Relativity and a little Quantum Mechanics. But of course no one is interested in this theory.

    Same as it ever was.

  11. Perhaps the BB is just a reductionist way of constructing our past, this hypothesis is triggered by the expansion of the universe, so the easiest way is to go back on the path of that expansion. But we are doing this in our minds, we only observe the past when looking at the stars and try to explain our “reality” in “why” (philosophy) and “how” (physics). All pasts are in our minds so we try to find a “perfect” hypothesis through combining our minds (the origin of decoherence) and maybe in this way end up in a cul-de sac with inflation, Standard Model, SUSY and the BB, we even go back to the old eather (looks like the Higgs Field), but in the end all our hypothesis keep on changing, which is a good thing. Kaku is only thinking free.

  12. This is a great post topic, thanks. I am not a fan of Kaku nor some of the usual theories on what dimensions are and so on… but in this case I quite imagine Kaku senses the depth of what will be a generalization and unification of many things which could with emphasis apply this to things like origins and inflations-for now at least quite outside the question of gods. From this general stance I find his insights not bizarre but right on. Today, at the equinox I post the primative ideas on a sort of superfractal space- some here said it was a hopeful direction.

    In a coincidence perhaps the other new thread on the Abel prize today hints that something significant may be there after all if there is a wider view of which we remain careful in our wording. These concepts will meet as we explore beyond the local simple concepts of quantum and relativity theories into a greater unification. It is simply not enough to imagine in the logic curvature as active or passive only as a force of space structure- nor a plane or brane as at its ground exclusively Euclidean… there are other foundational models that just as well could describe particles in collison (I do not mean simply things like the complex plane). In the higher fractal space many things are explained beginning with Representations and resonances by which the information of a surface and the volume reach a balance… and so on…

    Happy equinox, all you inquirers!

    L. Edgar Otto ThePesla

  13. Typo in the 4th para? “internal inflation” for “eternal inflation”?

  14. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    The relationship between the inflaton and the Higgs is of course a fascinating problem. It is clear that during inflation when the universe had a large cosmological constant Λ = 8πρ > 0 that supersymmetry must be broken. The early universe around 10^{-35} second into the big bang had a classical spacetime, which means quantum gravity phase had terminated and the H = 0 condition of supersymmetry is violated on the de Sitter vacuum. It is plausible that a high level supersymmetry N = 4 or 8 is what is broken at the end of some early quantum gravity or supergravity phase. Maybe SUSY at N = 1 or 2 re-emerges after reheating with a much smaller cosmological constant and at lower energy in the electroweak phase.

    How the Higgs field we currently appear to have some empirical handle on is related to this is uncertain. Maybe there are various Higgs fields out there, or some general scalar field(s) which the EW Higgs is just one example of.

  15. helio pause says:

    Sean Carroll is becoming more and more of a snarky troll these days. Same thing with Strassler. The entire Physics community ( I hesitate to say “physics field” ) is going through some rough times because we obviously got something wrong along the way in the past century, but it’s very difficult for someone who has dedicated their entire life to Physics to just abandon the concepts they so adamantly defend as absolute truths.

  16. […] Mat Strassler naar de mestvaalt der ideeën is verbannen. Anderen daarentegen, zoals Lubos Motl en Philip Gibbs, zeggen Kaku wel degelijk gelijk zou kunnen hebben of gelijk heeft. Afijn, kijk eerst maar even […]

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