October 15, 2009

Back to the Future: Part Higgs

Eminent theoretical physicist Holger Bech Nielsen has captured the collective imagination of late by proposing things like "a particle physics model with the property that probabilities for events in the near future (say, time t1) of an "initial" state (say, time t0) depend globally on the action for complete spacetime histories, including the parts of them further in the future than t1. The usual simplification, where we in practice consider (and sum over) only the parts of histories between spatial hypersurfaces t0 and t1 does not apply. This gives rise to a form of backward causation. Things like branching ratios for events here and now can depend of the ways the various alternatives can be constinued to later times. Events involving Higgs production, such as the running of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN are the leading candidates for such effects in their model." Or, as Dennis Overbye writes, "A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather."

Needless to say, I find the idea of a Higgs imbued with sentience enough to travel back in time and stop its own creation via LHC--in order to save this universe--stupifyingly awesome. Suddenly, we face a situation where the simulation becomes the real (Ender's Game, anyone?), where mankind's attempt to re-create an unstable primordial atmosphere to uncover the meaning of life (or, at least, of mass) can be manipulated, where the Higgs in the photograph starts to fade and the $9 billion spent on the LHC alone becomes an endeavor thwarted by a mischievous scalar elementary particle. Sean Carroll, though, employs his hefty intellect to put our minds at ease, saying that "the theory is undeniably crazy--but not crackpot, which is a distinction worth drawing." So, you're saying there's a chance?

An apt mantra (and not for the first time) when confronted with teasers like this--be in it in science, politics, medicine, love: "You remember this: they never tell you any more truth than they have to."

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