Monday, July 27, 2015

Why I shy away from comparisons between Physics theories like Higgs field and deep spiritual philosophy like Vedanta?

Note: I am really out of touch with Quantum Physics and Particle Physics type of stuff though I majored in Physics in college (B.Sc. Physics from Ruia college, Mumbai university) over three decades ago. [I also did about six months of M.Sc. Physics (specializing in Electronics) in Mumbai university, then (1983), before dropping out due to funds problem.]

This is a discussion about the Higgs Field/Higgs Boson and perceived misconceptions about it due to popular explanations given by science writers which when taken in a literal sense and compared with deep spiritual philosophy like Vedanta, may be open to criticism by scientists who choose to find holes in the literal text rather than interpret it more broadly/spiritually.

Both the simple wiki page, https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgs_boson, and the regular wiki page, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgs_boson, confirm that Higgs field gives (many) particles Mass. The simple wiki states, "The Higgs boson (or Higgs particle) is a particle that gives mass to other particles."

The regular wiki page states:

a) The Higgs mechanism is a mathematical model devised by three groups of researchers in 1964 that explains why and how gauge bosons could still be massive despite their governing symmetry. It showed that the conditions for the symmetry would be 'broken' if an unusual type of field happened to exist throughout space, and then the particles would be able to have mass.

b) Some years after the original theory was articulated scientists realised that the same field would also explain, in a different way, why other fundamental constituents of matter (including electrons and quarks) have mass.

Ravi: So a) & b) together would apply to all (other than Higgs boson itself) fundamental constituents of matter (particles), and therefore seems to be consistent with the simple wiki's statement given above. [I say seems to be, as I really an out of touch with Physics and am on somewhat slippery territory :-). So my logic in this analysis can certainly have some flaws.]

Now, it should be recognized that Higgs boson or field is related to Standard Model in physics. And, from the simple wiki page, "Scientists do not yet know how to combine gravity with the Standard Model." So even with Higgs boson and field being accepted as proven by mainstream science, gravity is not explained by Standard Model! So that seems to me to be a big hole in the Standard Model theory when trying to use it to explain all phenomena. Further, for accuracy purposes, from the regular wiki page, "As of 2013, scientists are virtually certain that they have confirmed the Higgs boson exists, and therefore that the concept of some type of Higgs field throughout space is proven." So the right term is virtually certain and NOT certain. That indicates there may be some serious naysayers/doubters even now among the scientific community.

Photons are massless. So I guess Higgs field may not have much impact on photons.

After writing most of the above content, I came across this blog post from, presumably, a Physics Professor, Why the Higgs and Gravity are Unrelated, http://profmattstrassler.com/2012/10/15/why-the-higgs-and-gravity-are-unrelated/. Some extracts from it [As this blog post is free for readers, and does not have any financial profit motive associated with it, I have presumed Prof. Matt Strassler may not mind me sharing the following extracts of his article]; [Readers may please note that Prof. Strassler does use some strong words like glib and naive, and are requested to be tolerant of Prof. Strassler using these strong words]:

What about the Higgs field being the source for all mass in the universe? This statement, though you will often find it in the press or in glib articles written for the public, is false.

What is the true statement? Well, here is a list of the elementary particles that we know about so far. The massless ones are

* photons, gluons, gravitons (the latter presumed to exist)

while the ones with mass are

* W and Z particles
* quarks: top, bottom, charm, strange, up, down
* charged leptons: electrons, muons, taus
* neutrinos: three types (at least two and probably all three with small masses)
* the recently discovered new particle with a mass of 125 GeV/c2 (which I will assume for now is a Higgs particle of some type)

Now it is true that the W and Z particles, the quarks, the charged leptons and the neutrinos must get their mass from a Higgs field. It’s not possible for them to have masses any other way. But this is not true of the Higgs particle itself.
...
No matter how you view it, the Higgs field is not the universal giver of mass to things in the universe: not to ordinary atomic matter, not to dark matter, not to black holes. To most known fundamental particles, yes — and it is crucial in ensuring that atoms exist at all. But there would be just as much interesting gravitational physics going on in the universe if there were no Higgs field. There just wouldn’t be any atoms, or any people to study them.
...
So — the guess that the Higgs has something to do with gravity is natural for a non-expert, but I am afraid it is naive; it comes from misunderstanding both

1. the Higgs field, which is not universal: it gives masses to most of the known elementary particles but not to the Higgs particle itself, and not to protons and neutrons, dark matter (most likely), or black holes,

2. and Einstein’s gravity, which is universal and has to do with energy and momentum but not mass directly, and most certainly does pull on protons and neutrons, dark matter and black holes even though their masses don’t come entirely from the Higgs field.

It’s really true: despite appearances at first glance, the relation between gravity and the Higgs is just skin deep.

--- end extracts from http://profmattstrassler.com/2012/10/15/why-the-higgs-and-gravity-are-unrelated/ ---

Ravi: So, I think at least some serious physicists do NOT view Higgs field as a "universal ether" kind-of thing.

A view that Higgs field is like Brahman which projects material world is really tricky (from the viewpoint of literal meaning that some physicists/scientists may choose to take to criticize the statement). Yes, Higgs field gives mass to many particles. But can one extend that to say that Higgs field is like Brahman which projects material world? From a literal meaing point of view, that seems to be quite some stretch. Higgs field seems to have very limited or no relation to photons and does not seem to come into the picture for explaining gravity. Material world needs photons (light consists of it, according to accepted Physics of today, if I am not mistaken), and most of us humans experience gravity all the time. I mean, unless a reputed physicist used the phrase that Higgs field is like Brahman which projects material world, many phsicists/scientists will not treat the phrase seriously. I mean, they may treat it as a popular science writer's over-simplification or extra imagination. Sorry if the words sound harsh, but even if I did not get into a profession related to Physics, the Physics I studied tells me that some physicists/scientists may view it as over-simplification.

BTW the regluar wiki page has a DIRECT DISAGREEMENT with the molasses analogy/metaphor mentioned in popular press (See Sarewitz article referencing New York Times article using molasses analogy, http://www.nature.com/news/sometimes-science-must-give-way-to-religion-1.11244). It states, "Various analogies have also been invented to describe the Higgs field and boson, including analogies with well-known symmetry breaking effects such as the rainbow and prism, electric fields, ripples, and resistance of macro objects moving through media, like people moving through crowds or some objects moving through syrup or molasses. However, analogies based on simple resistance to motion are inaccurate as the Higgs field does not work by resisting motion."

That seems to me to be a strong enough statement not to make serious comparisons between Higgs field and molasses or Hindu scripture, sea of milk (mentioned in Sarewitz article above, but clearly indicating that it is not an accurate characterization and mentioning that it may be as valid (or invalid) an analogy as the molasses one). I mean, those analogies may be fine for casual writing to reach out to lay readers. But it is NOT FINE for serious discussion.

More general discussion about Physics theories and comparison to Vedanta

Now let me stretch my neck out. I think I may open myself up to strong criticism from Physicists who care to read and comment on what I will now say. I think the "holy grail" of Physics, for good part of the 20th century continuing on to today, is a unified field and accompanying unified theory that explains all kinds of forces and all physical phenomena. It was Einstein's dream and he did not achieve that dream. String theory is said to hold promise as the theory of everything (Physics wise), but I have been hearing about that promise it holds for long, without it having achieved the goal so far.

I don't think Higgs field even attempts to be that kind of unified field theory. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unified_field_theory, "In physics, a unified field theory (UFT), occasionally referred to as a uniform field theory, is a type of field theory that allows all that is usually thought of as fundamental forces and elementary particles to be written in terms of a single field. There is no accepted unified field theory, and thus it remains an open line of research. The term was coined by Einstein, who attempted to unify the general theory of relativity with electromagnetism. The "theory of everything" and Grand Unified Theory are closely related to unified field theory, but differ by not requiring the basis of nature to be fields, and often by attempting to explain physical constants of nature."

Ravi: Classical physics (also referred to as Newtonian Physics, if I recall correctly), seemed to me to be a pretty meaningful set of theories and also seemed to match with human intuition. Take Newton's laws of motion, for example. I did not find it counter-intuitive.

But Classical Physics could not explain certain phenomena. Einstein, Heisenberg, Planck, Dirac, Schrodinger etc. (with Bohr joining in, if I am not mistaken) came along and Quantum Physics became the big thing as it could explain some of the hitherto unexplained phenomena. And then we had mind-boggling progress in both science and its applications that made a big impact on the world. So today Quantum Physics is a pillar of Physics, with Classical Physics being an approximation of it.

But Quantum physics has so much of counter-intuitive stuff. Speed of light is constant - that's a postulate (essentially, an assumption), Planck constant with a specific value (6.62606957(29)×10(raised to)-34 J.s), dual wave-particle nature, a special theory of relativity and a general theory of relativity etc. And then the horrendous Mathematics, Quantum physics involves. It is not elegant stuff, if you ask me. It is nowhere near the elegance of Classical physics.

But Quantum physics explained phenomena that classical physics could not. No matter how inelegant and counter-intuitive it was, no matter how horrendous the Math, Quantum Physics won handsomely at explaining some unexplained matters. So it has become the accepted Physics of our day.

Can the laws of material phenomena be so inelegant? Or has science (and its associated math) not got the right theories yet?

In marked contrast, I have found Hindu scripture (Vedanta, and, in my case, to a lesser extent, Bhagavad Geetha) & mystics' explanations of underlying spiritual rules or laws (like Karma in Hindu, Buddhist & Jain philosophies) and the overall spiritual theory of existence (man being trapped into illusion due to desires that cloud his inner reality which is a changeless eternal truth, one brahman projecting the entire illusive world, essence of all being the same brahman etc.) to be so elegant and intuitive. I say, intuitive, in that it jells with one's inner being. Something inside says, Yes, that's right when one reads and contemplates on such scripture/philosophy/revelations/teachings.

Today's Physics is nowhere near as elegant and as intuitive as deep spiritual explanations of existence, like in Vedanta (I don't know enough about deep spiritual stuff in other religions/philosophies and so am not mentioning them). So I tend to shy away from comparisons between some (typically inelegant) Physics theory which gains currency/gets validated, and very elegant deep spiritual philosophy like Vedanta.

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