After Stephen Hawking conceded that he’d lost his bet about the Higgs boson, I wondered why he had been on the wrong side of the bet. Why had he doubted the existence of a particle widely assumed to be an essential constituent of physical reality?
Hawking wasn’t available to answer that question, but I did manage to have a long conversation with an American physicist who had also doubted the existence of the Higgs–Lawrence Krauss, author of The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe From Nothing . Krauss explained the generic reason that a number of physicists had doubted the Higgs: Its posited existence was suspiciously convenient. When you understand what he meant, I think you may conclude that physical reality is cooler than you’d thought. Here, as I understand it, is the deal:
Decades ago, physicists had found a way to unify–that is, fit into a common theoretical framework–two of the four basic physical forces: the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force. But there was one hitch: photons, the particles that mediate the electromagnetic force, have no mass, whereas the particles that mediate the weak force–the W and Z bosons–seem to have mass. And this theoretical unification wouldn’t make complete sense unless the W and Z bosons were, like photons, massless.
So–here comes the suspiciously convenient part–physicists supposed that maybe the W and Z bosons didn’t really have mass; rather, there was something–some feature of the universe–that made them behave as if they had mass. That “something” was dubbed the Higgs boson.
Click on “long conversation” link above to watch the video interview with Lawrence Krauss.
Written By: Robert Wrightcontinue to source article at theatlantic.com