by Dr Mark Hayes
I’ve had another of those WTF ?? !! moments, this time triggered by perusing that reputable organ of record, the Fairfax Online outlet, The Brisbane Times.
(This is actually me having some fun with what is actually a fascinating, and serious, science story, one which not a few outlets boosted into low earth orbit and, yet again, covered in ways which confirmed the very low views serious scientists often have of journalists always scrabbling for the ‘break through cure for cancer asteriod’s gonna pulverise Earth we’re all gonna die’ stories. Is this yarn really about a time machine being developed by physicists at a major world research laboratory? Read on, gentle reader…)
It all turns around the proposition that there is, or might be, something called the Higgs Singlet and just what does this all really mean.
Are we really talking about some very clever product placement by the manufacturers of Chesty Bonds underclothing, perhaps having replaced their older male model with some newer version, perhaps a recently retired footballer, whose name is Higgs?
Me being me, I deployed the mighty MacBook Pro and my Net searching skills to see what I could find, and the closest I initially got was a Wikipedia entry explaining the Next-to-Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model which, when I tried to understand it, promptly gave me a severe headache.
Andrew Daddo was also bemused about The Higgs Singlet but I suspect he knows even less than I do about cutting edge theoretical or applied high energy particle physics and, like me, wouldn’t know if he was hit by a Higgs Boson or a Higgs Bozo unless he, too, was strapped into the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which, if the more serious reports are right, might start behaving like Dr Who’s Tardis, particularly if new research into the Higgs Singlet is proven correct. It seems to be about the possibility of time travel.
A Higgs Boson, by the way and if you haven’t followed current affairs, are across modern science, or followed the links helpfully provided above, is apparently the so-called God Particle, the fundamental, elemental, something which existed before everything else and what they’re trying to find using the Large Hadron Collider,
which is a huge, extremely expensive, mind-numbingly complicated yet delicate circular pipe-like machine larger than both the Vatican and Tuvalu using more electricity than a couple of mid-sized countries with lots of very sensitive magnets and detectors around it which, if what look like calculated miracles occur, will do exactly that, thereby Making It All Clear.
(Detect the cleverly subtle inter-textural references above to Pink Floyd… ‘… in a world of magnets and miracles…’, High Hopes off The Division Bell … gedditt ?? Oh, well… sigh… )
A Higgs Bozo is, as most intelligent people who use Apple Macintosh computers, read science fiction literature, and like British latter 1970s Prog-Rock, already know so I needn’t explain it to you so stop reading for a second… a person like me whose PhD isn’t in advanced theoretical particle physics but in advanced sociological theory who then tries to explain the immediately former by reference to the latter.
Still with me?
To catch up on all this, we do suggest readers visit, or re-visit, one of the classic papers, ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’ by Alan Sokal in Social Text, 46/47, Spring/Summer, 1996, Pp. 217 – 252. Widely regarded as one of the finest examples of post-modernist theory deployed to interrogate and deconstruct a central aspect of modern physics (or, actually, still one of the finest intellectual hatchet jobs on this foul branch of modern ‘thought’.)
I may be trying to channel that renowned New Zealand polymath, Professor Fred Dagg, as he would certainly know how to explain the principles of advanced theoretical particle physics sufficiently clearly for even somebody like me to grasp, whose calculating capacity doubles in summer when I wear my sandals, which I never wear in the disgusting British way, with socks.
But Prof Dagg, a long term Australian resident, is retired from science journalism and now does political commentary on ABC TV’s 7.30 most Thursday evenings with his Australian-born side kick, Brian Dawe. Quite often, they do make a lot of sense of 0therwise impenetrably complicated topics, like the Australian tax system or anthropogenic global warming. I’d just love for them to take on explaining the Higgs Singlet.
I cannot speak for my learned interlocutor, Ethical Martini, though I also suspect he’d be as worried about a Higgs Singlet enveloping him as the Jatravartids are of The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief or I am of agents of the Lesser Elder Gods breaking through one of the multi-dimensional barriers to suck my brain and my soul out of my ears for their dark, dire, eldritch and eternal purposes while chanting verses from the songs by that great 1960s band, H.P. Lovecraft.
That’s why we can all rest safe and secure in the sure and certain knowledge that Bob Howard and The Laundry are no doubt monitoring all activity at the Large Hadron Collider lest some pointy headed geek with a planet sized brain whose name isn’t Sir Timothy Berners-Lee actually crack the Turing Paradox or the Quantum Zeno Effect thereby creating a two way trans-dimensional, or worse, a multi-dimensional, gateway for the Lesser Elder Gods to… etc and so forth…
What they’re doing at the LHC, as far as I know and can find out, does not require the sudden generation and collection of human death energies which is what the Forschungs- und Lehrgemeinschaft das Ahnenerbe e.V. were still attempting when Mr Howard and the Laundry finally shut them down, as described in Mr Charles Stross‘ works The Atrocity Archives and The Fuller Memorandum. So sticking somebody into the maw of the LHC so they, too, could experience the wonders of the sub-atomic universe up very close and personal, and thence understand the differences between the Higgs Boson and Higgs Bozo, or time travelling using a Higgs Singlet, is both not necessary and seriously contra-indicated.
By now, I was pretty certain that this Higgs Singlet wasn’t a clever product placement but I still didn’t have much of an idea just what it really is.
Sooo… I rose to the challenge, really got serious, plunged into the dark matter of the Deep Web, rummaged about following several strings of investigation, and glommed on to The Original Paper dated March 7, 2011, by Cho Man Ho and Thomas Weiler entitled ‘Causality-Violating Higgs Singlets at the LHC’ which started all this.
Here’s the Abstract -
We construct a simple class of compactified five-dimensional metrics which admits closed timelike curves (CTCs), and derive the resulting CTCs as analytic solutions to the geodesic equations of motion. The associated Einstein tensor satisfies the null, weak, strong and dominant energy conditions; in particular, no negative-energy “tachyonic” matter is required. In extra-dimensional models where gauge charges are bound to our brane, it is the KK modes of gauge-singlets that may travel through the CTCs. From our brane point of view, many of these KK modes would appear to travel backward in time. We give a simple model in which such time-traveling Higgs singlets can be produced by the LHC, either from decay of the Standard Model Higgses or through mixing with the SM Higgses. The signature of these time-traveling singlets is a secondary decay vertex pre-appearing before the primary vertex which produced them. The two vertices are correlated by momentum conservation.
Now I get it!
A Singlet in theoretical physics is not a sleeveless shirt but, as the Wikipedia entry helpfully explains, “… usually refers to a one-dimensional representation (e.g. a particle with vanishing spin). It may also refer to two or more particles prepared in a correlated state, such that the total angular momentum of the state is zero”.
So a Higgs Singlet is a theoretically proposed sort-of envelope which, if the numbers hold steady, could turn up alongside a Higgs Boson and its theoretical behaviour suggests it might actually exhibit time travel by appearing before the Higgs Boson which created or energized it appears. Sort of…
The UK Daily Mail bought into the story with admirable clarity, and a very good graphic which seems to make it all even clearer.
So calm down everybody.
We’re not quite at the development stage of a real-life Tardis and exploring the possibilities of actually testing the Grandfather Paradox or actualising The Philadelphia Experiment but you can now show how erudite and learned and cultured you are by knowingly discoursing about the Real Higgs Singlet at dinner parties or over Friday drinks at the pub. You, too, could even get criticised as a real life Onanistic Higgs Bozo.
Back to worrying about Alien Space Bats, and what that space probe which recently went into orbit around Mercury might actually find on its Dark Side.
(Ooooohhh… Dr Hayes’ on another of his Pink Floyd jags :) )