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At CERN: Down in the Mouth in Paradise

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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You have by now heard about the discovery of the Higgs boson here at CERN –  a momentous scientific, technological and human accomplishment.   It was the last undiscovered particle of the Standard Model.  Particle physicists like to capitalize Standard Model.   I suppose capitals make clear that this is not just a standard, as in ordinary, model, but THE Standard Model.  (Cue trumpet fanfare.)

Fifty-one years after its basis was explored by Sheldon Glashow, forty-five years after the full theory was proposed by Steven Weinberg (and independently the next year by Abdus Salam), the Standard Model has successfully accounted for or predicted all calculationally tractable experimental results in particle physics.  Okay, with one exception — the oscillation of one type of neutrino into another.  But that demands only the mildest of extensions to the Standard Model – the inclusion of right-handed neutrinos.   And those neutrinos were left out only because in 1967 nobody knew that neutrinos oscillated.  “To include right-handed neutrinos or not to include right-handed neutrinos?” makes for an awkward soliloquy, and is really not an existential question for the Standard Model.

But I digress.  After 45 years, many billions of dollars, tens – maybe hundreds – of thousands of person years of concerted effort, in hundreds of universities and laboratories around the world, we have finally discovered ALL the particles predicted by the most successful theory of science, as measured by the number of decimal places to which its predictions have been tested.  (For the sticklers among you, the particle that was discovered here at CERN this year, and confirmed by scientists at Fermilab, has not officially been confirmed to be the Higgs boson, although many of us would be prepared to eat our hats if it is not the Higgs boson.  Especially those of us who don’t wear hats.)

By the way, this final check-off on the Standard Model particle-hunter’s bucket list was a real find.  The Higgs boson is to the Higgs field what the photon is to the electromagnetic field – its fundamental excitation; and the Higgs field plays a very special role in the Standard Model – it gives mass to every fundamental particle that has mass, from quarks and electrons to W and Z bosons. So finding the Higgs was crucial.   It was also a real challenge. The Standard Model gives no a priori indication of the mass of the Higgs, although precision measurements at past colliders (and careful calculations) suggested that if the Standard Model is the complete story, then the Higgs should have a mass in the neighborhood of 115-170 GeV/c2, about 120-180 times the mass of a proton.

And the mass of this new (apparently Higgs) boson is … (drumroll) … 125 GeV/c2!  Chalk up another success for the Standard Model.  How … ummm … exciting?!   Sure, if you’re over 60 and fondly recall the glory days of the 1960s and early ‘70s when the Standard Model became, well the Standard Model.    Or if you’re an experimentalist who has dedicated the last 10-30 years to designing, building and operating the extraordinary Large Hadron Collider and Tevatron accelerators (where the discovery was made and confirmed respectively), or their monumental detectors — ATLAS and CMS, CDF and D0.   Celebrate away. Drink champagne, toast your successes, wonder over Nobel and lesser (but more broadly shared) prizes.  You’ve earned it.  But what about the rest of us?

“If the Standard Model is the complete story.”  What a depressing phrase.   We were promised that it couldn’t be!  The Standard Model is absurdly fine-tuned, we were told – balanced on a knife-edge off which it has no right not to tumble. It has an un-natural hierarchy of scales.  It has too many free parameters, and some of them are very, very small. Why, the electron mass is less than 0.00001 times the weak scale (the energy scale governing weak interactions such as the W and Z boson masses), which is itself 10-17 (that 0.0000000000000001) times the Planck scale (the energy scale governing gravity)!   And speaking of gravity, the Standard Model can’t accommodate quantum gravity.   We need Low-Energy Supersymmetry, or Technicolor, or Large Extra Dimensions, or … One of these MUST be found at the LHC!

Forty years of theoretical work has been based on these expectations. Papers with thousands of citations have been written.  Courses taught.  Textbooks published.

Prizes awarded!  Illustrious careers navigated!  And yet despite all this build up of theoretical expectations, there is no experimental hint of anything outside the Standard Model at the LHC.  Hence the long faces and worried words wherever theorists gather to drink coffee. Hence the disappointment in the eyes of the young experimentalists looking forward to the next accelerator, the next frontier where their mark will be made. It doesn’t even help to have been one of the few Cassandras belatedly warning that the edifice of Beyond the Standard Model theories might be built on sand.   We want there to be more physics – more particles, more interactions.  More to discover.

Walk the halls, go to theory seminars, have lunch with a theorist, or an ambitious young experimentalist.  Look for the classic symptoms of grief.

Denial.   Vigorous debates about whether the fact that the dog did not bark in the night suggests that it is a Chihuahua or a Rottweiler.  My friends – at some point if there is no barking, we must conclude there is no dog.

Anger. At those of us “misguided” enough to doubt the imminence or even the necessity of Beyond the Standard Model physics.

Bargaining.  Perhaps BSM physics has not been discovered because we’ve been demanding too much explanatory power from science.  If we just relax our expectations for the predictivity of science, and introduce a multitude of universes in which we occupy a particular one best suited to our existence, then we can let our extensions to the Standard Model be un-natural, many of their properties unpredictable, and explain why they haven’t been discovered yet!

Depression.  Even as the glorious LHC data piles up around us, like platters at a holiday feast, we worry where tomorrow’s meal will come from.  Hurry up somebody.  Find a superpartner! A mini-black hole!  Even a technipion. Discover a dark matter particle!  We’ll even settle for astronomical observations confirming that the dark energy is not just a cosmological constant!  Better still, surprise us with something completely unexpected.   Because if you don’t, its going to be Standard Model for breakfast, Standard Model for lunch and Standard Model for dinner.

We’re not ready for Acceptance!  At least, sitting here listening to the LHC hum, I can still hope.

Previously in this series:

To Live and Work at CERN

Glenn Starkman About the Author: Glenn Starkman grew up and got his Bachelor's degree in Toronto, where he returned after a PhD at Stanford and a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He lives with his wife and two children in Cleveland, where he is Professor of Physics and Director of the Institute for the Science of Origins at Case Western Reserve University. He has written several of Scientific American's most popular articles ever: on whether the universe is finite in size, on anomalies in the cosmic microwave background radiation, on whether cosmology is ultimately doomed as a science, and on the far future of life in the universe.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. JayBerg 10:01 am 12/3/2012

    Are you kidding Glenn Starkman?

    First you trumpet imaginary successes and then barely save your reputation at the end by admitting lack of a clear confirmation from CERN.

    It is appropriate to recall that when R.M. Santilli was at Harvard University, he had irreconcilable disagreements with Glashow and Weinberg because all predictions of the “standard model” are based on the hypothetical conjecture that the hypothetical quarks have a hypothetical point-like structure.

    This was evidently necessary for Glashow and Weinberg to maintain the validity of SR and QM inside hadrons.

    In disagreement at Harvard’s Lyman Laboratory, Santilli dismissed these politics because “there exists no point like wave packets in nature.”

    In a nutshell, for the specific unspoken intent of preserving SR and QM, Glashow and Weinberg imagine the hyperdense scattering regions at high energy is composed of hypothetical point particles acting at a distance, thus allowing, particle exchanges.

    By contrast, Santilli countered that high energy scattering regions are a hyper dense medium characterized by the super position of a large number of wave packets, one inside the other, in which case the very notion of particle exchange, makes no physical sense.

    Additionally, in his paper written in 1978 at Harvard, Santilli proved to Glashow and Weinberg that the inevitable non-linear, non-local, and non-lagrangian interactions existing within a hyperdense medium cause a a new type of renormalization of all intrinsic characteristics beginning with a mass, known as Iso-Renormalization.

    Therefore, even in the far fetched possibility that particles could be interchanged within ultra hyper dense media, the masses calculated by Glashow and Weinberg are manifestly wrong because they intentionally avoid the IsoReNormalization for the unspoken special interests of maintaining th validity of Einstein’s SR inside hadrons.

    For “grieving” colleagues who are serious about science, I suggest a reading of this post:

    Link to this
  2. 2. rloldershaw 11:01 am 12/3/2012

    Firstly, the Higgs boson has not been discovered, but rather a Higgs-like boson resonance which may be a fairly boring repeat of the hundreds of other unstable boson resonances already found.

    Secondly, before the LHC came on-line, the predictions for the Higgs mass ranged from about 100 GeV to 800 GeV!!!
    After the fact of finding a bump at 125 GeV THEN they single out the predictions that conform to that result! That is not cricket in science and it is not right to play along with this just-so story.

    Theories of principle like special and general relativity can make definitive predictions that allow relatively straightforward yes/no tests. Einstein said that if the eclipse experiment did not yield the predicted effect on space-time, then GR would be wrong – end of story.

    For over 40 years theoretical physics has been based on model-building in which an ad hoc model is fitted to empirical results (and vice versa), i.e., the Ptolemaic method. There are no guiding principles and so no definitive predictions.

    Instead we get pseudo-scientific hypotheses like the “ad hoc WIMP conjecture”. No predictions of the masses or the exact physical properties are possible. Not a single “WIMP” has showed itself in over 40 years of dogged and very expensive snipe hunting.

    String theory has yet to offer a single prediction after 44 years.

    SUSY predictions are “adjustable predictions”, which amount to no predictions. If “sparticles” fail to show up at the LHC, then they just say that they must be at higher energies. Sure, or perhaps off on astral planes.

    The standard model of particle physics has 7 serious problems which I have repeatedly listed at Sci Amer, and will again if it is desired. The standard model can only viewed as a provisional heuristic model for particle physics.

    Bottom Line: No guiding principles = no definitive predictions = pseudo-science. Haven’t we had enough of that rubbish over the last 40 years?

    Robert L. Oldershaw
    Discrete Scale Relativity

    Link to this
  3. 3. suitti 11:29 am 12/3/2012

    I can hardly wait until some sort of particle that behaves like dark matter is discovered.

    Link to this
  4. 4. rloldershaw 11:47 am 12/3/2012

    I predict that such a “particle” will have a minumum mass of about 8 x 10^-5 solar mass, and that it will certainly not be found in any collider but rather by astrophysicists, who actually make useful scientific discoveries.

    Here are 14 definitive predictions to ponder. Five are already verified or supported by significant and growing evidence.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Spin-oza 12:34 pm 12/3/2012

    To quote Professor Starkman… who is echoing many other reputable particle physicists:

    “Fifty-one years after its basis was explored by Sheldon Glashow, forty-five years after the full theory was proposed by Steven Weinberg (and independently the next year by Abdus Salam), the Standard Model has successfully accounted for or predicted all calculationally tractable experimental results in particle physics.”

    Despite the quirky (or quarky) naysayers regarding the Higgs… etc. this model appears, by empiric results, which are the only results that matter, as… ahem, The Big Dog. There are NO plausible alternatives around. It is a clear triumph for the men and women of science… the many who have worked so hard… to obtain… THE DATA.

    Cheers to all those fine folks… and a special tip of the hat to the Cern teams!

    That said… science is always an ongoing enterprise… a dialog… which in fact, makes our humble probing of ontology… or “ultimate reality”, all the more interesting… right?

    Link to this
  6. 6. dougr56 1:59 pm 12/3/2012

    What changes to theory would occur if it’s found electrons had a particular shape. Not just a sphere?

    Would the need for “dark matter” disappear?

    Link to this
  7. 7. tharter 3:27 pm 12/3/2012

    “What changes to theory would occur if it’s found electrons had a particular shape. Not just a sphere?

    Would the need for “dark matter” disappear?”

    Electrons aren’t spheres…

    Electrons are pointlike particles with no size or structure whatsoever.

    Link to this
  8. 8. dougr56 3:56 pm 12/3/2012

    Um…a “particle” necessarily has size and structure.
    To hold a charge it must have structure.
    To have mass it must have structure.
    To have structure it must have size.

    “Pointlike” is a meaningless term.

    Go to the web pages I provided an address for.

    Link to this
  9. 9. rloldershaw 5:53 pm 12/3/2012

    Spin-oza might want to enlighten himself with the following facts that are well-known to those who study the standard model of particle physics.

    1. The Standard Model is primarily a heuristic model with 26-30 fundamental parameters that have to be “put in by hand”.

    2. The Standard Model did not and cannot predict the masses of the fundamental particles that make up all of the luminous matter that we can observe.

    3. The Standard Model did not and cannot predict the existence of the dark matter that constitutes the overwhelming majority of matter in the cosmos. The Standard Model describes heuristically the “foam on top of the ocean”.

    4. The vacuum energy density crisis clearly suggests a fundamental flaw at the very heart of particle physics. The VED crisis involves the fact that the vacuum energy densities predicted by particle physicists (microcosm) and measured by cosmologists (macrocosm) differ by up to 120 orders of magnitude (roughly 10^70 to 10^120, depending on how one ‘guess-timates’ the particle physics VED).

    5. The conventional Planck mass is highly unnatural, i.e., it bears no relation to any particle observed in nature, and calls into question the foundations of the quantum chromodynamics sector of the Standard Model.

    6. Many of the key particles of the Standard Model have never been directly observed. Rather, their existence is inferred from secondary, or more likely, tertiary decay products. Quantum chromodynamics is entirely built on inference, conjecture and speculation. It is too complex for simple definitive predictions and testing.

    7. The standard model of particle physics cannot include the most fundamental and well-tested interaction of the cosmos: gravitation.

    Stop the hype and wake up to reality, Spin-oza.

    Link to this
  10. 10. JayBerg 2:25 pm 12/4/2012

    I believe that the only scientific sanity that I can see on this blog, is that by Mr. Oldershaw because all of his criticisms of the standard model are highly technical and individually valid, tithe the understanding that any one of Oldershaw’s criticism is sufficient to knock down the standard model. By contrast, the post by Glenn and his brother Spin-oza are manifestly pompous about their political manipulations in support of their own brothers Glashow and Weinberg.

    We are clearly facing a scientific obscurantism imposed by a minoritarian brotherhood of academicians via the abuse of their institution’s credibility and the suppression of due scientific processes for fundamental open issues.

    I have to again point out the irreconcilable disagreement between Santilli and the duo Glashow-Weinberg. It’s ultimate root was Santilli’s point that SR is indeed a “majestic theory” (In his own words) but it was conceived by Einstein, solely to treat structures reversible over time. Namely, the structure or events whose time reversal image does not violate causality laws.

    This is indeed the case for atomic structures, particles in accelerators, crystals, and many other systems for which SR is the final theory.

    However, as a Physicist member of the Dept. of Mathematics at Harvard University, Santilli pointed out to Glashow and Weinberg, incontrovertible physical and mathematical evidence according to which SR is “inapplicable” for irreversible processes. (If you read his works you can see his emphasis in rejecting the word “violation” in respect to Einstein’s memory, because Einstein did not conceive SR for irreversible processes)

    This point alone is sufficient to render the past fifty years of study on the Standard Model, and the tens of billions of dollars spent for it’s verification, a pure religion by a minority brotherhood of fanatics on maintaining the validity of Einstein’s SR, but in so doing, they abuse Einstein’s name rather than honor him.

    In fact, again, SR is valid during the acceleration of protons in an accelerator. However, the high energy scattering process caused by a high energy proton hitting a target is absolutely, entirely, totally, unquestionably irreversible over time. Santilli proved to Glashow and Weinberg that the representation of this irreversible scattering process at the foundation of the verification of the standard model, via a theory whose fundamental line element is quadratic in time, should be considered invalid.

    Of course the covering of SR suitable for irreversible processes is open to scientific debates but suppressing the need for its study is scientific corruption that serves personal interests over society.

    The height of Glashow and Weinberg’s arrogance is illustrated by the fact that, specifically to honor Einstein, Santilli developed at the Harvard Dept. of Mathematics a new mathematics, which is well known to serious scientists the world over, known as isomathematics. The prefix iso was placed by Santilli in the greek sense of stressing the preservation of Einstein’s axioms and merely introduces a broader realization. As serious scholars can verify, his mathematics admits line elements which are irreversible over time, yet isomorphic to the minkowski line element at the abstract level. (Santilli achieved this remarkable discovery by embedding all irreversible contributions in a generalization of the unit.)

    In particular, this new realization of Einstein’s axioms implies the new isorenormalization, as I mentioned in a preceding post, that knocks down all masses computed by the standard model.

    Any quantitative representation of the irreversibility of scattering events mandates the abandonment of the standard model and it’s replacement with a covering theory to such a point of rendering the word standard laughable. It is now well known that the only axiomatically consistent theory for irreversible processes is Santilli’s lie-admissible formulations that he proposed at Harvard in ’78 which theory was publicly dubbed as having “no physical value” by Glashow and Weinberg.

    Allow me to quote the post by Santilli replacing supersymmetry with lie-admissible theory

    Please note the seminal supporting papers by Steven Adler at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, John Ellis, then director of the theoretical division at CERN, and other important physicists.

    Their research in this new scientific horizon was terminated due to notorious pressure directly or indirectly orchestrated by Glashow and Weinberg as per thorough documentation and eye witnesses.

    In conclusion, I am convinced that contemporary and future historians will agree that Glashow and Weinberg’s arrogance, and their abuse of academic power combined with the populous of supporting fanatic brothers the world over are responsible for the ongoing scientific obscurantism in particle physics, their suppression of the scientific democracy for serious studies in the USA, and the waste of tens of billions of US taxpayer dollars.

    Link to this
  11. 11. ottokrog 4:02 pm 12/4/2012

    I don’t think the qualities required for The Higgs particle to explain the standard model is there, and I don’t think they will be found.

    Neither do I think, that supersymmetry will be recognized in futuristic science.

    I know I am a pain in the butt, but I believe in a complete different approach to high energy physics in the future. My vision is that future science will engulf consciousness. The mind and the spirit will be explainable through physics.

    I have been a fan of Sir Roger Penrose for many years. He was the first scientist to say that consciousness should be found in the quantum field rather than in the brain. I am so much a fan, that I made my own theory out of the idea that consciousness might be explained through a better understanding of antimatter and multiverse dimensions.

    My idea is that antimatter is the mirror of this universe, and that antimatter might be where memory is located.

    I think that the subconscious mind and consciousness are located in multiverse dimensions in the form of antimatter.

    The original standard model predicted no mass at all. That made no sence to scientists, so Peter Higgs predicted The Higgs Boson, purely from mathematics. I think the original standard model was right, particles does not exist. The physical universe is a flow of energy from minus infinite energy to plus infinite energy.

    If you would like to know more, then you can watch a full videopresentation of my theory on my blog:

    Link to this
  12. 12. josephrockheart 11:11 pm 12/4/2012

    a hilarious blog mockin the pants of mullahism in science. the simple point of enlightenment is simply as follows:

    if the stream is flowing in the mountains or the oasis exists then the water is coming/come from somewhere. now suppose that there u find the stream flow from heavens to earth and indra manifestly bearing the ganges, what would u do??? yes, it would be an exhilaration to the senses, but the very fact that the search comes home within, that is living life in appreciation of it???? that u have the senses, that reality exists, what then is thy wandering o man???

    how much r u going to argue? will u not live??? find that to forgive others u must let the lust go in the forebearence??? there is pain enough to make this a living hell, will thou just in thy own sustenance destroy all that is around u, take life itself, and claim holiness to finding chromosomes in the blood of the animal which you claim do not kno in its entirety of existence or simply functionality???

    to dissolve thy existence perhaps, not, in materials, but to contain first thy lust for them, only then will thou lose the fear of loss. this is an entropy, so it is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    if u r then, it is. is pain not a sufficient guide????

    is it better not then to find solutions to the 1/5th of the population of earth in starvation, to the sustenance of 1/3rd of the species of earth due to demise in the next 30 years due to global warming???? shall we fill our coffers in the name of God??? and now, doth thee propose the coffers be filled in the name of “HOLY SCIENCE”????

    Link to this
  13. 13. neutrinoman 6:05 pm 12/5/2012

    Hi Glenn,

    I watch all this in dismay, wondering if theorists just lack the imagination to see more creative ways that pretty ideas like SUSY might be implemented. They might just have made too many assumptions, driven by a bit of wishful thinking.

    It’s amazing to see things, in a way, not changing since we were in school in the 80s.

    Link to this
  14. 14. rloldershaw 7:41 pm 12/5/2012

    Carl Sagan [in the book Cosmos] said that the idea of an infinite fractal cosmos was: “haunting, evocative…perhaps the most exquisite idea in science or religion…”

    Why do theoretical physicists totally ignore this beautiful and highly unified alternative to the old and failing paradigm?

    The ignore-ance is more egregious when you consider that the idea was developed scientifically via a very large amount of observational data, has made a host of definitive predictions, and has successfully predicted pulsar/planets, trillions of unbound planetary-mass “nomad” objects, the peak of the exoplanet mass spectrum, and the lack of planets orbiting the lowest mass M dwarf stars.

    The new discrete fractal paradigm also is able to elegantly retrodict more than 35 fundamental parameters from the subatomic to the galactic scales.

    Details at

    Definitive predictions at

    Robert L. Oldershaw
    Discrete Scale Relativity

    Link to this
  15. 15. jonathansalembaskin 9:12 am 12/6/2012

    Glenn, thanks for the great read! I do think you’re being a little tongue-in-cheek in a Lord Kelvin “we’ve discovered everything” sort of way, though. Case Western is where Al Michelson ‘discovered’ that there was no ether in the universe. We’ve since ‘discovered’ that there’s some dark stuff enveloping everything we can see and measure. I say there’s TONS more to find and the Standard Model is less conclusion and more platform…

    Link to this
  16. 16. sjfone 11:02 pm 12/8/2012

    CERN the next Bird’s Nest, no way, speed it up and make it part of the Autobahn.

    Link to this
  17. 17. bartoshrandal 1:37 pm 12/12/2012

    I am NOT a professional, just a longtime reader.
    One of the events seen at CERN describes the Higgs-like particle/wave becoming 2 Quarks, yet the info I got shows the 2 Quarks identified by a Jet of Hadrons. Hadrons are composed of multiple Quarks! Where did all those extra Quarks come from?

    Link to this

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