The surprise arrived just before Christmas on December 15, 2015. The large Hadron Collider at CERN located in Switzerland announced that they had found unconfirmed traces of a particle heavier than the Higgs boson. The confirmation of Higgs boson was the beginning of resolving an ancient answer to the perennial question, ‘why things exist’, or to put it more bluntly, how does something have mass or occupy space.
If December’s particle is confirmed, physicists have a very large dilemma, for this new subatomic particle throws the standard model completely upside down. What December 15th find ushers in, is a concept known as ‘dark matter’, a sort of repository, place or force that provides symmetry to our universe.
We simply cannot be sure of our discovery, simply because if it is confirmed, it will NOT be based on empirical observation, but statistics and anomalies. Let’s break this down.
Because Einstein did not enjoy the role of chance in quantum physics, he used the retort ‘God does not play dice’ referencing that both atomic and subatomic physics would need an empirical basis for any sound resolution.
What the creation of CERN’s super-colliders did was create an accelerator, a collider of particles the mimic ‘the Big bang’. They are more like the casinos of science, making particle physicists resembling gamblers. Here’s why/how.
The data reveal a blip that has yet to be discerned, the chance of it being an error of any kind is related to 1 in 10k. The norm for the verification of any new particle is known as 5-sigma, that means discovery is verified IF we have a departure from the mean of more than 5 standard deviations. That means a discovery of a new particle would be accepted when their is a chance of 1 in 3.5 million. The discovery requires a certainty of 99.99997%.
Gambling here means colliding protons at a speed billions of times per second. The debris is analyzed from two detectors, then compared against a predicted curve calculated against current understanding. When we have an unexpected ‘blip’ its because the data jumps off the curvature.
However, we really can’t say we’ve provided anything empirical, we’ve using big data to find statistical anomalies. This is more akin to discerning applied metaphors, something Wittgenstein did to unleash Continental analytic philosophy. Yet probability is where we’re at now in contemporary particle physics. Its a very thin line.
All we can say is that this methodology will lead to new occurrences, that may lead to new discoveries. No one can tell if particle physics will get out of its idealist track, moving more toward Aristotelian physics. More than one graduate or post graduate student has learned the frustration of building a life on ‘nothing’.
The next six months will tell if the ‘blip’ standing out in the curvature is real. All we can do is compare more precisely along the curvature, if IT sticks, especially after running numerous collisions, it will mean a future visit to Stockholm.
For everyone else, we’re condemned to sit at the table of the Great Gambler.
Kenny Roger’s anyone?