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What does it mean to say, in physics, that something like the Higgs boson “exists”?

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Lost in Math

Sabine Hossenfelder, author of Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, offers to explain,

A lot of scientists, for example, subscribe knowingly or unknowingly to a philosophy called “realism” which means that they believe a successful theory is not merely a tool to obtain predictions, but that its elements have an additional property that you can call “true” or “real”. I am loosely speaking here, because there several variants of realism. But they have in common that the elements of the theory are more than just tools.

And this is all well and fine, but realism is a philosophy. It’s a belief system, and science does not tell you whether it is correct.

So here is the thing. If you want to claim that the Higgs-boson does not exist, you have to demonstrate that the theory which contains the mathematical structure called “Higgs-boson” does not fit the data. Whether or not Higgs-bosons ever arrive in a detector is totally irrelevant. Sabine Hossenfelder, “Does the Higgs-boson exist?” at BackRe(Action)

See also: Sabine Hossenfelder: Black holes vs. quantum mechanics = something has to give Her view: Most physicists believe that the solution is that the Hawking radiation somehow must contain information after all.

Sabine Hossenfelder: “We know that quantum mechanics is wrong.” Do we know that quantum mechanics is wrong and, if so, how can it be useful?


Sabine Hossenfelder: Has The Large Hadron Collider “Broken Physics”?

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4 Replies to “What does it mean to say, in physics, that something like the Higgs boson “exists”?

  1. 1
    hazel says:

    I mostly agree with what she says at the quantum level, although I don’t think “whether or not Higgs-bosons ever arrive in a detector is totally irrelevant” is completely compatible with the rest of what see said. But at some point, we really don’t know what “reality” is other than the observations we make about how quantum phenomena manifest in the world.

    I thought this was thought-provoking from Carlo Rovelli’s book about quantum gravity:

    “Reality is Relational: The theory does not describe things as they “are”: it describes how things “occur,” and how they “interact with each other.” It doesn’t describe where there is a particle but how the particle shows itself to others. The world of existent things is reduced to a realm of possible interactions.”

    Excerpt From: Carlo Rovelli, Simon Carnell & Erica Segre. “Reality Is Not What It Seems.” Apple Books.

  2. 2
    Eugene says:

    Before speculating about the existence of the Higgs boson, maybe they should get to an agreement on whether anything “exists” at all. The still unsolved QM measurement problem kind of suggests that it is very likely that this world “exists” as a set of mathematical rules and equations combined with a random number generator. By the way, whatever entity controls this random number generator, also controls this world.
    It is pointless to argue about “existence” when we have no idea what consciousness is and what wave function collapse is. The best we can conclude is that things “exist” according to our consciousness, and again, we have no idea what consciousness really is. Consciousness could easily end up being entirely outside of the known physics .

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    Her definition of ‘realism’ is very different from the usual definition of ‘realism’ that I have seem quantum physicists use.

    Graham Farmelo parses Lee Smolin’s takedown of the most successful physics theory ever. – 09 APRIL 2019
    A realist takes on quantum mechanics
    Excerpt: Like Einstein, Smolin is a philosophical ‘realist’ — someone who thinks that the real world exists independently of our minds and can be described by deterministic laws. These enable us, in principle, to predict the future of any particle if we have enough information about it. This view of the world is incompatible with the conventional interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which key features are unpredictability and the role of observers in the outcome of experiments. Thus, Einstein never accepted that quantum mechanics was anything but an impressive placeholder for a more fundamental theory conforming to his realist credo. Smolin agrees.

    And that definition of realism, the definition that is usually used by quantum physicists, has been falsified by violations of both Bell’s and Leggett’s inequalities and by Wheeler’s delayed choice experiments.

    An experimental test of non-local realism – 2007
    Simon Gröblacher, Tomasz Paterek, Rainer Kaltenbaek, Caslav Brukner, Marek Zukowski, Markus Aspelmeyer & Anton Zeilinger
    Abstract: Most working scientists hold fast to the concept of ‘realism’—a viewpoint according to which an external reality exists independent of observation. But quantum physics has shattered some of our cornerstone beliefs. According to Bell’s theorem, any theory that is based on the joint assumption of realism and locality (meaning that local events cannot be affected by actions in space-like separated regions) is at variance with certain quantum predictions. Experiments with entangled pairs of particles have amply confirmed these quantum predictions, thus rendering local realistic theories untenable. Maintaining realism as a fundamental concept would therefore necessitate the introduction of ‘spooky’ actions that defy locality. Here we show by both theory and experiment that a broad and rather reasonable class of such non-local realistic theories is incompatible with experimentally observable quantum correlations. In the experiment, we measure previously untested correlations between two entangled photons, and show that these correlations violate an inequality proposed by Leggett for non-local realistic theories. Our result suggests that giving up the concept of locality is not sufficient to be consistent with quantum experiments, unless certain intuitive features of realism are abandoned.

    Quantum physics says goodbye to reality – Apr 20, 2007
    Excerpt: Many realizations of the thought experiment have indeed verified the violation of Bell’s inequality. These have ruled out all hidden-variables theories based on joint assumptions of realism, meaning that reality exists when we are not observing it; and locality, meaning that separated events cannot influence one another instantaneously. But a violation of Bell’s inequality does not tell specifically which assumption – realism, locality or both – is discordant with quantum mechanics.
    Markus Aspelmeyer, Anton Zeilinger and colleagues from the University of Vienna, however, have now shown that realism is more of a problem than locality in the quantum world. They devised an experiment that violates a different inequality proposed by physicist Anthony Leggett in 2003 that relies only on realism, and relaxes the reliance on locality. To do this, rather than taking measurements along just one plane of polarization, the Austrian team took measurements in additional, perpendicular planes to check for elliptical polarization.
    They found that, just as in the realizations of Bell’s thought experiment, Leggett’s inequality is violated – thus stressing the quantum-mechanical assertion that reality does not exist when we’re not observing it. “Our study shows that ‘just’ giving up the concept of locality would not be enough to obtain a more complete description of quantum mechanics,” Aspelmeyer told Physics Web. “You would also have to give up certain intuitive features of realism.”

    Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?
    Inexplicable lab results may be telling us we’re on the cusp of a new scientific paradigm
    By Bernardo Kastrup on April 19, 2018
    Excerpt: ,, according to the current paradigm, the properties of an object should exist and have definite values even when the object is not being observed: the moon should exist and have whatever weight, shape, size and color it has even when nobody is looking at it. Moreover, a mere act of observation should not change the values of these properties. Operationally, all this is captured in the notion of “non-contextuality”: ,,,
    since Alain Aspect’s seminal experiments in 1981–82, these predictions (of Quantum Mechanics) have been repeatedly confirmed, with potential experimental loopholes closed one by one. 1998 was a particularly fruitful year, with two remarkable experiments performed in Switzerland and Austria. In 2011 and 2015, new experiments again challenged non-contextuality. Commenting on this, physicist Anton Zeilinger has been quoted as saying that “there is no sense in assuming that what we do not measure [that is, observe] about a system has [an independent] reality.” Finally, Dutch researchers successfully performed a test closing all remaining potential loopholes, which was considered by Nature the “toughest test yet.”,,,
    It turns out, however, that some predictions of QM are incompatible with non-contextuality even for a large and important class of non-local theories. Experimental results reported in 2007 and 2010 have confirmed these predictions. To reconcile these results with the current paradigm would require a profoundly counterintuitive redefinition of what we call “objectivity.” And since contemporary culture has come to associate objectivity with reality itself, the science press felt compelled to report on this by pronouncing, “Quantum physics says goodbye to reality.”
    The tension between the anomalies and the current paradigm can only be tolerated by ignoring the anomalies. This has been possible so far because the anomalies are only observed in laboratories. Yet we know that they are there, for their existence has been confirmed beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, when we believe that we see objects and events outside and independent of mind, we are wrong in at least some essential sense. A new paradigm is needed to accommodate and make sense of the anomalies; one wherein mind itself is understood to be the essence—cognitively but also physically—of what we perceive when we look at the world around ourselves.

    New Mind-blowing Experiment (i.e. Wheeler’s delayed choice experiment with atoms) Confirms That Reality Doesn’t Exist If You Are Not Looking at It – June 3, 2015
    Excerpt: Some particles, such as photons or electrons, can behave both as particles and as waves. Here comes a question of what exactly makes a photon or an electron act either as a particle or a wave. This is what Wheeler’s experiment asks: at what point does an object ‘decide’?
    The results of the Australian scientists’ experiment, which were published in the journal Nature Physics, show that this choice is determined by the way the object is measured, which is in accordance with what quantum theory predicts.
    “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Truscott in a press release.,,,
    “The atoms did not travel from A to B. It was only when they were measured at the end of the journey that their wave-like or particle-like behavior was brought into existence,” he said.
    Thus, this experiment adds to the validity of the quantum theory and provides new evidence to the idea that reality doesn’t exist without an observer.

    But it is understandable why she uses a different definition of realism than the definition that quantum physicists usually use. Hossenfelder is an expert in the standard model and is not an expert in quantum mechanics per se.. As such, she does not have to confront the ‘measurement problem’ head on in the standard model since the ‘measurement problem’ was ‘brushed under the rug’ in the standard model when the infinity between special relativity and quantum mechanics was ‘renormalized’ in the standard model.

    As to Sabine Hossenfelder’s appeal to the standard model to refute panpsychism:,,, (January 2019)
    Excerpt: Actually, there is a more fundamental reason why the standard model says consciousness will never be found in electrons (nor in any other elementary particles). (The measurement problem in Quantum Mechanics was ‘brushed under the rug’ when infinity was ‘renormalized’ in QED)

    Not So Real – Sheldon Lee Glashow – Oct. 2018
    Review of: “What Is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics”
    by Adam Becker
    Excerpt: Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and their contemporaries knew well that the theory they devised could not be made compatible with Einstein’s special theory of relativity. First order in time, but second order in space, Schrödinger’s equation is nonrelativistic. Although quantum field theory is fully compatible with the special theory of relativity, a relativistic treatment of quantum measurement has yet to be formulated.

    In fact, not only is Hossenfelder not dealing directly with the measurement problem in the standard model, (which again is her particular area of expertise), she went so far are as to say ““We Know That Quantum Mechanics Is Wrong.”. Might I be so bold as to suggest, since the standard model does not even take the ‘measurement problem’ into consideration in the first place, that her preferred standard model is not nearly as ‘complete’ a description of reality and/or ‘realism’ as she imagines it to be?

    (“We Know That Quantum Mechanics Is Wrong.” – Hossenfelder)
    Excerpt: As should be needless to say, conscious observation is a rather important detail to be left on the cutting room floor in that particular renormalization of infinity. And since consciousness itself is indeed something very important that needs to be explained, (i.e. science would not be possible if conscious observation did not first exist), then any purported theory of everything that tosses conscious observation by the wayside, in its attempt to find the ‘theory of everything’, necessarily cannot be the right first step in that direction.

    supplemental note:

    How Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness Correlate – video

  4. 4
    Seversky says:

    What does it mean to say Sabine Hossenfelder exists? Do we mean that in the sense one of the variants of philosophical realism? Does she only exist within the confines of a particular worldview?

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