This Week’s Hype

The Higgs suggests that there could be more dimensions of space-time than we previously thought.

From a New Yorker piece this week (subscription required) about Joe Incandela of CMS and the Higgs discovery.

Even the famed New Yorker fact-checkers are no match for extra-dimensional hype. Will someone tell them they’ve been had?

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38 Responses to This Week’s Hype

  1. Hamish says:

    I look forward to reading that when my copy of magazine arrives this week. The New Yorker seems to have embarked on a series of in-depth biographical pieces with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Paul Ryan being covered lately. Good to see a physicist in the mix.

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Hamish,

    Unfortunately it’s not an in-depth piece, but one of the short “Talk of the Town” pieces. It’s well-done in terms of giving some atmosphere for a day in the life of Joe Incandela, but the theme is more bemusement at the incomprehensible things those physicists are up to at CERN than attempt to explain anything.

  3. former mathematician says:

    Reading the sentence in the context of the article, I believe “dimensions” was meant as “complications,” rather than anything geometric.

  4. Peter Woit says:

    former mathematician,

    “complications of space-time” is no better than “dimensions of space-time”. The Higgs appears to be a spin-zero, scalar particle, with nothing even slightly unusual about its relation to space-time.

  5. worse says:

    The New Yorker has done worse. In 1962 Jeremy Bernstein wrote an article in the New Yorker about Lee and Yang
    http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1962/05/12/1962_05_12_049_TNY_CARDS_000270950
    The article implied that the parity violation idea was more due to Lee than Yang. Yang was really upset. The article was the direct cause of the end of the collaboration between Lee and Yang. It had been a tremendously fruitful collaboration. Bernsteon’s article did far more damage to to physics than any confusion to readers about a minor statement about the Higgs and space-time dimensions.

  6. Peter Woit says:

    worse,

    I don’t mean at all to suggest this does any damage to physics. As for Lee and Yang, my impression is that they were headed for some sort of conflict, no matter what Bernstein wrote about them. But that’s really far off-topic…

  7. Samuel Kerckhoff says:

    Hello, I was wondering if some one could enlighten me i.e. Peter Woit :) or anyone with info.
    I’ve read the LHC has not detected any new physical phenomena that is not already predicted by the standard model, while operating at its current energy level. Is there a possibility that new things, not predicted by physicist, will be detected when the LHC is operating at the maximum energy level that it was designed for?

    Thanks

  8. Samuel Kerckhoff says:

    Or at least the LHC detecting new things that would show physicist what steps to take beyond the standard model.

  9. former mathematician says:

    How about “complications in the universe”? Which would fit the context equally well.

  10. Peter Woit says:

    Samuel,

    Sure, when the LHC goes from 4 GeV to 6.5 GeV/beam in a couple years, that will make accessible any new phenomena in the energy range just above the current LHC limits. Maybe there’s something unexpected there. However, there’s no good argument for why something new should show up in this new energy range, but not in the range now being explored at 4 GeV/beam

  11. Peter Woit says:

    former mathematician,

    I really don’t think the problem here is the writer’s word choice. There has now been a long tradition of physicists hyping the idea that “extra dimensions may be seen at the LHC”, and it’s not really surprising that a writer exposed to this would get the mistaken impression that the Higgs discovery has something to do with this.

  12. Don Murphy says:

    Peter Woit:However, there’s no good argument for why something new should show up in this new energy range, but not in the range now being explored at 4 GeV/beam

    I’m not sure I understand this statement. Does it mean the LHC is going to operate at higher energy only to confirm what is already known at the lower energies; or do you really mean to say there is no good argument for why something new should show up and therefore that is not the reason for the LHC going to higher energies? Can you clarify. Thanks

    Don

  13. Peter Woit says:

    Don Murphy,

    By operating at higher energy, the LHC will explore a new, previously inaccessible region, and if there’s a new particle accessible in this mass region, it should find it and will study it.

    The point I was trying to make though is that this is unlike the case of the Higgs, where we had excellent arguments (from the nature of the Standard Model) that a new particle HAD to be in the region accessible to the 3.5 TeV/beam LHC., going to the 6.5 TeV/beam LHC, the SM says there won’t be anything new there. We’re all hoping though that the SM isn’t all there is, that there really is something unexpected going on, and that it will show up in careful study of this new energy region. Only way to find out is to do the experiments…

  14. David Nataf says:

    Peter,

    Will there be new, independent tests of the SM at these higher energies?

    Will other branching components of the Higgs manifest themselves at these energies, or will the focus still be on photons, electron/positrons, bottom, and tauon decays from the Higgs?

  15. Peter Woit says:

    David,

    Good question. I don’t recall seeing a good discussion of this anywhere, but I’m sure it’s available somewhere. Maybe an expert can point to this.

    At higher energies the Higgs cross-sections increase, but you also get increases in background, and have pile-up problems to deal with, so I don’t know what happens to the sensitivity in the various channels they are looking at. At higher energy you may also get some new channels that open up.

  16. Mike says:

    I know we don’t have the article to read, but do you think they are justifying “extra dimensions” based on the excess in the diphoton channel or branching ratios that are different than theorized by SM?

  17. Peter Woit says:

    Mike,

    I have no idea where the writer picked up this particular piece of hype. Maybe there are people out there claiming the diphoton excess as suggesting extra dimensions, but if so until now their hype hadn’t made it into mainstream media.

  18. John says:

    What’s wrong with writing a paper (or giving an informal talk) suggesting that the diphoton excess and other deviations can be due to extra dimensions or other exotic things? That’s not hype. What is your definition of ‘hype’ ? If it hadn’t made it into the mainstream media yet, is it still hype?

  19. John says:

    Also, Peter, in response to:

    “We’re all hoping though that the SM isn’t all there is, that there really is something unexpected going on, and that it will show up in careful study of this new energy region.”

    Is any SUSY model one of the things you are personally hoping for? I know you’d bet against SUSY, but is there one version of the theory you are praying shows up at the LHC? (Not that you pray! :) I mean figuratively.)

  20. Peter Woit says:

    John,

    If “The Higgs suggests that there could be more dimensions of space-time than we previously thought.” isn’t hype, I don’t know what is. Again, I have no idea who fed this to the writer or why, no reason to believe it was someone promoting their diphoton excess model.

    I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with all SUSY extensions of the SM on the market: they’re complicated and ugly (because of the necessity of SUSY breaking, with no known good way to do it), you have to go to great lengths to explain why no evidence at all for them has shown up, and they don’t really explain anything about the SM that needs explaining.

    That said, the abstract mathematics used in SUSY models is interesting, and maybe there’s some such thing as a SUSY QFT that really does work. The mathematically interesting SUSY models often involve a “twisted” version of SUSY. Maybe there’s some way of using that to get an interesting model, but that’s purely speculative, I personally know of no way of doing this.

    I wrote a whole book chapter about SUSY in NEW, the book, and don’t want to rewrite that here. I haven’t looked at it recently, but as far as I know there’s nothing much I’d change if I were rewriting it today (other than reporting that the experimental evidence against SUSY is much stronger…).

  21. Emanuel Derman says:

    Maybe the experimentalist had thought that there were only two dimensions to space time, and now, having discovered the Higgs, he realizes that there are four.

  22. P says:

    @ Samuel, John:
    Peter is expressing his opinion when he says that SUSY doesn’t address anything in the standard model that needs explaining. As I’m sure he would admit, many top notch, highly cited theorists disagree with him here – they would say that the hierarchy problem is in fact a problem, which has been the source of many arguments on this blog, Peter essentially the only dissenter. (No disrespect Peter, just stating facts). Those experts would claim that if any physics solves the hierarchy (perhaps SUSY) it should appear near LHC energies, perhaps at the next energy level in a few years.

    @ Peter:
    This is hype of a different sort, I think! Many good theorists think strings are a good idea for various reasons, perhaps unrelated to unification, and overhype it. I cannot think of a single reason to think that anything about the Higgs implies extra dimensions. Can you? This is a serious question . . . hype (SUSY, e.g.) is usually attached to some physical idea, which people may disagree with, but I don’t even know what the physical idea is here that links these two (a la the idea potentially linking SUSY and the hierarchy).

  23. Igor Khavkine says:

    @P:
    Just a remark. It’s hard to put an upper bound on the number of dissenters withot a representative sample. And here one should keep in mind that there are quite a few physicists informed enough about QFT to have an opinion, but do not work on beyond SM physics. It might also shock you to learn that there are physicists who think that the cosmological constant problem is not a problem either.

  24. John says:

    Peter,

    Would you be disappointed if SUSY showed up at the LHC?

    Also, in response to, “If ‘The Higgs suggests that there could be more dimensions of space-time than we previously thought.’ isn’t hype, I don’t know what is.”

    That wasn’t what I meant. I meant suppose there’s a theorist who takes a possibly observed small deviation from a Standard Model Higgs and writes a paper about how an extra dimensional model can produce such an effect. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

  25. John says:

    Also, in response to,

    “That said, the abstract mathematics used in SUSY models is interesting, and maybe there’s some such thing as a SUSY QFT that really does work. The mathematically interesting SUSY models often involve a “twisted” version of SUSY.”

    So, are you hoping this shows up at the LHC?

  26. Peter Woit says:

    John,

    I’m not sure if you’re the same person who submitted about a dozen comments to the last posting demanding to know what I wanted the LHC to find about SUSY. See that posting for the answer to this.

    Yes theorists can write any papers they want, they shouldn’t hype their results to New Yorker reporters.

    P.

    It’s just not true that I’m the only dissenter about the hierarchy problem, as anyone who looks at the previous discussion here can tell. In any case, the LHC has pretty much shown experimentally that the hierarchy problem argument for SUSY to appear at the electroweak scale is wrong.

  27. chris says:

    David Nataf,

    “Will there be new, independent tests of the SM at these higher energies?”

    yes, and the prime example is the detailed study of the Higgs decay amplitudes. These are all very precisely predicted by the SM and their measurement will constitute a very nontrivial check of the SM in a previously inaccessible sector.

  28. Peter Woit says:

    chris,

    Yes, but do you know of a source explaining which channels will be accessible at 6.5 TeV/beam, and what the expected accuracies are for the signal sizes in these channels (for plausible luminosities)?

  29. P says:

    Peter,

    I’d be impressed if you could find a well-known highly cited professor at a top university who would claim that there is no fine tuning problem related to the Higgs mass. Some (Nima, e.g.) these days are willing to abandon naturalness and say that maybe nature is fine-tuned, but I haven’t heard anyone say that there isn’t a fine-tuning, i.e. that the hierarchy doesn’t exist. SUSY is very constrained, indeed (I agree!), but it is far too early to say that it’s fully ruled out at low energies or that nature doesn’t provide another solution visible at LHC which solves the hierarchy. See Matt Strassler on related issues, with a more informed opinion than mine.

    On the part of my comment I addressed to you – I suppose the idea they’re using to link extra dimensions and this Higgs mass is Randall-Sundrum? Is there another obvious candidate?

  30. John says:

    Peter,

    I checked the last posting and if you’re referring to ‘Phil’, he and I are not the same person. I read your response to him, but I’m not sure how your response answers the question I asked. I wanted to know if you are hoping for that particular SUSY model involving twisters you mentioned to show up at the LHC. I know you’re betting against all forms of SUSY, but I was wondering if that version of SUSY is something you are personally wishing for. Is this true?

    Also, I don’t think SUSY as a solution to the hierarchy problem has been completely ruled out, but I could be wrong.

    “Yes theorists can write any papers they want, they shouldn’t hype their results to New Yorker reporters.”

    Well, perhaps the reporters went to THEM first. Perhaps the theorist(s) explained their work without any hype, and the reporter turned it into hype in order to sell more papers.

  31. Peter Woit says:

    P,

    You’re just starting up precisely the same argument we had here in great detail before about fine-tuning, actually discussing the science. This is just tedious and a waste of time. Now you want to just make it an argument from authority which is both tedious and dumb. If anything is clear about the story of particle theory in the last 30 years, it’s that the endlessly repeated ideology about BSM physics isn’t working so has some flaw in it. I see no point in arguing about how many prominent people share this ideology, to what degree.

    P. and John.,

    As I keep repeating, I have no idea where the New Yorker writer got that particular piece of hype from, would be curious to know, as well as curious to know how it got past their fact-checkers.

    John,

    The “twist” of SUSY I’m talking about has nothing to do with “twistors”, and, as I said, I don’t know of a viable model. That was just a speculative comment about the logical possibility of a more successful very different kind of model that still in some sense has “supersymmetry”. As I wrote to “Phil”, what I want from the LHC is to learn something about how the world works. I don’t have a model that I “want” the LHC to find, and as for known SUSY models, there just is no good argument for them, lots of reasons why you expect not to see any evidence for them.

  32. John says:

    Peter,

    Oops, I confused twisted with Penrose’s twistors.

    You seem to have a strong, let us say, aesthetic doubt against SUSY. True, SUSY can be quite “ugly” generically, with lots and lots of free parameters, and no good or well-motivated way of breaking it. I’m sure everybody wants something incredibly beautiful to emerge at the LHC. Given that perspective on aesthetics, are you hoping more for a nightmare scenario at the LHC if it meant that perhaps a much more beautiful and exciting theory were just (or at a much higher energies) above the LHC’s reach, or are you more inclined (than the previous possibility) to hope for ANYTHING, even something ugly like SUSY, if it meant that particle theory has a greater chance of progressing based on actual concrete discoveries and nature shedding a brighter light on what particle theorists may work on next?

  33. Peter Woit says:

    “John”
    You sure do sound a lot like “Phil” and all the other pseudonymic comments I deleted from the same person that kept asking me tendentiously what I “wanted” from the LHC. For the last time, all I (and I think this is true of most physicists) want from the LHC is for it to tell us something new about nature. This may just be that the SM holds up to and above a TeV. Something non-SM, anything non-SM, would be great since this would be handing us a wonderful new puzzle of the highest order. I’m not going to argue with whoever/whatever is responsible for the design of the physical world by “wanting” them/it/whatever to do it a certain way or I won’t be happy.

    I point out the ugliness of viable SUSY models purely because, since there is no experimental evidence of any kind for them, the only possible argument in their favor is one from aesthetics.

  34. Bob Jones says:

    “Oops, I confused twisted with Penrose’s twistors.”

    John, why don’t you go read about some of the serious applications of SUSY instead of continuing with this silly argument? Peter has given you a fascinating example of why SUSY is interesting and valuable even if it doesn’t show up at the LHC.

  35. John says:

    Peter,

    Thanks for your response. And no, I’m NOT Phil.

  36. Joey says:

    I find your comment about this being hype amusing. First of all, if there is a Higgs and it is a scalar, then it means it’s mass is stable either by means of some new physics or by a really incredible fine-tuning of the parameters of the Standard Model. Sure, it’s possible but nature, in our experience so far, has mostly found balance via equilibrium so it seems very reasonable to assume there is some new physics we have not seen that creates the balance. It is a rational assumption, not a guarantee. So following this line, there are a couple of possibilities. It is either a spectrum of new particles (a new dimension in the sense that we have a new symmetry and a new array of fundamental states) or the Planck scale is not what we think it is, and perhaps String Theory with its additional dimensions can be a motivator for this idea. Yes, these are big ideas, but I would not call them hype.
    Frankly, I think you have to be a really arrogant twit to just call them hype unless you have really something useful to bring to the discussion.
    Anyway, such glib comments do not inspire me to read this blog. Hopefully you can improve in future.

  37. Peter Woit says:

    Joey,

    You’re behind the times, submitting comments about last week’s hype, when this is old news, with fresh hype for this week already available.

  38. fuzzy says:

    P. & Peter,

    in my view the “naturalness problem” is not a problem concerning the physics but perhaps the philosophy (why things are as they are and not as they are not?) or the sociology (why, even in science, some priviledged thinkers have a hierarchical position rather than ideas?).

    I do not know any serious discussion of it in the literature; I believe that ether theory has been not worshipped as this “problem” or “principle” has been in the recent years.

    The hype that you pointed out proves, once again, that we need critical discussions of what high energy physics became.

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