What “The God Particle” Hath Wrought

You’ve doubtless heard the joke: We can’t call the Higgs boson the “God Particle” any more, because now we have tangible evidence that it exists.

But the label “God Particle,” attached to the poor unsuspecting Higgs boson by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi, continues to wreak havoc on physicists’ attempts to clearly explain what is going on. Last week’s announcements from CERN that the new particle discovered last July is looking more and more like the Higgs predicted by the Standard Model generated stories like this one, from CBS news:

The Higgs boson is often called “the God particle” because it’s said to be what caused the “Big Bang” that created our universe many years ago. The nickname caught on so quickly (even though scientists and clergy alike do not care for it) partly because it’s a great explanation of what it’s supposed to do — the Higgs boson is what joins everything and gives it matter.

That might be the worst paragraph I’ve ever read about the Higgs boson, and I’ve read quite a few. (H/t Faye Flam.) Originally I thought the journalist was just making things up, but it turns out that it’s Michio Kaku’s fault. (H/t Matt Strassler on Facebook.) There is a video linked to the article, in which Kaku says that the Higgs helped cause the Big Bang, and that’s why it’s called the God Particle. Another example where it would have been tempting to rag on sloppy popular journalism, where actually it’s a supposed scientist who is largely to blame. (Although the above paragraph is also wrong about things it should be easy to get right.)

For the record, the Higgs had nothing whatsoever to do with causing the Big Bang. (Kaku tries to link it to inflation, but they’re not related.) It also doesn’t “join everything,” whatever that means. It does give mass to elementary particles like electrons and quarks, which isn’t the same as giving “matter” (since that kind of doesn’t make any sense), and besides which it doesn’t give mass to protons and neutrons and therefore most of the mass in ordinary objects.

The “God Particle” label, despite being very catchy and therefore leading to more publicity than most elementary particles manage to muster, has done more harm than good for the public understanding of science. Non-experts, hearing that physicists have named something after God, might actually think they were being serious. Imagine that.

[Update: Matt Strassler adds his take.]

It’s not going away any time soon. Leon Lederman and Chris Hill have a sequel to the original book coming out, Beyond the God Particle, due later this year. I’m sure the book will be great at explaining the physics, and I’m equally sure the title will generate a lot more confusion. Get your disclaimers ready!

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95 Responses to What “The God Particle” Hath Wrought

  1. Russ Abbott says:

    Would you explain what it means to say that the Higgs gives mass to elementary particles like electrons and quarks but not to protons and neutrons. What mass do protons and neutrons have that aren’t due to the mass of quarks?


  2. Cameron says:

    What does give the proton mass?

  3. Sean Carroll says:

    You guys know that I did write a book about this, right? :)

    The proton gets mass from the strong nuclear force — the gluons holding the quarks together, not from the quarks themselves. Adding up the mass of the quarks inside a proton would get you only about one percent of the proton mass.

    Admittedly, it’s a very tricky thing. One quark by itself would have so many gluons around it that it would have infinite mass. That’s one way of saying that quarks are “confined,” we don’t see them by themselves. Bringing three quarks together in the right way lowers the total mass from infinity to the actual mass we see; but that mass is still much larger than the masses of the individual quarks in an imaginary world where there weren’t any gluons at all.

  4. reydv says:

    I can understand Leon Lederman passing the blame once to his publishers for the title. But twice?. He’s just as guilty for “god particle” mess as any publisher is.


  5. X X says:

    So what gives the individual quarks in an imaginary world by themselves mass?

  6. Sean Carroll says:

    Um, the Higgs? No reason to remove that just because we remove gluons.

  7. John Conway says:

    Sean! you are missing a golden teaching moment here…

    The reason a proton has mass is utterly fantastic: the quarks that make it up, bound together by the gluonic forces that won’t let them out, nevertheless have such a high velocity that they acquire mass via relativity. We all know E = mc^2, but that’s not quite right: it’s E = gamma mc^2 where gamma is a measure of how relativistic a particle is because it’s moving so close to the speed of light.

    That’s right: every proton (and neutron) in the atoms of your body has the mass that it does because the quarks inside it are whirling around at relativistic speeds. It’s really mind blowing…

  8. Bo says:

    So, Higgs gives elementary particles mass and thereby inertia. The Higgs does not give gluons its mass.

    So, where do the gluons get their mass from, and do they have inertia? I’m confused.

  9. Sean Carroll says:

    John, I don’t think that’s really true and/or helpful. It is true that the quarks move rapidly, at least to the extent that “the velocity of a quark inside a proton” can be defined. But it’s not where most of the proton mass ultimately comes from. (If it were, neutrons would naively be much heavier than protons, since the down quark is heavier than the up.)

    The truth, alas, is messy (as you know, probably better than I do). There’s a lot going on inside the proton — many more virtual quarks and gluons than the three valence quarks. I think it’s best to be accurate if not completely precise, and attribute the proton mass at the end of the day to the residual energy of the strong force (which technically includes both the gluons and the virtual quarks).

  10. Bill Brett says:

    CBS is a joke. If you don’t understand that, then ‘god be with you’.

  11. James says:

    Michio Kaku says something wildly overhyped and misleading? Well I never….

  12. Chris says:

    I have to go take a shower after reading that paragraph. I feel so dirty.

  13. Travis says:

    “If it were, neutrons would naively be much heavier than protons, since the down quark is heavier than the up.”

    Would it be almost correct, though, to say that the mass is due to the kinetic energy of the quarks, and the quarks get their kinetic energy from being pulled in so tight by the strong force, just like meteors get their kinetic energy from being pulled in by gravity? The down quark is heavier than the up, but it wouldn’t move as fast when acted on by the strong force because the strong force is not proportional to mass.

  14. vmarko says:


    Gluons are massless, like the photon. Furthermore, “inertia” is only a descriptive idea, not a proper physical quantity, so you are better off without ever referring to it. :-) Rather, talk just about mass (i.e. the “rest-mass”) and energy, without introducing “inertia”. Gluons have energy (kinetic and potential) and have zero mass. Quarks also have energy (kinetic and potential) and acquire some small nonzero mass, due to the interaction with the Higgs.

    When you make up a proton or a neutron, its total mass is determined by its total energy and the equation E=mc^2. And the total energy of a proton is a sum of the rest-energies of three quarks (i.e. the Higgs-generated masses), kinetic energies of quarks and all gluons inside, and potential energies of quark-gluon and gluon-gluon interactions. When you sum up all those energies, you get a result that is very different from the sum of just the three quark masses, since the potential energy of the strong interaction is… well… strong. :-)

    The problem here is that the total energy is actually negative, since the proton is a bound state. And then something called “renormalization” steps in, all hell breaks loose, and after the dust settles, you should end up with a total energy that is positive, and in addition much bigger than the initial masses of the three quarks. That should provide for the total mass of the proton.

    I am saying “should” here, because nobody has actually managed to perform that calculation, not even numerically (despite some valiant attempts). We don’t know how to calculate QCD-anything in the infrared regime. People have managed to calculate the “mass renormalization” (as it is called) in some much simpler toy-example models, and this suggests that something similar is probably happening also in full QCD. But there is no proof yet. One of the Millenium prizes is still waiting for someone to at least prove that a solution exists. ;-)

    HTH, :-)

  15. David Yerle says:

    Wasn’t it supposed to be called the “goddamn” particle because it was so damn hard to find? That made a lot more sense than the alternative…

  16. James Gallagher says:

    Hi vmarko,

    Some calculations have been performed, and they have been done to pretty good accuracy, are you dismissing this work?

    Popular reference, but it names the academics involved:


  17. vmarko says:

    No, I’m not dismissing that work — I noted that there are some valiant attempts. But the issue is that in all calculations of proton mass that I have seen so far (though I probably haven’t seen them all), the only thing that is being calculated is the ratio of the proton mass and some other hadron mass, the latter being taken as experimental input. While a 2% accuracy is a great achievement, it still falls short of an “ab initio” prediction of the proton mass — calculated from nothing else but Standard Model coupling constants and the Higgs mass.

    As soon as your input contains some experimentally determined hadron mass, you are taking a shortcut and effectively cheating the ab initio calculation. Even those shortcut calculations are formidable (and deserve every respect!), so I doubt that a true ab initio calculation will be possible in the forseeable future. But people should keep trying. :-)

    Best, :-)

  18. Sean – I am a little puzzled at your criticism of John Conway’s comment. The mass of the proton is a complicated combination of things, but certainly a major component is indeed the kinetic energies of the relativistic quarks, gluons and anti-quarks inside. Of course there is also binding energy and that is equally important. But when you say “it’s not where most of the proton mass ultimately comes from”, I don’t follow your logic. I would say it’s certainly a substantial contribution.

    I am also puzzled by your remark that the neutron would end up much heavier than the proton if John were right. I don’t see why. The difference between the proton and neutron involves the exchange of a single up quark for a single down quark, a tiny fraction of all the particles inside. For two relativistic particles with large energy E and different small masses m_1 and m_2, the difference in their energies is (m_1-m_2)^2/2E, a small number, not a large one. Meanwhile, to show that the difference between the neutron and proton mass is pretty much the difference between the down and up quark masses (with a bit given back because of the proton’s charge) doesn’t require any assumptions about the internal dynamics of the proton or neutron; it mostly follows from symmetry-breaking considerations. So you can’t determine anything about the internal dynamics of protons and neutrons from the neutron-proton mass difference.

    Anyway, while John’s remark could be refined somewhat, I don’t think it’s as fundamentally misleading or wrong as you suggested.

  19. Marko – your statement “The problem here is that the total energy is actually negative, since the proton is a bound state” regarding the proton mass isn’t right. The energy between quarks does not go to zero at infinite distance (since quarks are confined) and so the binding energy is not negative. Consider as a toy model (not the real thing by any means) two particles bound by a potential V(r) = -e^2/r + C r. The bound states do not all have negative binding energy, and indeed if C is large compared to e^2 they may all have positive binding energy.

  20. vmarko says:


    Yes, you’re right, my fingers were faster than my brain, sorry… :-) What I wanted to say was that quarks do not have enough kinetic energy to get out of the potential well. And since the well is infinitely tall (as your toy example illustrates), they are always confined to a bound state.

    But the main point of my post was that the calculation of the proton mass straight from the SM parameters is still not there, and that this is a hard problem.

    Best, :-)

  21. Navneeth says:

    Has the quark-mass-through-Higgs idea been firmly established (as firmly as things can be in QFT)? I understand that mass mechanism was initially proposed to explain the electroweak interaction alone.

  22. OMF says:

    I hereby propose that the Higgs Boson henceforth be known as the “Grand OlD Particle”, the G.O.D. Particle.

  23. Crapbag says:

    Matt Strassler said: “The mass of the proton is a complicated combination of things, but certainly a major component is indeed the kinetic energies of the relativistic quarks, gluons and anti-quarks inside.”

    Eh? Haven’t we been trying to kill the concept of “relativistic mass” for decades now? The mass of a system of particles is not usually the sum of the masses of the particles, but that is *not* because “kinetic energy contributes to the mass”!

  24. kyurkewicz says:

    I’m no fan of God Particle (nor that Kaku interview), but without it we wouldn’t have had this absolute gem of a headline:

    “Move Over New Pope, Here Comes The God Particle”


  25. Kyle Cranmer says:

    I tried to figure out what he might be thinking to justify to himself what he said. My guess is that a few times he said the Higgs “belongs to a family of particles” and at the end he mentioned the inflaton. So maybe he was thinking, “scalar field” and then justified equating the Higgs and the inflaton since they are both scalar fields. My guess is that is how he would reply if pressed.

  26. Kyle Cranmer says:

    FYI, I posted a comment on the CBS article linking to this and Matt’s blog post.

    – Kyle Carnmer :-)

  27. John Conway says:

    My understanding from past conversations with lattice gauge QCD theory types was that the majority of the nucleon mass can be ascribed to the quark kinetic energies. I’ll have to ask one again sometime soon…fun discussion! :)

  28. vmarko says:

    The concept of relativistic mass is indeed a very bad idea, but that is not what Matt was talking about. The kinetic energy of constituent particles is not the same thing as relativistic mass.

    HTH, :-)

  29. Kyle Cranmer says:

    CBS got back to me… they will “take a look”

  30. Interested Layman says:

    Wasn’t the higgs field responsible for causing infation? I mean, didn’t the higgs (in guise as the infalton field) cause inflation to occur?

  31. Dave Hooke says:

    Why does Kaku always present that science that actually isn’t? If it’s not misleading about what is known now, it’s complete speculation about what might be possible in the future. Unfortunately because he has an engaging and enthusiastic manner, and his pronouncements are always exciting sounding, he gets lots of exposure.

    I’m sure he is a brilliant physicist, but he’s not a helpful science communicator.

  32. Dave Hooke says:

    Someone on a non-science forum I frequent posted the other day about the Higgs that it was called the God particle for two reasons: It caused the big bang (maybe they got that from the CBS article) and it is not a particle but a “kind of energy/form”. As a theist they were very excited by the news that the particle found was confirmed as the Higgs. I presented the facts about particles, fields, and the Higgs, with reference to your talk at the Ri, Sean. It’s online now so I embedded it. I hope she watched it, and maybe some other people did too.

  33. kashyap vasavada says:

    I have a comment and a technical question. I think Kaku’s hype (white lie!) is not bad. It generates excitement. Remember the answer to congressman’s question “Will the machine help us in understanding God?The answer “no” killed the supercollider. Yes would not have been bad in the sense that we will understand God’s creation better.
    Anyway, the question is: In the Lagrangian derivation of spontaneous breaking of symmetry, you change the sign of (mass)2.This seems to me an uncomfortable mathematical jugglery! Admittedly after getting a new lower vacuum, all the (mass)2
    are positive. Is there any physical understanding of what you are doing. Is there a better derivation which does not do this trick? Thanks. Only recently I became aware of your blog. I plan to read it regularly.

  34. Hadron masses are currently required as input into lattice QCD calculations because the SM of particle physics does not predict the quark masses – they are parameters. Further, the overall scale of the strong interactions must be determined. Once these few parameters are fixed, then everything else is a prediction with fully quantifiable uncertainties. Currently, there is no algorithm to perform Lattice calculations of chiral gauge theories and so calculations directly from the SM are presently not possible. The current calculations of the hadron masses are impressive, but more computational resources are required to reduce further the uncertainties in these quantities, and to calculate more complex strongly interaction systems such as nuclei. The mass difference between the proton and the neutron has been calculated with Lattice QCD, including the contribution from the up-down quark mass difference and from electromagnetism.

  35. Simon says:

    I used to be annoyed at the “God Particle” name. Then someone pointed out to me that it is the reason Catholics have mass, after all.

  36. Brett says:

    I propose a physics face off. Live on Science channel. Uniform is various joint braces and plaid suits.

  37. Brett says:

    face off between Kaku and Carroll that is. Moderated by Neil Tyson.

    I think Kaku assumes that certain things are true which have not been proven yet; which is why his answers would irritate someone as grounded in “what is known” such as yourself Sean Carroll. We’re talking about a guy who won his $1 million for cosmic string field theory (or something) and has high hopes for SUSY despite recent results.

  38. Patrick says:

    How does the “Higgs” give (rest) mass to particles ? In a nutshell, we knew how to “give rest mass to particles” simply by including a term in the Lagrangian which contains (mass) times (field)^2. Here, the field is the quantum field of which the particle are the excitations. The problem is that the electroweak interaction has a symmetry which makes us put the fermion fields in two pieces in the lagrangian, the left-handed one and the right-handed one, and both undergo different symmetries. And this messes up our mass term (mass) times (field)^2, because in “field” we need both components (the left-handed and right-handed parts). In other words, if we bluntly put, as we used to do since 100 years or so, a term (mass) times (field)^2 in the lagrangian, the two different symmetries of the left-handed and right-handed parts don’t work out anymore. So we cannot put this mass term anymore in the lagrangian, which would mean that the fermions cannot have rest mass anymore. Shit.
    Now, for actually unrelated reasons, one needed a scalar field called the Higgs field. FIELD, and contrary to most particle fields which are “zero” at rest, this field was postulated to have a finite constant value at rest. You could also excite it, and then it would give particles (Higgs particles), but one didn’t need those particles. What one needed was a field with a finite nonzero value at rest.
    Now, in as much as (mass) x (field)^2 gives you mass, (field1) x (field2)^2 gives you an INTERACTION between particles of type 1 and particles of type 2.
    And now people invented the following trick:
    consider an interaction between the Higgs field, and a fermion field. Then we have (Higgs field) times (field)^2, and at rest, the Higgs field has a finite value. So this LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE A MASS contribution !
    For other fields, interactions don’t produce mass because their rest field value is 0. But the Higgs field is postulated to have a finite value.

    And for reasons that are too complicated to explain here, because the Higgs also transforms under the the left-handed and right-handed weak interaction symmetries, this term (Higgs field) times (field)^2 DOES work out well with these symmetries.

    So in short: the term (Higgs field) times (field)^2:
    – looks like a mass term because of the non-zero value of the Higgs field
    – doesn’t have the problem with left-handed and right-handed symmetries as has a normal mass term. This kind of term is called “Yukawa coupling”.

    So this was proposed as a solution for the problem of not being able to write a normal mass term in the Lagrangian. It’s ugly and contrived, but it works on paper.

    It ALSO implies a genuine interaction between a Higgs PARTICLE and a fermion, but that’s on top of it.

    The rather mind-blowing fact is that this ugly trick on paper seems to correspond perfectly with what is observed at colliders for more than 40 years!

    So you can tell a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo of “giving mass” and so on, but at the heart of it was a mathematical proposition of a solution because the standard way of introducing mass, namely writing a term (mass) x (field)^2, was forbidden because of a chiral symmetry problem, and the trick was by replacing the constant “mass” by a field which had a non-zero value (for other reasons).

    And again, it is the FIELD which gives (rest) mass to fermions, even without Higgs particles. The Higgs particles are nothing else but excitations of this field (just as electrons are excitations of the electron field, and photons are excitations of the electromagnetic field). But in quantum field theory, every field needs to have its associated particles. So if the Higgs field exists, one needed to find the particles that correspond to it. That seems to be done now.

  39. cormac says:

    Hi Sean, my own feeble response is to use ‘god particle’ with a small g.I found non-physics colleagues kept referring to my talks on the subject as ‘it’s about the god particle’ , so I eventually gave in (just as we all did with the moniker ‘big bang’). But it’s just laziness, I agree.
    Re news clip, I suspect the journalist simply confused two separate ideas – a) the mass-giving property of the Higgs field and b) the discovery of one particular scalar field, which is only relevant to cosmology in that it gives us confidence that scalar field can exist, as you know! What a glorious conflation – but actually I’ve seen it before!
    Regards, Cormac

  40. Sean Carroll says:

    Matt, John, and the other experts here — I still don’t understand how this could be true, although if people who are more expert than me keep saying so I might end up learning something. Is there some calculation (lattice or otherwise) of the mass of the proton that divides the total into contributions from valence quarks/sea quarks/gluons, and shows that the first contribution is dominant? If that’s true, I would be willing to accept the “quark kinetic energy” explanation. If it’s not, then I don’t think it’s a fair translation.

  41. Someone, please instruct me: what possible basis did Kaku have for saying what he did?

    How can such an eminent theorist be so profoundly wrong?

  42. Sean Carroll says:

    Also, Kyle, thanks for prodding CBS. Let us know if they respond more substantively.

  43. Jim says:

    regarding the cause for the mass of the proton, I would claim that John Conway’s and Sean’s explanations are equivalent on the basis of the work-energy theorem: The change in kinetic energy is equal to the work done by the net force acting on it. Since the gluons carry the strong force between the quarks they will give them the kinetic energy they have.
    The virtual quarks are just part of the interaction between the valence quarks.

    I believe this theorem should hold whether you work in classical mechanics or quantum field theory. It becomes more complicated on paper for the latter, but the principle is the same: stuff doesn’t move if not pushed.

  44. Pingback: Why, Professor Kaku? Why? | Of Particular Significance

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  46. By coincidence, I happened to glance at arXiv:1111.1600 shortly after reading the comments above. That lattice calculation finds (Eq. 48) that only 3–8% of the nucleon mass is attributable to the light and strange quarks, with the (quenched) strange-quark contribution consistent with zero (Eq. 45). If I understand the paper correctly, this result comes after an extrapolation to the physical average up–down quark mass, but without a continuum extrapolation.

  47. David Gentile says:

    Would one of you kind posters enlighten me on a macroscopic quandary? If KE = 1/2mv2, assuming no relativistic effects, velocity with respect to what? The nearest planet? The center of gravity of the universe? That would be neat if the universe had a center.

  48. James says:

    @David Gentile:

    With respect to your chosen frame of reference. Energy is one of those things, like time and distance, whose measured value varies between different frames of reference.

  49. Terry says:

    You mention that Higgs field,

    “it doesn’t give mass to protons and neutrons and therefore most of the mass in ordinary object”


    “It does give mass to elementary particles like electrons and quarks”

    Can massless quarks give proton mass? Can proton exist when quark is massless? Will massless gluon and massless quark create proton/matter?


  50. “supposed scientist”…so true. They seem to think scientist is increased by a factor of PR.

  51. Ron says:

    For a popular article on where proton mass arises from QCD, let me recommend Wilzcek’s Origin of Mass (pdf)

  52. jschoe16 says:

    BTW , Just this comment section of the[ article] is like a particle physics book!,( alot of information to follow up on to learn)
    just saved $12 , lol kiddin’
    very interesting! thanks yall

  53. James Gallagher says:

    Hi vmarko,

    you won’t get an ab inito prediction from the Standard Model because the Standard Model isn’t the ab inito description of the universe.

    Now praise those computer models more please – it’s kind of heroic given our current ignorance.

    And Sean is making a good point, some of of you seem to be saying the bog standard (valence) quarks contribute to the proton mass rather than all the virtual interactions going on – well you really need to explain that a bit more clearly.

  54. James Gallagher says:

    I don’t even have the 15 mins to edit my post anymore – edit “ab initio”

  55. frank close says:

    Without Higgs the proton would be heavier than neutron (electrostatic energy). However, the scale of their masses O(1 GeV) would be pretty mush the same. Simplest example for the long confusing discussion above: A massless fermion confined in infinite high potential radius R has energy \sim pi/R hence hundreds MeV for R \sim 1fm (that is essence of MIT bag model). Details of how this confinement arises just muddy the waters (at least for the present discussion).

    That pedogagic example of how even massless quarks gain total energy, which is manifested as the mc^2 of the whole is the nub. All other discussion about role of gluons, virtual qq* muddy the waters – important for understanding how confinement arises but not essential for this specific issue of why p/n have mass even without Higgs.

    Beware of splitting into q and virtual qqbar etc as you run into problems of infinity if not careful (which is all in my book The Infinity Puzzle which also answers some of the confusions that seem widespread and gives a pedagogic explanation of why “infinite” masses, when virtual fields are included, are actually finite – there’s plenty of virtual pairs buried in the H atom for example).

    On Monday I am due to be interviewed by M Kaku who started all this debate. Hopefully the level of hype will approach teh spin of the Higgs :)

  56. James Gallagher says:

    Hi frank

    I purchased the original edition of your ‘The Cosmic Onion’ back in the 1980s, really stimulating intro to particle physics for this then teenager.

    However, are you claiming that a calculation for proton mass without “muddying the waters” with virtual interactions is possible?

  57. Frank says:

    Could someone tell me why Michio Kaku is wrong? Is it because his statement is purely conjecture? Does it have some sort of theoretical basis way out in left field? or is it proven to be untrue and completely unrelated to the big bang?

    I’m guessing it’s purely conjecture. Which leaves me asking when did the Higgs field start to do its thing?

  58. Frank says:

    I’m not making some snarky comment against Kaku, I really just don’t know much about the Higgs. Was it a slip of the tongue or something more?

  59. Was it a slip of the tongue or something more?

    Last night I tried to think of a non-physics claim comparable to Kaku’s statement that “it was a Higgs-like particle that sparked the cosmic explosion. In other words, everything we see around us, including galaxies, stars, planets and us, owes its existence to the Higgs boson.” I came up with: “ketchup comes from cocaine.”

    You can start waving your hands about ketchup and cocaine both being derived from plants that evolved in similar regions of the world, but the natural response to this statement is: WTF? This is the response of physicists to Kaku’s claim.

  60. Romulo Binuya says:

    I’m a layman but nonetheless interested in both the Lambda-CDM model and the Higgs mechanism, perhaps Kaku is up to something, there must be reasons and he might explain it later.. best if he could explain along the way about baryonic asymmetry and how gravity gather the outward spray of quark soup :-)

    Beyond the expanding universe there is nothing, not even empty space where time could exist… because as far as mathematics can confidently simulate, the universe space and time and everything in it expanded from 10^-33 meter singularity at 10^-43 second… I think, anything is mathematically possible at that point.

    Perhaps Kaku don’t have the data yet that’s why he couldn’t shut up and calculate. He maybe is audacious but with such remarks he raised the interest of the public about science, some did the same raising of interest thing by elaborately displaying the schrodinger equation in a motorway billboard in London. Besides, capitalism dictated that scientists must be strictly on specialization, it’s a good thing Kaku is linking two fields of studies contrary to what capitalism demands. I agree and disagree at the same time with Kaku, this post collapse my wavefunction into agreeing with him, but that doesn’t mean I won’t hit Kaku at other sites :D

  61. frank close says:

    James Gallagher: Frightening how long ago The Cosmic Onion was! My pedagogy was merely to show how a massless fermion, if trapped between infinitely high walls, gains an energy – which is the **model** example of the MIT bag model – and hence the fermion+ the container wall/bubble have a total energy, hence rest mass, without any invocation of Higgs. This is the essence of the MIT bag model. However it is a model; reality is vastly complicated and beyond anyone’s ability to compute (even lattice QCD makes approximations)

  62. Daz says:

    Careful! Pretty soon we’ll be seeing the CBS headline: “Physicist’s quote: ‘Ketchup comes from cocaine'”

  63. vmarko says:


    The main issue of the discussion above was whether the main contribution to the proton mass comes from the kinetic energy of quarks inside the proton, or from the potential binding energy. In the language of the bag model, the total mass is computed by adding up the contribution of the kinetic energy of the massless fermion and the potential energy of the walls which confine it. If the walls are infinitely high, the total mass of the system is infinite. If they are finite but high, then they provide confinement only if the kinetic energy of the fermion is smaller than the height of the potential well. Therefore, in the bag model, the contribution of the binding energy to the total mass is always larger than the contribution of the kinetic energy. (N.B. I am glossing over the whole set of issues of the bag model, like the width of the walls, possible tunnel-effect, etc.)

    In contrast, Matt and John claimed that the kinetic energy of the valence quarks is the dominant contribution to proton mass, as opposed to the potential binding energy. So either the bag model is a very lousy model of the proton, or else Matt and John are in error.

    I guess that is why Sean asked for an explanation of the issue. :-)

    If it is really the potential binding energy the one that gives the dominant contribution, than all the ugly fluff about gluon self-interactions, virtual quark pairs and renormalization *must* be taken into account for the mass calculation, rather than just saying that the quarks in the proton are rotating around each other very fast. There must be a reason why this fast rotation doesn’t break the proton apart, and the reason is that the binding energy should be bigger than the kinetic energy. That was the crux of the discussion (as I understood it). :-)

    And of course, all this has nothing to do with the Higgs, which only gives a (very small) contribution to the total mass by providing the three valence quarks with some nonzero rest mass.

    HTH, :-)

  64. David Gold says:

    Don’t know if this will throw a spanner into the works regarding the Higgs Boson. I was playing around with calculations in respect to experimentally measured particle radii and presto discovered a direct simple relationship to their mass!

    See my ‘Fundamental Principle of Mass’: http://www.scienceau.com/docs/Fundamental Principle of Mass.pdf

  65. frank close says:

    The bottom line is: An infinite wall with three (massless) fermions trapped inside has more energy (about 1 GeV, due to their KE) than one without any.

    The question of an infinitely high wall contributing infinity to the energy scale is analogous to Dirac’s infinitely deep sea contributing infinite energy. Its all relative.

  66. db says:

    I’m not seeing any spanner being thrown. Red flag #1: You’re predicting a massive photon. Red flag #2: You lump together “photon, neutrino, and gluon” and invent a “calculated radius” and “volume” for them without any justification.

  67. Romulo Binuya says:

    It’s easy for me to comprehend that 99% of the proton’s mass came from kinetic energy of the particles within the proton.. angular momenta I assume, which confused me. What happens to the opposite angular momenta of the valence quarks and other particles, do it simply cancel? or converted to thermal right away and supposed to incinerate the proton but didn’t.

  68. Robert says:

    actually, according to a 2008 Guardian interview, Higgs argues that LL had intended to call the particle the “Goddamm Particle”, which obviously the ed didnt go for, maybe they should have.

  69. Romulo Binuya says:

    Lederman did not gave the higgs boson its now popular soubriquet, he just didn’t argue much with his editor. He prefers to call the higgs boson as the goddamn particle because in spite of the huge expenditures nobody could find the goddamn particle at that time… huge expenditures is also known as the multi-billion euro Large Hadron Collider.

  70. Romulo Binuya says:

    What’s in a name anyway? a higgs boson by any other name is just as complicated… tiny ball of wave in a quantum field.

  71. Robert says:

    whats in a name ? quite a bit indeed…because of the God qualifier thousands have one to hell….

  72. Romulo Binuya says:

    I didn’t noticed hell in the higgs field, only its non-zero average value.

  73. Steve says:

    Even tho it is important for humans to search and learn all they can, we will never, and I mean never find out everything that God has put together for us and the vast universe. There are things that are certainly not for us to know. And I wonder about people that think that there is no God. If they can believe that everything came from nothing, then why not a God?

  74. Robert says:

    ooops wish there was a inbuilt spell check…it should read “have Gone to hell…gone…not ONE”

  75. Romulo Binuya says:

    You can say that Steve, but everyone got to eat somewhere to satisfy his physical and psychological hunger… and faith is not for everyone. Some didn’t evolved enough serotonin receptors hence lack some parameters in their brain.. that’s just a theory. Maybe all were born with equal serotonin receptors but to some it atrophied for lack of usage, maybe they grew up without given any toys by their parents and relatives.. well, that’s another theory :D

  76. Sue Palmer says:

    As a journalist who occasionally interviews scientists, I wonder whether the scientists commenting here, if asked to vet a description of the Higgs field and particle before the copy went to press, could have agreed on a description of a few hundred words and, let’s say, a few hundred words that would excite people who know nothing about physics to want to know more.

    That’s the goal, of course. Hard to do well and hard to do well on deadline.

  77. Sue (and whoever else is interested),

    Matt Strassler wrote the sort of summary you describe (and did so quite well, in my opinion) in response to the shenanigans we’re discussing here:

    While there are lots of possible ways to phrase non-technical description of the Higgs field and particle, I think we scientists commenting here would agree that many of them are reasonable and not too inaccurate. I think we would also agree that Kaku’s comments are astoundingly inappropriate and misleading.

  78. Romulo Binuya says:

    Thanks for the input Sue, deadline was one of my guesses when I had read another misleading article on which the author left out the pioneers and made it appear that Feynman invented the double-slit experiment. I commented she loves Feynman and didn’t bother to research.

    Kaku’s comment could be irresponsible and detrimental to science, but it do motivate kids to use their key board and mouse. How bad it is anyway? I thought science is about never accepting anything at face value and always consider alternative explanations of given phenomena… and “proven scientific fact” is never appropriate as it only reflects the ignorance of those who say it. I think Kaku is a hero for sacrificing his reputation and initiating natural selection on who deserve to be in science. Just a thought, probably I’m wrong by your standard.

  79. Romulo Binuya says:

    I am fascinated in your different alternatives in calculating the mass of a proton, and somehow you are telling me that the 1 gram of mass in a mole of carbon-12 in its ground state is not equal to the rest mass of particles within it? and your calculations explain the why? fascinating.

  80. Prof.Layman says:

    From reading into about the middle of Sean’s new book, I couldn’t help but think that the Higgs-like boson isn’t really the God Particle but the God damn particle.
    It mentions the interpretation of quantum field theory that photons are created by vibrations in the electromagnetic field. But it then says that two photons are created from the Higgs-like boson that is a vibration in the Higgs Field, that is associated with the gravitational field. Could it mean that this interpretation of quantum field theory is wrong? And fermions are some kind of limit of stacks of bosons? How else could photons come from a vibration in the Higgs Field?

  81. Romulo Binuya says:

    That is interesting, in my universe electron doesn’t vibrate to release photon.. it simply jump down and we call that jump as “quantum leap”. And it is distinguished from other wave that is not real in sense that it is just caused by interactions of ‘legitimate’ waves… ah well, virtual wave is real.. as real as the flirtation of a man with other women before he got married to his wife by mutual attraction :D

  82. Prof.Layman says:

    @ Romulo Binuya

    I think maybe we come from the same universe, and that is not this one. I never really went for that idea either, that is why I always look for a way around it. I wonder if these virutal particles do not have the same mass is because being stacked on each other could make them interact differently with the Higgs Field. IDK it is just an idea, I don’t see how a pair of photons could come from the decay of a Higgs Boson, when photons are produced by vibrations in electromagnetic waves. It would seem to indicate that they are really vibrations in the Higgs Field after all, and the Higgs-like boson does not agree with current theory in this respect.

  83. Romulo Binuya says:

    Thanks for the insight Prof.Layman, it’s good to agree that we are in the preposterousuniverse where anything could go, like a proton who owes its existence to simultaneous possibilities going own within it. I don’t understand yet the higgs field, I have nothing in return. :-)

  84. Romulo Binuya says:

    I misspelled ‘going on’, and I consider that my return to your misspelled virtual. Isn’t it nice that a blog considered by some as graffiti with punctuation marks, could lift our lips into smile and sometimes broke it into guffaw? And raise not only our eyebrows but also our IQ. Btw, the commentator with a repulsive alias wants to kill the relativistic mass concept, I think that is not advisable. Relativistic mass is the gamma component of John Conway’s energy equation which is arbitrary according to frame of reference. Whereas in E=mc^2 m is the rest mass and is constant at all frame of reference, because c is not the velocity of m but a constant, namely the speed of light (in vacuum).

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  86. Tony Mach says:

    Not the first time Michio Kaku said some kaka:

  87. Prof.Layman says:

    @ Tony Mach

    There is something called The Drake Equation, that figures the odds of intelligent life and I think he is a firm believer in it. He has admitted that there wasn’t enough information in the past to determine exactly what those odds are, but I think he may actually be using it on the new data that was found. He just may not have mentioned it in the news report. Before, we had no way of knowing how common planets around stars even where to even put figures into this equation.

  88. Romulo Binuya says:

    It’s not only Kaku, Hawking and Sagan too to name a few… how about you what do you think about the Fermi Paradox?

  89. Meh says:

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist as well as the author of many ‘popular’ physics books and a regular on damn near every science channel show. In a time when science budgets are being cut left and right, he serves the very important though unpopular task of keeping people interested in physics. Look at politicians who are in charge of our science budget and tell me that they don’t need to be told things like “YES! EXACTLY! the Superconducting Super Collider will find God” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Mgbjb8229f8

    You might not like the method, but the people who don’t know what he’s saying isn’t accurate are also the people in charge of the budget that seem to only perceive scientific breakthroughs as going from the steam engine to a fully functioning inertial fusion power plant in 3 years for $500,000. In the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson, “why are all of our politicians, Lawyers? Basically the most talented liars? Why don’t we have a single scientist or engineer in congress? wouldn’t that better represent the public?” Over exaggerating things on CNN (CNN…http://www.gifbin.com/981410) is what’s necessary when your civilization is controlled by some of its biggest idiots.

  90. Meh says:

    jump to 3:30 in the video if you’re impatient…

  91. Romulo Binuya says:

    Thanks Meh, albeit it’s not good enough for me. Kaku is a hero is fine, but the conclusion that some in the congress are idiots is not acceptable, at least to me. Apparently Kaku don’t know how national economy works.

    Anyways, this brouhaha about Kaku is telling me something related to quantum fields and how particles behave in it. It seems to me that Kaku’s remarks about higgs boson and the big bang is spin1/2, and it intrigues, inspires, and provoke the thoughts of his intended audiences which are in spin1/2 field. I believe Kaku is capable too (he should be) of spin zero behavior especially in physics symposium among his colleagues I.e. his magnitude must be precise, accurate, and unambiguous anyway you look at it… left to right and vice versa, upside down, or flipped. Spin zero, Hawking said is like a point, I said yep but to me it’s more like the word NOON.

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  93. Adhiraj Mathur says:

    There is indeed some confusion about this. This article has made some of my ideas about the higgs boson a little clear.