Thursday, July 05, 2012

Of Higgs and bosons

In his essay "Physics and reality" (see endnote), Einstein observed that the fact that the world of our sense experiences is comprehensible is a miracle. By "comprehensible" Einstein meant that the inner workings of the physical world (or what he called "the world of our sense experiences") can be understood and explained by rational means (or "thinking", as he put it so simply and beautifully). Yesterday's announcement (4 July 2012) of definitive experimental evidence of the so-called Higgs boson was yet another manifestation of this most wonderful of miracles. That a few squiggles published in the pages of an otherwise obscure physics journal can possibly constitute a fundamental breakthrough in our collective understanding of the universe is astonishing. Professor Matt Strassler, a specialist in the area, explains the significance of the discovery.


Excerpt (p. 351) from A. Einstein, "Physics and reality", Journal of the Franklin Institute, Volume 221, Issue 3, March 1936, Pages 349-382:

The very fact that the totality of our sense experiences is such that by means of thinking (operations with concepts, and the creation and use of definite functional relations between them, and the coordination of sense experiences to these concepts) it can be put in order, this fact is one which leaves us in awe, but which we shall never understand. One may say "the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility." It is one of the great realizations of Immanuel Kant that the setting up of a real external world would be senseless without this comprehensibility.

In speaking here concerning "comprehensibility," the expression is used in its most modest sense. It implies: the production of some sort of order among sense impressions, this order being produced by the creation of general concepts, relations between these concepts, and by relations between the concepts and sense experience, these relations being determined in any possible manner. It is in this sense that the world of our sense experiences is comprehensible. The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle. 

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