How can coupling with the higgs field slow a particle down?

Quantum Diaries has an interesting introduction to the higgs. It makes it seem like the way that the higgs field gives mass to particles is via all of the interactions with virtual higgs particles.

My question is, how can interaction with the field give rise to mass? It seems almost like Flip Tanedo is saying that, due to the interaction with the higgs field, the particle (electron, say) is experiencing a large number of changes in direction, and thus it takes a path much longer than the one that you measured.

It seems to imply that, when going from A to B, the electron 'bounces' off of a number of virtual higgs particles and takes a much longer path than the straight line from A to B, travelling at light speed all the while.

Is this a good way to look at the creation of 'mass' (i.e. a particle appears to move slower than light speed because it takes a path longer than the shortest one)? Or is there some other way to understand how the higgs mechanism imparts mass?

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This mix up of velocity and acceleration is rather common in writings on Higgs mass "creation". Even real physicists like Comic Variance do that in blogs. – Georg Jul 10 '12 at 10:11

1 Answer

No, that's not what happens. Keep in mind that the Feynman diagrams are only meant to show the interactions that take place between particles, not the paths that the particles take through space. In fact, one Feynman diagram represents all possible paths that the particles involved could take, including those where, say, an electron bounces around between different interactions and also those where the electron just travels straight.

The Higgs mechanism works differently. If you're up for some math, have a look at this answer I posted to another question, but the essential point of it is that the Higgs field has a vacuum expectation value (VEV). This VEV is a constant offset away from what you'd ordinarily expect to be the field's default value, and it "sticks" to the other fields and gives them mass, as well as enabling the interactions between the Higgs boson and various other particles.

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