Is there an accepted analogy / conceptual aid for the Higgs field?

In Physics there are many accepted conceptual aids such as
* Schrödinger's cat
* Maxwell's Demon
* I'm sure I'm missing many, but you get the idea

Is there an accepted/standard aid for the Higgs?
I saw a popular treatment of the Higgs boson with Peter Higgs.
He talked about pearls being dragged through treacle.
But the analogy wasn't fully fleshed out, just a two second video clip

If there is not an accepted standard aid, what do the various professionals here use to aid explicating to non professionals?


This is not as easy as it may sound: in every analogy one has to make a choice between rigor and 'poetic license'.

Personally, the one i like better is Higgs for Waldegrave: where a crowd-analogy is given. But, as they say, your milage may very.

If you'd like, you can think in terms of a 'caramel pool', Milky Way Simply Caramel: Pool : when we say that a particle 'couples' to the Higgs field, we mean to say that this particle 'sees' this 'caramel pool', and this makes it "harder" for it to move, which we measure as this particle's "mass". And, as you can imagine, there are particles that do not couple to the Higgs field, meaning to say they do not "see" it: therefore, they move much more easily. ;-)

But, take all this with a grain of salt…

  • $\begingroup$ Veuve Cliquot 1985, mazette! $\endgroup$
    – user154997
    Sep 5 '17 at 10:09

This is my favourite simplified picture explaining the higgs mechanism:


In the first tree panels You can see how Einstein (a massless particle) enters a room with physicists (the higgs field) and gets slowed down by his colleagues wanting to talk to him (he couples to the higgs field and attains mass).

Panels 4 and 5 explain how the higgs field itself attains mass by coupling to itself: If a rumor propagates through the room, the physicists (higgs field) form a local crowd intensively chatting (self coupling).

  • $\begingroup$ Ron`s example is of course much more sophisiticated and correct (+1) but I like this funny picture :-) ... $\endgroup$
    – Dilaton
    Nov 24 '11 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ ... in the above analogy the NEUTRINO would possibly be a very SCARY guy leading the physicists to run away into all directions (joking about NEGATIVE mass, FTL, etc) :-) ... $\endgroup$
    – Dilaton
    Nov 24 '11 at 11:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This seems almost like a hydrophilic ion trying to travel through cell wall. They are much larger, because of all the waters that latch on to it. $\endgroup$
    – Jiminion
    Mar 7 '15 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ This and Higgs for Waldegrave cited by @Daniel in his answer are just two takes at the same little story: even the cartoons are the same! $\endgroup$
    – user154997
    Sep 5 '17 at 10:16

The Higgs mechanism is itself an extension to nonabelian gauge theory of an everyday tabletop phenomenon (at least in laboratories), called superconductivity. The origin of superconductivity is the formation of a charged Bose-Einstein condensate of electron pairs, which means that magnetic fields in the material are excluded. The exponential decay of electromagnetic fields means that the U(1) photon of EM at low-energies has become massive, and the reason is that the condensate has been eaten to supply the missing polarization state for the photon.

All this is explained in the Wikipedia page on Higgs mechanism. The original papers of Higgs, Brout Englert, and Guralnik Hagen Kibble, were all motivated by the suggestion by Nambu that the vaccuum can contain paired fermion condensates, just like the Bardeen-Cooper-Schriefer model of superconductivity. Nambu actively studied the BCS model before discovering the chiral quark condensate.


Of the Higgs for Waldegrave analogies, Tom Kibble's is by far the best (celebrity or a rumor of a celebrity crossing a crowded room of media people), but there are several inconsistencies in this analogy.

For one thing, these are bosons, and that means, among other things, that it is possible for the bosons themselves to occupy the same space at the same time, just like photons (also bosons) do.

I once thought that the lattice graphic representations of the Higgs field that were viral on the internet were likewise a bad analogy, and for the same reason. But one thing about the lattice analogy now strikes me as right on target, and this has to do with the spin characteristics of the Higgs field. The Higgs is the only spin zero particle, and this can't happen unless it is an excitation of a field that is extremely sensitive to quantum spin magnitudes, which is to say, the only way this can occur is if the Higgs field is a superposition of equal magnitudes of opposite values of quantum spin.


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