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The Higgs mechanism and superconductivity: A case study of formal analogies

Fraser, Doreen and Koberinski, Adam (2016) The Higgs mechanism and superconductivity: A case study of formal analogies. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. ISSN 1355-2198

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Abstract

Following the experimental discovery of the Higgs boson, physicists explained the discovery to the public by appealing to analogies with condensed matter physics. The historical root of these analogies is the analogies to models of superconductivity that inspired the introduction of spontaneous symmetry breaking (SSB) into particle physics
in the early 1960s. We offer a historical and philosophical analysis of the analogies between the Higgs model of the electroweak (EW) interaction and the Ginsburg-Landau (GL) and Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer (BCS) models of superconductivity, respectively. The conclusion of our analysis is that both sets of analogies are purely formal in virtue of the fact that they are accompanied by substantial physical disanalogies. In particular, the formal analogies do not map the temporal, causal, or modal structures of SSB in superconductivity to temporal, causal, or modal structures in the Higgs model. These substantial physical disanalogies mean that analogies to models of superconductivity cannot supply the basis for the physical interpretation of EW SSB; however, an appreciation of the contrast between the physical interpretations of SSB in superconductivity and the Higgs model does help to clarify some foundational issues. Unlike SSB in superconductivity, SSB in the Higgs sector of the Standard Model (without the addition of new physics) is neither a temporal nor a causal process. We discuss the implications for the `eating' metaphor for mass gain in the Higgs model. Furthermore, the distinction between the phenomenological GL model and the dynamical BCS model does not carry over to EW models, which clarifies the desiderata for so-called `dynamical' models of EW SSB (e.g., minimal technicolor). Finally, the development of the Higgs model is an illuminating case study for philosophers of science because it illustrates how purely formal analogies can play a fruitful heuristic role in physics.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Fraser, Doreen
Koberinski, Adam
Additional Information: This is the penultimate version of this paper. The final version is published in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1355219816300739
Keywords: Higgs mechanism; superconductivity; spontaneous symmetry breaking; analogies
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
Specific Sciences > Physics > Condensed Matter
Specific Sciences > Physics > Fields and Particles
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Field Theory
Specific Sciences > Physics > Symmetries/Invariances
General Issues > Theory Change
Depositing User: Doreen Fraser
Date Deposited: 19 Sep 2016 13:04
Last Modified: 19 Sep 2016 13:04
Item ID: 12449
Journal or Publication Title: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Publisher: Elsevier
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1016/j.shpsb.2016.08.003
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
Specific Sciences > Physics > Condensed Matter
Specific Sciences > Physics > Fields and Particles
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Field Theory
Specific Sciences > Physics > Symmetries/Invariances
General Issues > Theory Change
Date: 14 September 2016
ISSN: 1355-2198
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/12449

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