A Philosophical Look at the Higgs Mechanism
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On the occasion of the recent experimental detection of a Higgs-type particle at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the paper reviews philosophical aspects of the Higgs mechanism as the presently preferred account of the generation of particle masses in the Standard Model of elementary particle physics and its most discussed extensions. The paper serves a twofold purpose: on the one hand, it offers an introduction to the Higgs mechanism and its most interesting philosophical aspects to readers not familiar with it; on the other hand, it clarifies widespread misunderstandings related to the role of gauge symmetries and their breaking in it.
KeywordsHiggs mechanism Gauge symmetries Quantum field theory Symmetry breaking
I would like to thank Jeremy Butterfield, Friedrich Harbach, Koray Karaca and two anonymous referees for many helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Work on the topics discussed here was carried out in the project “An ontological and epistemological analysis of the Higgs-mechanism” at Wuppertal University, funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, contract HA 2990/4-1).
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