From a boson to the standard model Higgs: a case study in confirmation and model dynamics
Our paper studies the anatomy of the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider and its influence on the broader model landscape of particle physics. We investigate the phases of this discovery, which led to a crucial reconfiguration of the model landscape of elementary particle physics and eventually to a confirmation of the standard model (SM). A keyword search of preprints covering the electroweak symmetry breaking (EWSB) sector of particle physics, along with an examination of physicists own understanding of the discovery as documented in semiannual conferences, has allowed us an empirical investigation of its model dynamics. From our analyses we draw two main philosophical lessons concerning the nature of scientific reasoning in a complex experimental and theoretical environment. For one, from a confirmation standpoint, some SM alternatives could be considered even more confirmed by the Higgs discovery than the SM. Nevertheless, the SM largely remains the commonly accepted account of EWSB. We present criteria for comparing degrees of confirmation and expose some limits of a purely logical approach to understanding the Higgs discovery as a victory for the SM. Second, we understand the persistence of SM alternatives in the face of disfavourable evidence by borrowing the Lakatosian concept of a research programme, where the core idea behind a group of models survives, while other aspects adapt to incoming data. In order to apply this framework to the model landscape of EWSB, we must introduce a new category of research programme, the model-group, and we test its viability using the example of composite Higgs models.
KeywordsModel dynamics Particle physics Confirmation Lakatosian research programmes Higgs boson Empirical epistemology
Our paper was written with the support of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and is part of the Research Unit “The Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider” (FOR 2063). We are indebted to Radin Dardashti, Robert Harlander, and the rest of the research unit for their many helpful comments throughout the writing process. For detailed comments, we would also like to thank the participants of the “Reasoning in Physics” workshop organized by the Center for Advanced Studies at LMU München and our helpful anonymous reviewers.
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