Does the Higgs-boson exist?

Link post

What do sci­en­tists mean when they say that some­thing ex­ists? Every time I give a pub­lic lec­ture, some­one will come and in­form me that black holes don’t ex­ist, or quarks don’t ex­ist, or time doesn’t ex­ist. Last time some­one asked me “Do you re­ally be­lieve that grav­i­ta­tional waves ex­ist?”

Sabine is a the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cists who had gained promi­nence (and no­to­ri­ety) through her book Lost in Math, about group­think in high-en­ergy physics.

In this post she sums up beau­tifully what I and many physi­cists be­lieve, and is ve­he­mently op­posed by the pre­vailing re­al­ist crowd here on LW. A few ex­cerpts:

Look, I am a sci­en­tist. Scien­tists don’t deal with be­liefs. They deal with data and hy­pothe­ses. Science is about knowl­edge and facts, not about be­liefs.


We use this math­e­mat­ics to make pre­dic­tions. The pre­dic­tions agree with mea­sure­ments. That is what we mean when we say “quarks ex­ist”: We mean that the pre­dic­tions ob­tained with the hy­poth­e­sis agrees with ob­ser­va­tions.


Now, you may com­plain that this is not what you mean by “ex­is­tence”. You may in­sist that you want to know whether it is “real” or “true”. I do not know what it means for some­thing to be “real” or “true.” You will have to con­sult a philoso­pher on that. They will offer you a va­ri­ety of op­tions, that you may or may not find plau­si­ble.

A lot of sci­en­tists, for ex­am­ple, sub­scribe know­ingly or un­know­ingly to a philos­o­phy called “re­al­ism” which means that they be­lieve a suc­cess­ful the­ory is not merely a tool to ob­tain pre­dic­tions, but that its el­e­ments have an ad­di­tional prop­erty that you can call “true” or “real”. I am loosely speak­ing here, be­cause there sev­eral var­i­ants of re­al­ism. But they have in com­mon that the el­e­ments of the the­ory are more than just tools.

And this is all well and fine, but re­al­ism is a philos­o­phy. It’s a be­lief sys­tem, and sci­ence does not tell you whether it is cor­rect.


Here is a home­work as­sign­ment: Do you think that I ex­ist? And what do you even mean by that?