Matthew Chalmers in CERN Courier:
Edward Witten has spent almost 50 years at the forefront of theoretical and mathematical physics. Here he describes how the LHC and other recent results have impacted his view on nature, and asks whether naturalness is still a useful guide for the field.
How has the discovery of a Standard Model-like Higgs boson changed your view of nature?
The discovery of a Standard Model-like Higgs boson was a great triumph for renormalisable field theory, and really for simplicity. By the time the LHC was operating, attempts to make the Standard Model (SM) work without an elementary Higgs field – using a dynamical mechanism instead – had become rather convoluted. It turned out that, as far as one can judge from what we have learned so far, the original idea of an elementary Higgs particle was correct. This also means that nature takes advantage of all the possible building blocks of renormalisable field theory – fields of spin 0, 1/2 and 1 – and the flexibility that that allows.
The other key fact is that the Higgs particle has appeared by itself, and without any sign of a mechanism that would account for the smallness of the energy scale of weak interactions compared to the much larger presumed energy scales of gravity, grand unification and cosmic inflation. From the perspective that my generation of particle physicists grew up with (and not only my generation, I would say), this is quite a shock.