Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking and the Higgs Mechanism
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Abstract: In recent years the spontaneous breaking of a gauge symmetry together with the associated Higgs mechanism gained increasing attention from the philosophy community. This mainly happened under the impulse of John Earman, who posed the questions:
- What does it mean to break a gauge symmetry?
- If gauge is merely "descriptive fluff", how can it have any physical consequences to break it?
- What is the gauge invariant content of the Higgs mechanism?Given that the Higgs mechanism is supposed to play a crucial role in the Standard Model of high energy physics, it is rather surprising to find that not many physics textbooks pay attention to those questions. The purpose of my presentation is to address the questions by considering accounts of the Higgs mechanism in terms of gauge independent variables (in both the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian picture). I will mainly focus on the simple example of the Abelian Higgs model. I will also restrict myself to the classical case in order to avoid quantum field theoretical complications.