Higgs boson: The sexy stuff just began with the Big Bang
The world has changed. Yesterday’s announcement of the discovery of a new boson – in the right place and with the right energy expected for the fabled Higgs boson - is one of the most fundamental experimental results in decades. But, sure as an inflationary expansion follows a Big Bang, most of us won’t give a flying photon after the initial 10-second glance.
But we should. And here is why.
The existence of the Higgs boson was first postulated in the early 1960s as a fundamental element of the Standard Model. And if society has learned anything from that sensationally-stylised series Mad Men, anything with a connection to the 1960s carries an essence of chic lost to all subsequent decades. (And yes, I’m talking to YOU, 1980s. Really, tenor leads in every rock band? Overkill. The Higgs boson is on its way to being proven and has already notched up a place as an essential part of reality. Live and learn, screechy men in tight pants). In more direct terms, the Higgs boson is not only a fundamental particle, it is also fundamentally cool.
Then there is its elusive and mysterious nature. If you are like me, you are not a particle physicist - so you probably don’t discuss the likely mass ranges of the fabled particle at parties. You may be more into ghettotech or Enya than gigaelectronvolts, but the reality is we’re just not being invited to the right sort of parties.
We simply don’t cut the fame frame. The Higgs boson is THE personality everyone wants at their party. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie - fabulous, gorgeous, famous - but even expert commentary of their lives in those peer-reviewed sociological journals Famous and Grazia overlook the obvious.
These people are famous because they are understandable, capable of being idolised and are EVERYWHERE. The Higgs boson is far too complex to be sucked into that false world. It is both a wave and a particle - a duality that makes people stop and think, perhaps even challenge them.
But it has taken almost 50 years for evidence to be uncovered. Everyone has wanted to find it, everyone wanted to know about it, but it held to its principles, quietly hovering in the 117-130 GeV range while we faffed about trying to impress it with bigger and bigger particle colliders. Evidence now shows it is likely to be sitting around 125.6+-GeV – again, not trying to overimpress, but quietly doing what it has always done. I don’t know about you, but for me, that screams CREDIBILITY - and certainly a particle I’d want to spend time with.
Perhaps even the rest of my life.
Sure, it has a shadowy presence - its detractors would say dubious, its supporters would take a more understanding stance given it decays as soon as it comes into existence – and that presence gives it a bit of a reputation. Perhaps like those other particles you thought you wanted until you realised they were bad for you. And then you hated them because you knew you shouldn’t be with them because of the way they made you feel, but then you realised you couldn’t live without them - making you feel even worse about wanting them.
Yes, it hurts, but we like that sort of presence. And the Higgs boson went further. It gives something back to us all. Mass.
For all economic rationalists and management consultants out there, the Higgs boson is the ultimate. It doesn’t just sit there, watching the clock like those pesky photons. (Everyone knows watching a clock makes it slow down - but only for the near-relativistic photon watching it. I realise this isn’t strictly entertaining, but it is the sort of “fact” that economic rationalists and management consultants require of me to justify my wages. Tick.)
No, the Higgs boson is the ultimate creator of organisational value - it gives everything mass.
Important? Well, it helps stop us coalescing into not-so-multicellular goo by providing particles with the right mass to avoid being too heavy or too light. That means it underwrites life, stars and galaxies - and that can’t be a bad thing…
(Sure, there’s my old flatmate Gavin from Cheltenham who would benefit from a lack of elementary mass. Bastard never cleaned up the dog poo from his rat-like dog and then one night went off his head shouting “Shalamankar! Eskubiera!” like he was being visited by beings from another dimension. Where the hell are you now Gavin? And where the hell is that bloody X Files box set I lent you seven years ago, huh? “Of course I’ll bring it back, it’s yours and we’re mates, right?” Arsehole.)
On the whole we are good people, wonderful people who create things like The X Files and Eureka, so constancy of existence is another reason to cheer the unveiling of something very much like the Higgs boson. Our elusive friend also underwrites certain physical constants and if we have learned anything from our current minority Labor government, we need constants and certainty to get things done. Carbon tax? The Higgs boson would have it sorted. Immigration debate? Stick to the fundamentals of existence like respect for humans and matter, our boson says. The Higgs has the answers. After all, it’s the small things that count.
Ok, you’re thinking this guy is a little too “pro-Higgs”, and you’ve got a smarmy look on your face as you wink and nod at the person opposite because you think you’ve caught me out - until you realise you don’t know the person opposite that well and you’re about to be hauled to HR for a bout of “management training”. But you’re probably worried I’m going to launch into a round of Kumbayah, convening a session of Q&A to link the notion of a sustainable population to proof of why economic warming is a lie propagated by those in favour of gay marriage. To be fair, I’d like to see that argued, but I’ll take your point.
So here is why proof of the existence of the Higgs boson may seem overrated. First, it is still going to leave questions about how we unify the electroweak interaction and gravity - and after hearing of Katie Holmes’ impending separation from Tom Cruise, we can be sure that 2012 isn’t going to be remembered for bringing people or fundamental forces together.
It’s also going to fall far short of answering where we came from. Yes, it has been referred to as “the God particle” but it doesn’t have any sacrificial suns. Sorry, sons. And it is not even going to go close to explaining the origin of the universe.
And even its premature unveiling in a leaked video showed it was nowhere near being God-like, but was prone to the overriding power of those paparazzi bastards in the media.
So why care?
Well, it’s cool. And I’m saying 60s martinis-at-lunchtime cool, not 80s legwarmers-and-perm cool. It’s also not every day that you live to see a little particle with a lot of pressure on its shoulders make its entry into the world.
Welcome home, Higgs boson. The universes are better places for your presence.
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