I don’t know what it is but I am glad they found it
Much excitement today as the clever boys and girls at CERN announce they have found a new boson, and they are pretty sure it belong to Professor Higgs.
Expect general apathy. After all, it’s not a shiny new widget that we can buy, or a Z-list personality whose marriage and almost immediate divorce we can follow in the Daily Mail. It’s a boson, and if we really understood what a boson was and how it operates we would be sat in a laboratory doing clever sums and making out with lab assistants called Felicity (I have a somewhat skewed perspective of an academic life).
Of course there will be the inevitable documentaries on what it all means; featuring very few facts that we can grasp, accompanied by computer generated graphics of galaxies exploding as a small compensation for us being so stupid. Personally, I will look forward the Dr. Brian Cox show. Not only does he stir my homoerotic tendencies, he is also bloody good at explaining stuff without appearing to be dumbing things down too much; even though from his perspective he is talking to brain-damaged toddlers. He also has a great production team. I remember an episode of “Wonders of the Universe” where he spends half the show walking around an abandoned prison in Rio. This initially seemed like a massive waster of someone’s money; until he used it to explain the creation of elements in a dying star, and finished off the story with the star/prison being blown up. Genius storytelling.
But bugger the apathy. Even attempting to wrap our inadequately evolved brains around the magnificence and complexity of the universe is enough to trigger awe. I am talking real awe here, not the awe as in “awesome” when your waiter applauds your dessert choice. And the people who dedicate their lives to researching this stuff? They exemplify all that is admirable in the human spirit (unless they are only in it for the lab assistants).
Fortunately for you gentle reader, you do not have to wait for the offerings from the established media to further your understanding of the Higgs Boson (shouldn’t there be an apostrophe in there somewhere? Genuinej, please advise). At vast personal expense (mainly threats), I have arranged for our own, our very own, Camberley to provide an explanation.
When I first met Camberley he was, like me, a fairly junior accountant. When I last met Camberley we had both clambered over the bodies of the dead and reached “Finance Director” status; except I had the honour of being FD for a teeny tiny offshoot of the empire, and he was the FD of the chemicals sector which gave him considerably more seniority, and cash. But my teeny tiny offshoot was based in Bangkok, and he worked in London, so I won.
The difference in our career trajectories, and indeed our basic intelligence, is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that I left school at seventeen with a handful of O levels and a pocket full of scruffy dreams (none of which were realised), and Camberley knocked off a doctorate in nuclear physics (spin theory if I recall) before even looking at a set of books. So, who better than Camberley, sorry, Doctor Camberley to give us some perspective on today’s announcement:
The Higgs Boson for laymen.
That is what Spike asked me to write about given today’s announcement from CERN. He obviously thinks I know a lot more than do. But anyway here we go.
Once upon a time a man named Higgs said “Why do particles have mass? I know; I will say that all particles have mass because of something called a Higgs Boson that can only be detected with a multi-trillion dollar machine and an army of physicists. That should keep the buggers busy for decade or so.” And so it came to pass.
I must say this has been one of the longest ever confirmations in history, and even now they are not sure. They saw hints of the particle some months ago. How can you have a hint of a particle? Now while some of them are cracking open bottles of champagne others are saying, and I quote:
“Formal confirmation of the discovery is expected within months, though it could take several years for scientists to work out whether they have found the simplest kind of Higgs particle that theories predict, or part of a more complex picture…one of a larger family of Higgs bosons.”
So now there maybe other kinds of Higgs (someone clever than me will have to work out how to pluralise that word, or better still develop a collective noun for a group Higgsis – see, I said it needed someone clever than me).
It was all so different when I was at school. We knew what gave things mass, it was something called stuff. Lead had more stuff in it than air and so was heavier, simple.
What else has changed in that time? It used to be that the universe started as a Big Bang, everything was expanding, but because of gravity it all would eventually start contracting to end in a Big Crunch. Oops, it seems the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate. Explain that then. “I know” said the scientists, “it is cause by something called Dark Energy which will require the total GDP of all the countries in the world for the whole of human civilization to find. That should keep the buggers busy for … ever.”
To sumarise the little bit of what I gather is current scientific thinking:
• String Theory (apparently the theory of everything) says we live in a 9
dimensional world, except some think it might be 11 or is it 5?).
• After the Big Bang the universe rapidly expanded (called inflation), that
is, space itself got bigger so that some things that were near each other
suddenly were millions of miles apart – without any of them moving.
• Actually no say some others, the Big Bang did not happen in one place it
happened everywhere at once and that our 4 dimensional (??) universe is
actually a surface on a 5 dimensions object and our surface collided with
another surface of this object and that was the Big Bang.
• Well possibly not say others. Our 4 dimensional universe is possibly (?) a
holographic representation from a 3 dimensional thing (my word).
• Don’t worry about it say others, there are an infinite number of universes
and we just happen to be in one of them. Oh and by the way quantum
mechanics says that time can run backwards.
Is you brain hurting yet? Would you trust these people to run your banks? I would say “yes” to the first and “can’t be worse than what we have now to the second”.
Thank you Doctor Camberley, and please give my regards to your charming wife Felicity (I rest my case).
So there you are, perfectly clear to me now; although even eleven dimensions is not enough to explain she who must be obeyed’s shoe collection. But I fear there may be some of you who may still be confused; and for you I have prepared a simplified explanation.
Consider this photo:
On the left, an orange, representing the vastness of our known universe.
On the right, clearly marked as containing “orange juice with pulp”, representing the current sum of human knowledge regarding the known universe.
And what, I can hear you asking, is the fundamental difference between these two? Well, that would be the Higgs Boson.
You will probably see the same example being used on a special edition of Horizon (except they will unnecessarily blow up the orange at the end of the show); just remember you saw it here first.
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