The Higgs Boson

At long last, physicists at CERN in Europe have found something that looks like the elusive Higgs Boson, also called the God Particle.  It seems to me that the physicists themselves are pleased, but not ecstatic.  It seems to be the media who are waxing poetic about this particle.

The Higgs Boson was a concept invented some time in the 1960’s to explain how matter gets its mass.  The so-called Standard Model of physics seemed to require a certain particle having a set of properties – large mass, no spin, no electrical or “color” charge, and so on.  Such a particle had never been seen, but it was considered necessary if the Standard Model was to continue its existence.

The problem with finding it was its mass – something like 125 GeV/c^2.  That’s 125 billion electron volts per c squared.  This mass was far beyond anything that could be sought using manmade devices such as cyclotrons.  It wasn’t until the Large Hadron Collider was built at CERN that it became possible to seek the Higgs Boson.

While physicists are glad to have (apparently) found this thing, reports about how it’s going to “explain the Universe” are wildly inaccurate.  Many physicists have been working all along on the assumption that the particle exists and would eventually be found.  Finding it won’t suddenly mean everything fits together.  All it means is that certain other possibilities are now less likely.

I think it’s unfortunate that there is so much ballyhoo and hype about scientific projects and discoveries.  Huge benefits are routinely predicted, yet nothing much usually changes. The world will go on much as usual.  The Higgs Boson will fit into a slot that has been waiting for it for decades.  About the only question is how well the reality accords with the theoretical predictions.

I would expect that reality might turn out to be different from what the predictions said.  This is common.  The differences – the so-called “failures” of the theories – will be where we can learn things.  But for the time being, this is just one more piece in a large puzzle that is nowhere near being solved.

Which, in my opinion, is a good thing.  I like the idea of being able to keep on learning and wondering, no matter how far we go.  So far, every answer has led to dozens more questions.  We may never figure it out, but we can at least have an adventure as we seek.

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