Listening Post: Large idea collider

I’m a hopeless science weenie, as evidenced by my daily reading of the National Science Foundation’s e-newsletter. But I’m also an English major, and a little at sea among subatomic particles and such. It’s all dark matter to me. I try to keep up, despite my limitations, so I jumped on the post “Higgs Boson in plain English, and why it’s so important.” It even included an animated comic book explanation video. Now this is my kind of science.

You can explain anything with cartoons.

Except that plain English doesn’t have to make plain sense. Consider, for example, the doctrine of the Trinity, or transubstantiation. For those of you who have been busy eating carbonized meat and potato chips, drinking adult beverages, and touching off fireworks for the last couple days, scientists at CERN in Switzerland have produced evidence for the existence of the long-sought theoretical particle, the Higgs boson, that would explain why things have mass. (Consider the alternative!)

The cartoon characters say that in the large hadron collider at CERN–which produced (almost for sure) the Higgs Boson–what you put into it doesn’t make any difference to what comes out. As long as you have enough energy, you can create any particle that requires that much energy or less. The Higgs Boson took a really big bunch of energy, and is a big deal, because the so-called standard model in physics (used for the last couple of decades) requires it to exist in order for  everything else to work. No pressure.

But the cartoon guys keep posing and not answering questions: What is mass? We don’t know. How many types of subatomic particles are there? We don’t know. What do these leftover particles over in the corner here do? We don’t know. But the existence of the Higgs boson would be one more thing that we do know, saving the bacon for the standard model.

And the standard model, of course, explains everything–everything except gravitation, that is. Then there is dark energy, and dark matter. And let’s not forget the nature of time, and the nature of consciousness. Put some thought into a large idea collider, spin it up real fast, and see if any plain English comes out.

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6 Comments on “Listening Post: Large idea collider”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    To know or to believe, that is the question.
    For the average person, and I usually include myself as an average person, the reaction probably is so what?
    The Higgs Boson or the God particle neither proves nor disproves the existence of a god/creator.
    The Big Bang theory is interesting but irrelevant to the life of anyone. It doesn’t eliminate the possibility that an infinite number of universes came before it nor does it mean an infinite number of universes will not follow this universe.
    Ultimately, we can’t prove much of anything and it really doesn’t matter because ultimately nothing we learn or do will prevent everyone of us from dying and mostly likely all life on this planet will be dead before this planet comes to an end.
    Bottom line. We are full of ourselves.

  2. Lynn Klein says:

    Dale…have you read “The Dancing Wu Li Masters” yet? It is quantum physics for “dummies” a.k.a. “most of us”. By happenstance or design (the really big question), it is also a great read.

    I like the idea of an Idea collider…I also like to think about such things even if it doesn’t change my immediate world…or does it?

  3. Lynn Klein says:

    P.S. Pete and I are not related, nor do we know each other.

  4. Ken Hall says:

    In the late 1600’s to early 1700’s Newton’s applications of his “calculus” to mechanics evolved into the Newtonian/Classical Physics which encouraged some of the great thinkers of the time to speculate that everything to know about the universe would be known within a very short span of time.

    I would speculate that we stand at a similar juncture with respect to the Higgs Boson particle. Although the simpler is better principal of Occam’s Razor is useful it is nearly universally misapplied by most non scientists, and some scientists, especially when it come to the sciences.

    As physicists quickly discovered the simplicity of classical physics did not enable anywhere near complete comprehension of the physics of the real universe within which the Earth and her population of self described possessors of the most complex device in the universe “the homo sapiens brain” which in turn yields the self appointed “most intelligent” critters in the universe, humans.

    I am at a loss to understand the association of the invisible, omnipotent magician in the sky, precluding human death and the Higgs Boson particle.

    The Higgs Boson particle is just another step on the, likely, unending journey to understand this universe and any others which may pop into and out of existence. A caveat for the invisible sky god believers; if any species in this universe, or any other, makes it to the end of the journey of understanding; “they will be gods”.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    Lynn, no we are not related as far as I know but you do spell Klein correctly, a good German word for “small.”
    Ken and all. I do love science and philosophy, and theology is also fun.
    My knit picking this possible “discovery” is due to questioning the “cost/benefit” ratio.
    Give this idea some thought. Our love of knowledge might be the result of our fear of mortality. For many, knowledge is a variation of the theological soul/spirit concept in religions and is an attempt to diminish the value of the flesh because it is mortal. We like to believe we can get beyond the flesh and achieve immortality but even our beloved brains are part of our mortal bodies.
    This causes us to become conflicted and often causes us to miss out on the joys of living in the flesh.

  6. Mark Holland says:

    “It was actually Leon Lederman, who’s a Nobel laureate, that came up with [the name.] But he was trying to call it “that goddamn particle,” and that wasn’t allowed by the publishers so it became the ‘God particle.'”
    — Victoria Martin, of the University of Edinburgh and a former student of Higgs

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