Tuesday, 29 November 2011

DECEMBER 6th [Science Comedy Advent Calendar]

December 6th: Higgs Boson

You get a lot of weird things at Christmas that attempt to derail the usual levels of cynicism of the world in general. A sense of indulgence, a willing suspension of disbelief when asked to consider magical/fantastical claims, childlike glee and enthusiasm, a ridiculous amount of expense spent on something that may prove to be pointless.

Surely scientists, with their logic, cold reason, lack of a sense of wonderment, and overarching sense of seriousness, could never succumb to such ludicrous behaviour?

Well obviously this isn’t the case, and the title of this entry obviously reveals what I’m going to be referring to.

In a surprising number of ways, the Higgs Boson elicits behaviour in the world of science that has many obvious parallels with Christmas, or a certain festive someone. For starters, the Higgs Boson is widely believed to exist, but its existence is not proven. The mere possibility of it appearing at all is enough to get everyone worked up. There have been plenty of signs for it being there, but nobody’s actually seen it. Remind you of anyone? Sure, there’s plenty of fiction about it, and people behave as if it’s real, but that’s not really proof. What we need is more. The ruffled foliage, eyewitness accounts, food going missing, a footprint maybe, tantalising, but that’s not enough for proper scientists. That’s what the Higgs Boson is like, though.

The Higgs boson is believed to be the particle that gives all other particles mass. So the Higgs is a possibly-real thing that distributes things to other things, and asks nothing in return? Its influence is widespread, but nobody really knows what it is. That sounds a lot like a certain festive Christmas figure, doesn’t it...?

Of course, the certain Christmas figure I’m referring to (if they exist in the state they’re believed to exist in and are capable of what they’re supposedly capable of) could only come about thanks to some very exotic science going on. And when it comes to exotic science, there’s not much to beat the Higgs Boson hunt.

Another thing this Christmas figure is associated with is the cold. Well, it doesn’t get much colder than the hunt for the Higgs boson, with physicists lowering the temperatures to colder than the vacuum of space just to catch a glimpse of it. It seems wherever this Higgs Boson goes, there’s a lot of expensive gear that ends up broken relatively quickly in its wake. This is also true when a certain someone else passes through. Thanks to them, you end up with a lot of expensive stuff lying around that tends to end up in an unusable state due to mishaps, proving perhaps that money doesn’t buy reliability.

It can’t be denied that, however much we think we know already, finally encountering the Higgs boson would fundamentally alter our understanding of how our own world works, and expand our awareness of what’s possible far beyond the current levels. The same could be said if we were to actually encounter and observe the festive you-know-who.

Many people refer to the Higgs as the ‘God particle’. This is close to what I was referring to, the all powerful, science defying individual that he is. But I think it is far more symbolic of that other semi-mythical figure I’ve alluded to; the one that’s always seen around the yuletide season.

I am of course referring to Godzilla. You often see him around Christmas time, as a toy or on TV or if a cheapskate you know hates you enough to buy you the DVD of the American remake.

This also proves that the associations made in this piece were a lot more tenuous than they first appeared. And it ended up being something else entirely, probably not what most people expected at all. A more fitting analogy of the search for the Higgs would be hard to come by.

How exciting!

Twitter: @garwboy


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