On the Higgs Boson Hysteria

There should be a non-cliché rule in photography as well. I say that because the picture of a scientist with a pretentious attitude writing equations on a glass surface in front of the camera is far too common. Anyway, that was exactly how Dr. Peter Ware Higgs appeared in a recent New York Times article wrapping up the story of an elementary particle named after the now 83 years old theoretical physicist.

The observation might be a little harsh, after all last year two independent teams of researcher, looking at experiments performed at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, discovered something that looks very much like the particle whose existence was proposed by Higgs in 1964. Confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson, along with the Higgs field, would be of “monumental” importance, it has been stated. It would provide explanation for why certain elementary particles have mass, and certain don’t.

Still, my thoughts about the picture reflect what I think about the whole story: the media, and the world in general, are longing for a meaningful development in physics, for the last time a real breakthrough took place was with the discovery of Quantum Mechanics, almost one hundred years ago. We’re anxious for a push in the understanding of the ultimate nature of reality. But during the last century, essentially all that have been done consisted of solving minor details, developing applications, and crafting unverifiable mathematical speculations.

We are in fact in need of a new Einstein, Eisenberg, or Schrodinger. Someone who’s able to look at the world from a radically different perspective, and set the pace for a new revolution in physics. Nevertheless, looking from a historical perspective, it’s reasonable to expect that no amount of geniuses will get us to solve reality’s puzzle.

Indeed, looking at all developments since Newton and Galileu, we notice a clear trend: the scale of the visible world has consistently become, on one hand, bigger; and on the other, smaller. On the subatomic realm, tinier and tinier particles have been discovered, and it’s argued that the size would shrink further should we have more powerful particle colliders available. On the astronomic level, the universe got larger and larger. Our galaxy was once all we could see; now the visible universe is estimated to have hundreds of billions of them. And one wonders how long it will take to verify that there are actually hundreds of billions of universes as well.

It seems reality is shaped like a fractal, flirting with infinity: if you’re able to look for it, you’ll find entities of scales as big and small as you can possibly imagine.

Thus, Higgs’ discovers do leave us closer to the ultimate answer about reality, but just as much as one hundred billion is closer to infinity than forty two.

(A version of this article appeared in Washington Square News.)

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