Ordinarily I drive my physics major girlfriend bonkers in the morning. I’m always the first one up with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. She hates that in the morning.
But not today. Holy shit, not today. Today she was up at the ass crack of dawn sporting a grin so big I kept thinking it would defy physics by becoming bigger than her face at any moment. She practically crawled over me to check her email (she works for CERN in the KU lab, so she gets emails about this stuff) and to sift through every story about the Higgs from the past 24 hours.
It was payback for all the times I woke her up early. “JT! JT! The Higgs mass is 126 GeV! That’s much lower than they thought it would be! The absolute lowest they thought would be 125 GeV!”
On the one hand, I was sleepy. On the other hand, there was a super hot woman in my bed sounding like a genius and talking about physics. That type of sexiness is off the charts in the science of what is attractive to JT Eberhard.
Apparently, this boson may not be the Higgs. The Higgs is a theoretical particle that has a bunch of different qualities, but this new boson may not have them all. That’s why CERN isn’t actually calling it the Higgs yet, even though there’s no question we have a new particle that really, really looks like the Higgs. The mass of what we did find matches the description of the Higgs, but they still need to see if things like the decay rate match. If those qualities wind up being different than what is predicted for the Higgs, then they’re going to have to change some things in the standard model (which is pretty damn exciting!). If any of them don’t match up, they may just wind up redefining the Higgs to match the new findings anyway. All the same, there are many qualities of this new particle that remain a mystery. They should be cleared up soon though.
Between bouts of trying to nod back off and having my attempts to make kissy face shunned in favor the work of other men and women half a world away, I gathered that the Higgs (I’m still gonna call it the Higgs for the sake of convenience) is very heavy as far as subatomic particles go, but it was still much lighter than they expected (126 GeV [gigaelectronvolts], when the lowest it could’ve been was 125 GeV, compare to an electron which weighs .511 MeV [megaelectronvolts]). This could wind up changing some of their theories around, but it’s still the final piece to the puzzle for modern theories.
Wanna see what it looks like?
See that bump in the dark line on the left? That’s it. That’s the Higgs. Beautiful, isn’t it?
The green range is 1 sigma, the yellow line is 2 sigma. The CERN scientists were looking for 5 sigma, which means they had to reproduce that little bump hundreds of times. That little bump is what just solved several of the mysteries of the universe.
As for what it tells us about the origin of the universe, the Higgs is how other particles get their mass (it’s also why some particles have mass and some don’t). Other bloggers who’ve studied physics their whole life and who didn’t get a surprise (albeit sexy) crash course first thing in the morning will be able to fill you in more on what this tells us about the origins of the universe (cosmicvarience has been live-blogging the announcement).
Of course, the religious are already trotting out their best possible answer: who created the Higgs Boson? Eh? Eh!?! (The other version of this is, “We love scientific discoveries! They show how god decided to make the universe!” It’s convenient since the bible doesn’t look a thing like a science textbook, that they can hijack the real explanations discovered through the efforts of human beings for their god/religion which doesn’t explain squat, otherwise why would scientists even need to dig for this shit?).
It’s very telling that their very best is a hypocritical reliance on knowledge they don’t have. If we’re going to play the “what created [whatever]” game, they should be asking what created god. You don’t get exempt from the problem of infinite regression just by claiming you are. There’s the hypocrisy.
Second, how stupid is it to point to what we don’t know and then immediately claim that we do know? We don’t know what created the Higgs (if anything) so it had to be god, right? It always makes me giggle when believers equate god with ignorance. If god is the same as our ignorance, it makes god the same as something humanity is trying to get rid of for our own comfort/survival. It places humanity above god. That’s the god they’re trying to sell to us with arguments like this. It makes god look lame and it makes the believers look foolish for worshiping their own ignorance simply because they’ve called it god.
Third, science is far and away the greatest juggernaut for purging ignorance from the battery of human knowledge. When you build a god that is parallel to ignorance (“You don’t know this? That’s where god is!”) you have necessarily set your beliefs in opposition to science and in opposition to knowledge. It’s why teaching science in science classes is a threat to them.
And remember, this is the best they’ve got. They have worse still, but this is the best they’ve got.
So today I celebrate a new scientific discovery. It’s a piece of information that will have the happy effect of augmenting human knowledge while simultaneously diminishing any religion that relies on the lack of knowledge (like Christianity).