General Higgnorance

It’s already cliché, I know, but it does appear that we are living in a profound age; I shouldn’t need to list the reasons. Obliged by my science fanboyism, I watched yet another documentary (Horizon) on the work of CERN last night, and despite my obstinate cynicism the excitement was strangely contagious. So, incase you hadn’t gathered, the science crew is getting collectively stiff over the prospect of the arrival of God; or, ‘the God particle’ so it has been dubbed – the mighty illusive Higgs Boson.

Herein lies something I feel is very strange about today – one of the most talked about celebrities of the last year has been not a human, but a theoretical sub-atomic particle. S/he is the most anticipated guest at the party – despite the fact that s/he remains nothing more then a figment of imagination!

Physics, is something we all have an empirical understanding of, at least in Newtonian terms. Force = Mass x Acceleration, or, the bigger and faster the object flying at your face, the more pain you are about to feel. Except some 3 centuries after Newton, that crazy Jew came along and fucked everything up. Einstein showed how things weren’t quite as simple as that with his general theory of relativity, this is the point was when physics became too convoluted for the layman; space and time were one and the same, the faster you traveled through space the less you travelled through time vice verse. This did not stop the public from giving a shit though; Einstein was ascended to superstardom that assured his face became synonymous with genius and physics and many books were published that tried to explain relativity to the willing public – meanwhile the New York Times were reporting that only 5 people on the planet could actually understand relativity (which of course was nonsense).

After the theory of relativity physics when quantum, and it became so confusing even Einstein didn’t like it, despite the fact he helped start it. “The more success quantum theory has, the sillier it seems” and spent the rest of his life antagonising it. Albert was not alone in his quantum is crap campaign, Erwin Schrödinger (who also helped found quantum theory) demonstrated how ludicrous it was with a hypothetical experiment that involved a cat, a box, cyanide, radioactive material and a Geiger counter (remember that kid at school that operated on spiders?). Even the head honcho of quantum theory Richard Feynman said “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum theory”.

Well its now 2012, and just like the world post theory of relativity; physics is pretty fucking cool (again)! This is probably due to Mancunian glam rocker turned star gazer, Professor Brian Cox, and his neo-sagan rockumentries about space. Although, it is probably just as due to the fact that scientists really need us to think its cool, so we don’t mind them spending our taxes on it. With a budget of 7.5 billion euros, the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN isn’t going to find itself on a mastercard advert, to put it into perspective, a private company is offering to fly you around the moon for $100 million, that’s 95 and a half flights round the moon, or 100 white chocolate mice for everyone on the planet.

“Does it go up to 11?”

So physics is cool and Higgs is the coolest thing in physics at the moment, but who the fuck is Higgs? Higgs boson is the last piece of the 17 piece puzzle that is the ‘standard model the alphabet, the phonetics of particle physics and therefore everything that is out there all of the others have been ‘seen’, but Higgs is still hiding in the bushes. A few billion euros later, a 17 mile long pipe underground, enough magnets strapped to a plastic helicopter you could pick pocket a whole city in 0.02 seconds (definitely true), and… by the power of deduction we know what bushes Higgs is not hiding in, and there are only 3 left – 124,125 and 126 gigaelectronvolts. Some time this year CERN claim, they will have finished looking through these bushes and if Higgs is hiding there, they will find him!

What does this mean? It means that the standard model is right, and signifies the end the age old quest to define the stuff that makes up stuff (it was the Greeks that came up with the concept and term ‘atom’, meaning indivisible; the stupid idiots didn’t know about quarks and bosons!)  At least, that’s what I feel the media is telling me, except, I know that’s not true: first of all, the discovery of Higgs shall apparently bolster something called super-symmetry, which says that for all those 17 particles that make up the standard model, there will be 17 more (all yet to be seen) which are bigger twins to the 16 (soon to be 17!) ones that have been ‘seen’.

Confusing right? That’s before we bring in dark matter. Yes, all that we have been talking about at until now is ’light’ matter, or, stuff we can see – that stuff, according to current estimates only makes up under 5% of the universe, it is the skin on your sausage. The sausage fat (25%) is dark matter; we haven’t seen that, we don’t know anything about it (except that we haven’t seen it) its just an idea that we came up with to explain why the universe holds itself together, because apparently there isn’t enough light matter for that. Sightings of dark matter (if it exists) are expected this year. The pork (70% – one quality sausage) is dark energy; we suspect that’s making space’s expansion accelerate, at least, something is definitely doing that – so we’ve called it dark energy, which pretty much sums up our understanding of dark energy.

What about M-theory? Oh yeah – the universe probably isn’t all there is, there is probably infinite universes out there where everything happens an infinite amount of times. Which means an infinite amount of me writing this, and an infinite amount of you reading this, and an infinite amount of you getting angry for me wasting your time and killing me with a nail file, and even an infinite (but probably a infinitely lesser infinite) amount of people actually  appreciating my incessant rambling.

Back to today (and here?); didn’t something else happen in physics? That’s right! CERN, being a lovely bunch of people, in September last year, sent their Italian cave dwelling (they operate deep under a mountain) friends a package of neutrons… I’d have asked for an iPad personally but this is scientists we are talking about. So what’s the problem? Well, it arrived too early. So what’s the problem? Well, it arrived so fast it violated the theory of relativity; which dictates that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. In the face of this, it now it seems that Einstein was wrong! Apparently nobody expected this, although it happened again and again, and it looks like we wont be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of his theory in 2016… because it’s wrong!

Before I close this, I must sing the virtues of such explorations. It’s easy to think; “how does this stuff effect my life?” but it really does. Just one massive example, the understanding of quantum theory led to the invention of the transistor. Last year, the world manufactured over 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 transistors, that’s more then 100 times the grains of rice consumed every year. It is because of the ubiquitous transistor and computer technology that we have such a rich neo-culture emerging our glorious Internet – where any time of the day you can choose from hundreds of videos of chubby Ritalin tamed American kids mouth the words to your favorite Lady Gaga track, or get well acquainted with the happening new music e-scene of Christian dubstep, or if you are sick like me chuckle at video’s of primates using a frog as a sex toy (the French are doing it wrong).

And now I come to my conclusion, but first I want to refer to my title – I wanted to subtly proclaim my ignorance in a cheap pun. Disclaimer, to any people that actually know stuff about physics out there, I don’t! I’m not trying to piss on CERN’s fire, I think its great how we all chip in and build massive tunnels under the ground so we can smash stuff we can’t see into stuff we can’t see to find more stuff we can’t see. It’s just, I feel like I’m being lied to when the news people (usually so trustworthy) tell me that this means we are really starting to understand everything. As I’ve demonstrated, with my feeble understanding of physics, I think I know enough to know, that the stuff we don’t know far exceeds that’s which we do. Furthermore history teaches us, that when we think we do know, something comes along and informs us that we don’t. Maybe its just my general higgnorance, but its seems to me, the enthusiastic layman, that even when CERN finds Higgs in that bush, in the grand scheme of things – we will still know fuck all! Although, I think this kind of ignorance truly is blissful, because we still have a puzzle to solve, it allows us to speculate, to exercise our imagination and to stare in awe at something that is consistently obliterating our expectations with the depth of magnificence. Let’s just be aware of our ignorance, its nothing to be ashamed of!

Written by Fail Burgers