Physics wasn’t my best subject in high school, but I did pay more attention (and did do remarkably better) when I took physics courses in college. I was paying the bill, after all. I’ve been reading an article over at Salon about the recent possible discovery of the Higgs Boson particle and my understanding of such things as a layperson is revealed to be that of a toddler’s grasp on the operation of an automobile. I can see it’s all pretty darned cool and possibly even useful, but I have no idea how I might go about interacting with it. (Does the Large Hadron Collider even have a steering wheel?)
I’m especially intrigued by the process particle physicists go about finding stuff that can’t actually be seen. They perform the same experiment gazillions of times until a pattern emerges that at least suggests that they’re getting close. Then they do it some more until they’re nearly convinced they’ve got it right.
My head hurts.
They are being very conservative. One can in fact quantify the likelihood that the observations are mistaken and that the events are actually background noise mimicking a real signal. Each experiment quotes a likelihood of very close to “5 sigma,” meaning the likelihood that the events were produced by chance is less than one in 3.5 million. Yet in spite of this, the only claim that has been made so far is that the new particle is real and “Higgs-like.”
And now I’m bleeding from the ears.
Is it or is it not this really important particle without which our understanding of matter is completely broken? Seriously, there can’t be so much as a microbe or the show’s off! (KAHN!!) That’s the way true scientists roll, baby. …except for the ones that use protomatter, a substance condemned by every ethical scientist in the galaxy.
Oh, listen to me! I’m rambling on and on about something you probably thought was obvious. Congratulations to those kooky kids and their crazy colliders. You’ve done (probably) found yerselves a Higgs Boson. (Maybe.)