The "God Particle"
"All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it's pretty damn complicated in the first place."
A little more than forty years ago, physicist Peter Higgs proposed the existence of a particle that would explain the very force that holds what we know as reality together...the Higgs boson (the name "God Particle" has nothing at all to do with what is has become known for, disproving the existence of the benevolent deity. The nickname "God Particle" is really a product of the media attempting to excite the public about particle physics and failing miserably. Instead they have incited religious hatred of the brilliant work that the brilliant people at CERN are doing. What the name truly comes from is the cursing of the physicists attempting to discover the particle, as in, "This God@#mn particle!").
Since this time, much has progressed in the scientific community as concerns the search for this diabolically elusive particle. Massive particle accelerators have been constructed across the globe to facilitate the smashing of our most fundamental basic elements (I say "our" very loosely mind you. Nothing of which we "know" is currently much more than a categorization to prevent those who pay attention to particle physics from running through the streets naked screaming about how they are being bombarded with neutrinos. Which, of course, they are.).
CERN, particle smashing extraordinaire and operator of the planet Earth's largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (by the way, a hadron is any elementary particle that is subject to strong nuclear interaction), are set to release what is being touted as quite exciting news early next week. What they are going to say no one knows, but it certainly is exciting isn't it?
In the Terms of a Man Who May Be Lay
For those who have made it this far and still have no idea what is going on, I applaud you. I will now attempt to explain the significance of the Higgs boson in semi-easy terms and pop culture references.
The Higgs boson is actually the particle that purveys the Higgs field. The Higgs field is what, theoretically, gives all fundamental particles mass, preventing them from flying through space at the speed of light and allowing them to be manipulated by the other forces of the universe, mainly gravity. In more simple terms, what binds all things together.
The Higgs field closely resembles the Force from Star Wars lore. As mentioned above, the field binds all things together, creating a force that allows life to drift through the grand expanse that is the universe and really just "be" as it were.
The catch to all this is, while the boson and field have been theorized to exist, there has been absolutely no physical observation of said field or the particle, yet both represent the very basis of the Standard model of the universe.
The Standard model of the universe represents our current understanding of physical properties of the universe and how it operates. Many different theorists have attempted to provide a single model of life, the universe, and everything including M theory, string theory, and on, and on. The Standard model is the culmination of this work and is based on a large portion of theory mixed with years of observation.
The discovery of this existence of the Higgs boson would essentially provide a provable structure to the Standard model and confirm our current theories of understanding. If it is proven that the Higgs boson doesn't exist, it would mean going back to square one (once again, square one is used rather loosely as there are multiple squares that can be considered one...much to the chagrin of squares two and three).
Needless to say, either result represents a fundamental breakthrough in particle physics and our understanding of the universe in which we live.
Speeches and Speculations
As an avid nerd and follower of all things far over my head, this coming announcement means a great deal to me. That being said, I am torn on which result I would most prefer. As a scientist, I believe having a model of the universe would greatly help to move us from this seemingly muddy water we have been treading the last few decades. I also worry that the discovery of the Higgs boson would not feed the curiosity of the right types of people, making high risk scientific experimentation like this seem like a costly and fruitless endeavor.
As a philosopher, I am almost rooting for the Higgs not to even show up as a blip on the screen. I say this not because I am against scientific discovery, but because I have had my doubts on the idea of a unifying theory of the universe coming from little to no experience with the universe as a whole.
Science is based on observations proving theories and while we may feel as though we have plenty of eyes on the universe, we don't. All these claims of understanding the universe are made by men and women whose feet are planted firmly on the planet Earth, looking through cameras drifting through relatively close proximities of space.
The universe is massive (it is actually way larger than most have the imagination to imagine, making an actual description of its size rather pointless and demeaning to the universe, who happens to be quite sensitive about these things). I don't believe we can truly start to understand the makeup of the universe without first stepping out of our proverbial cradle. This is why I hope the Higgs boson is a figment of beautiful imaginings. It is my hope that his failure will spark a renaissance of space exploration and we, as a species, will begin again to look at the stars in wonder.