Last week we discovered the world is a big round, mostly blue, ball. The week before that we discovered a huge new island called the Americas way off in the distance. And the month before that we were all scrabbling around in the trees evading big cats with large pointy teeth hell bent on lunch.
And today it was announced that we have discovered the missing particle in a set that supposedly makes up everything and anything in the universe. The Higgs Boson — or “God Particle” as some are calling it. Yup, it seems mankind’s pursuit of knowledge knows no bounds. Sit back, relax and give yourself a pat on the back and marvel at the sheer determination and ingenuity of being part of the human race.
But what’s next? Is that it or will be looking for other teeny-weenie particles even smallerer than a Higgs Boson in the none too distant future? My guess is probably yes. For if history has taught us anything, especially where science is concerned, it’s once we think we have a handle on things and a clear idea of how stuff works, along comes a genius and throws it all up in the air.
I mean look at Galileo. We were all quite happy with our geocentric model of the solar system where the earth sits slap bang in the middle of everything and the sun, rather conveniently, tears around us once a day. We didn’t need some smart arse coming along telling us that “actually chaps, that’s not quite right, here, have a gander at this. This makes much more sense…”
Then along comes Newton with his new-fangled theory of gravity and rocks the boat all over again. Before him we were all hopelessly floating about the place with not a care in the world. I’m sure I read that somewhere. And then let’s not forget that most famous of scientists Mr Einstein who came to us with perhaps the most famous equation of all time — E=MC2. Which I’m sure was a hit at the time. “George darling, a scientist has just been on the telly-tube and has said that we’re all forbidden from travelling faster than light.”
“Oh he did did he? Well we’ll just see about that. No communist brain box is gonna tell me how fast I can’t go.”
Scientific discoveries come and scientific discoveries go and to the vast majority of us it’s all rather meaningless. It seems as our understanding of the universe grows there is an equal and opposite reaction (thanks again Isaac) in both apathy and ignorant bliss in the public at large. Gone are the days of men in white coats with beards telling us stuff that actually makes sense… “Round you say… aaaah, now that makes sense.” It’s all gotten rather, well… complicated.
So what about this new bit of fundamental stuff then, this Higgs thingy-ma-boson? Well, it actually turns out that, despite its rather elusive existence, it is responsible for giving all the other tiny bits of stuff that make up everything, absolutely everywhere, mass. (We could, I suppose, have called it the “fat particle”). And that, it would seem to those in the know, is about as important as it gets to understanding small & tiny stuff.
Will this monumental discovery help ease the economic disaster that is the Euro? Probably not. Indeed, will anything. Will it make getting the last dregs of butter out of a tub with a knife any easier? Who knows. All I know is that I think we could all be jolly smug with ourselves as a species right now as we stand on the precipice of a new age of scientific discovery. Let’s all have a drink for those brainy chaps in white coats and beards for finding the “fat particle”. Especially Prof Peter Higgs who postulated its very existence in the first place.
At least until the next genius comes along and explains we’ve got it all wrong.