The Elusive Higgs Boson · 15 July 2012

Elementary Particle Interactions

The elusive and, up until recently, theoretical Higgs boson particle has gotten a lot of press recently. And it should. After all, it was proposed by Peter Higgs in the 1960s, but not found until the last few weeks. Still, after reading about it in the newspaper and on the internet, I have a question. If they had not found the Higgs boson, would that mean that mass and therefore weight are theoretical?

I know it sounds like sacrilege to poke fun at what has been dubbed, “The God Particle” by esteemed physicists. Certainly, I am not making fun of anybody’s life work. The problem is that I cannot help but wonder about why those outside the field of particle physics really care about this elusive sub-atomic particle. But when I read that this unseen particle is what gives matter mass, I realized that everybody has a stake in the Higgs boson.

Make no mistake. I am not a particle physicist. I do not know the difference between gluons, leptons, quarks, and other sub-atomic particles except that they are supposed to be the building blocks of protons, neutrons, and electrons, which make atoms. Most of us know that stuff is made up of atoms. What those of us not in the field actually know about the Higgs boson, we have had to read about in the newspapers, magazines, or on Wikipedia.

From those sources, I have found that the Higgs boson is has something to do with mass. Mass is a fundamental property of matter. When one piece of matter is put into the proximity of other matter (usually a planet) there is a fundamental attractive force which gives it weight. I do know something about mass and weight having ample amounts of it myself, so I figured I could write about that part of this mysterious Higgs boson particle. Or at least about my take on the whole discovery.

Through some mysterious set of fields and particles, we get mass and thus weight. Apparently the Higgs boson plays around in the Higgs field and we get stuck with the weight. Personally, I thought that sending the kids out to play in the field helped them lose weight, but when the boson goes into the field we all get weight.

This brings me back to my original question and some follow up ones as well. If they had not found the Higgs boson, should we even worry about weight? Should weight be considered theoretical if the particle is theoretical? Or even more to the point, if the Higgs boson is so elusive and hard to find, why is weight so easy to measure? I know it seems silly, but the answers to these questions are what most of us want to know. These are the weighty issues those outside particle physics want to understand.

Personally, I do not want to get rid of sub-atomic particles even if that would solve everybody’s weight issues. Even though everybody would be lighter, nobody would worry about getting buns of steel because nobody would have any muscle tone problems, and there would be no more commercials about weight loss products or special workout routines. In and of itself, that would be worth not having any Higgs bosons. Then again, having no mass would mean having no gravity. We would all just be hanging out in space together or more probably apart. We would be less than dust in the wind.

Now I am not a person to lay blame or point fingers, but if people want a new scapegoat for weight problems, they have one in the Higgs boson. People can now say with confidence, “I do not have a weight problem, I have too many Higgs bosons,” or “My weight fluctuations have been caused by my Higgs bosons not playing nicely in my Higgs fields.” People who know so little about their own health and even less about particle physics can go crazy with new excuses.

Personally, I have no problem owning up to my own health issues. I know that when I am out of shape, it is because I have not exercised enough. I know that when I am too heavy, it is because I have eaten more than my activities can use up. Still, it nice to know that a wonderful discovery in the world of particle physics can give me excuses if I want to use them.

The discovery of the Higgs boson is indeed a marvelous coup for particle physicists and modern science. It is an achievement worthy of laud and praise. But I am sure someday soon, people will start putting two and two together and blame weight gain on the elusive Higgs boson.

© 2012 Michael T. Miyoshi

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