Friday, July 6, 2012

God Particles

An acquaintance tried to tell me why I should care that scientists have verified the existence of Higgs Bosons. He explained that the discovery had nothing to do with bison, which didn't help his cause because I do care about bison. He tried to explain that the particles are important because they have something to do with something else, none of which made any sense to me, even after he repeated the analogy he had heard on the radio that the particles acted like gravel under a bicycle tire. His explanation left me convinced that he didn't understand the particles any more than I did.

What did finally convince me that I should care was when he told me that the discovery would enable physicists to move forward with their research and theorizing. I think that's great, but not because I expect physicists to use their knowledge for the good of mankind. They have a pretty mixed record on that. Nor do I expect physicists to use their knowledge in a way that will benefit me personally. We already have sticky notes and X-ray machines. I'm content. I don't need any more ingenious devices and I don't need to know more about how and when the universe was created. I'm just glad it was.

However, I was pleased to hear that the discovery would make physicists happy. Goodness knows we don't need more unhappy physicists. They can be just as disagreeable as disaffected economists or dissatisfied biologists.

Anything that makes life better for other people is probably a good thing all around, even if it doesn't improve my lot. So if teeny tiny particles make physicists want to sing and dance, let the party begin.

Whether we should pour billions of dollars into particle physics is a whole other question. Those dollars could also be spent on things that would have a pretty obvious benefit. We could feed, clothe, educate, and house people. That would make a big change in a lot of people's lives a lot quicker than anything the physicists are likely to be able to build out of particles that vanish as soon as they are detected.

Sure, someday the Higgs Boson discovery might be useful. You never know. If we weren't in the midst of such tough economic times, I wouldn't hesitate to pledge support for more giant magnets or whatever else would continue to make physicists happy. I might even get behind whatever new space vehicle NASA wants to build so they can keep playing Buck Rogers and Hans Solo. But for now, I think we ought to keep our focus on more down-to-earth projects.

Higgs Boson were hard to find because they are so small. Our problems are so big that it is tempting to ignore them. Fortunately, we don't need any fancy lab equipment to see what we need to see. All we need to do is open our eyes. Then we need to act.

1 comment:

  1. I think people just like calling them God Particles.