125.3 ± 0.6 GeV. At 2:30am (cst) on July 4th, 2012, I heard those numbers. I saw a graph on a screen that made my heart almost leap out of my chest. I saw the big red box around the figure 4.9 σ and knew that one of the biggest scientific discoveries in my lifetime was being announced in Geneva, Switzerland.
I promise I’m not going into great detail about this. If you’re interested in reading about the Higgs Boson or the Standard Model more than the limited sentences I give to make a my connections and use it as a metaphor, just do what all good IT people do and Google: “Higgs Boson” or “Standard Model of Particle Physics.” Put simply, the Standard Model of Subatomic Particles is a big formula/graph that shows all of the subatomic particles we’ve discovered or theorized and explains their properties and effects on one another. The “missing link” in this model is what is referred to as the Higgs Boson (don’t even get me started on calling it “The God Particle” as that-)…
Normally, it would have been a matter of “eh, it’ll turn up eventually so let’s not freak out about it” as far as the Higgs’ discovery goes… except for the fact that it is the particle that’s presence allows, mathematically, for all other particles to have mass. To have mass is to move and motion is…. well… E = MC². If M (mass) equals zero, then the equation breaks down. There is no speed of light, there is no relativity, and we’re all the way back to before Einstein in terms of our understanding of the universe… also, it means we really have no fucking clue how anything we’ve developed SINCE then works. So rather than “Meh. NBD you guys. Break for lunch?” the past nearly twenty years have been a bit more “OH SHIT WE HAVE TO FIND THIS THING.”
20-odd years. 7,305 days (got the leap years… who’s good? Me 😀 ). Countless trial and errors, failures, false positives, people with dwindling hope. Add to that the fact that the announcement of the discovery of “a Boson located where the Higgs SHOULD be” is merely the NEXT step on a trail that stretches all the way back to Mesopotamia and you can start to imagine that the shining successes are made brighter due to the dark cloud of failures they stand out of.
The person who came up with the “Life isn’t about the destination but rather, it is about the journey” cliché should probably be shot like a race horse with a busted leg and made into Elmers for kindergarteners to pick up from Target in a month when they go Back-To-School-Shopping. If it were that simple, then we’d all be happy and satisfied with the journey. The fact happens to be that often, the journey fucking SUCKS. It’s a bitch. Sometimes we find ourselves hampered up in a big coil of monotony simply ready to explode outward and begging for a taste of the apocalypse just to have something be “new and different.” Other times, we find ourselves yearning for someone to help us find closure by opening up about everything even when we know that won’t ever happen. Trial and error is human nature and guys, Error happens way more in real life than we’d like to believe. Clark Kent isn’t human and even then, Superman’s not mistake free…
But the important thing is that there’s also some part of human nature that keeps us (most of the time) from giving up. The scientists at CERN worked for 20 years in the hopes that they would discover the Higgs Boson. They took a HUGE risk as without it, the Standard Model was little more than a scientific hunch and even the nature of scientific validation of theories (working to DISPROVE it under one situation rather than working to prove it under all situations) was stacked against the drive and ambition of those men and women. 20 years and at 4am cst on July 4th, 2012, a 23 year old arm-chair quantum physics buff (…if you’re wondering, yeah, this is me) was able to close his laptop and go to sleep knowing that – in all likelihood – this freshly announced discovery would outshine every single false alarm, mistake, error, etc that lies in a trail leading up to it.
We live in the hopes that, against every single odd, things will work out. A lot of the time, they don’t and it may be for one small thing or a billion big things. It may be something we can control and change or it may be something that has nothing to do with us. The failures, defeats, and errors SUCK. It’s pretty shitty when they start to pile up and weigh us down… but it all pales in comparison to the successes and the importance when things work out.
It is human nature that we will fail a lot and that things in our lives that we may desperately want will not work out. It is also human nature to remember the successes and keep up Hope. That drove a group of scientists to continue working until they discovered the Higgs Boson. If it can do that (which, by nature of the discovery and if it is the Standard Model Higgs, it will revolutionize science and physics entirely… no small feat), surely it can keep the rest of us trucking forward. Who knows, maybe stars align more than once and we may even find or be given that which we want or need.
To quote a comic book thing:
“In fearful day, in raging night
With strong hearts full, our souls ignite.
When all seems lost in War of Light
Look to the skies for Hope burns bright!”
That’s all for now.
See ya, Space Cowboy.