Everyone looks for the Higgs boson, a.k.a the God Particle, and no one seems to find it. Well, actually, maybe it's really been glimpsed this time by a pair of very large teams of physicists working with the very large Atlas and CMS detectors at Cern's also very large Large Hadron Collider, according to pretty much every single news organization, but for one, the New York Times's cosmology writer, Dennis Overbye. Tantalizing hints, but not hard proof yet, he reports. Nonetheless, the results are exciting and caused cheers from physicists around the world as they watched the CERN press conference this morning.
The Higgs boson news caused cheers from me, too. Because I have been searching high and low for the Higgs right here in New York. That is, I have been searching tirelessly for that thing that gives substance to the insubstantial. And I would like to report that I have found it, too, all over the place.
First, a quick, and doubtlessly-less-than-accurate science aside: Passing through the Higgs Field, which I guess is like a type of foggy gunk (no, not really) gives weight, and actual substance to the stuff we are made of, thanks to several types of bozons, named with no apparent reference I can find on the Internet to Bozo the clown. These bozons give mass to elementary particles, which is why my fist can punch your nose. They are related to the photon, of which light is made, but which is massless--that's why a flashlight's beam cannot give you a black eye.
But since New York is the city of ideas, which are massless, I've been searching for years for the place where those ideas become something real. Because ideas do turn into real things, kind of like a Higgs field effect for people instead of particles. They turn a hand into a fist, and turn a drunken joke into a light shining on a couple, who then wind up in a sex-video that goes viral on the Internet.
I've looked high and low. At the Blarney Rose near Wall Street. At the Courant Institute for the Mathematical Sciences in Greenwich Village. And some other points throughout Manhattan. I've had my own tantalizing hints, too, just like today's 3,000-member physics teams associated with the twin Cern detectors.
At the Courant, physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists have made valiant strides in furthering human knowledge for decades. In relatively recent times an idea took hold and a number of its graduates have taken their arcane studies to Wall Street. These sorts are known as quants and they certainly turned their physics, probability and computer science ideas from the abstract into the material, especially material success. That's a type of Higgs mechanism, but of a totally different sort. Maybe that's not turning nothing into something, like the original Higgs mechanism is claimed to do. But it's proved to be a pretty impressively close version. CDO's anyone?
I searched elsewhere. I turned next to the written word, which led me to publishing and advertising, traditionally in mid-town. New York is pretty much the world capital of words. It's got nearly three times as many writers as Washington, D.C. And they use plenty of words there, too. I'm talkin' here, might as well be New York's slogan, after all.
Throughout human history words have turned from massless abstractions into mass-movement reality in many ways, some good, some not so good. And in the Bible it says, famously, that in the beginning was the word. And it sure was those words in that book that gave birth to movements to which over half of the planet's seven billion inhabitants belong. But I am not a scholar, nor do I read the Bible in its native tongues, so perhaps it is too much of a leap to say that God turned that word into the universe as we now know it, all full of matter. But I have always liked words, and it is appealing to think that everything springs from them.
Words turn into reality all the time. Movements, besides religious, spring from them. The Magna Carta. The U.S. Constitution. Mein Kampf. Words are pretty much the most powerful and dangerous Higgs Field we have laying around, when you think about it. Looking back on his handiwork, if God was around today, he, or she, might just keep that word to him-, or herself. We may not be ready to handle words just yet.