Are you up to speed on this search for the Higgs boson? It’s pretty wild. If I was a screenwriter, I’d go to Hollywood with it. It’s got the classic conflict and morality lesson. There’s a sprinkling of humor and a hint of universal theme. And it’s structured in the requisite three acts. As an added bonus, it has a cast of thousands (of particles).
Let’s break it down.
Conflict: The Tevatron vs. Large Hadron Collider
Humor: A number of characters slip on a banana peel.
Morality: Humanity learns that when you make a plan, God laughs.
Universal Theme: God may laugh, but humanity discovers that God is not wearing any clothing.
Humanity bumbles around for hundreds of thousands of years. It experiences prehistory, the domestication of animals and plants, the dark ages, and the twin sciences of alchemy and body painting, all while slipping on banana peels until finally inventing the microscope and discovering teeny tiny animals. The question arises: what is the meaning of life?
While struggling to answer the question at the end of Act I, humanity learns that all living things are made up of cells. Using advanced techniques akin to slight of hand and parlor tricks, it further discovers cells are constructed of atoms and atoms are made of sub-atomic particles. At this point the original question is restated thusly: What gives the sub-atomic particles, the very basic building blocks of everything, mass? To answer this question, humanity turns from parlor tricks to the construction of powerful new machines based on time-tested Druid design, i.e. circular. The new structures are radical and cool and capable of channeling electromagnetic magic and passing it on to otherwise unexceptional particles such as electrons, protons, or positrons. The particles are shot out of a cannon and as their energies are enhanced by the magic, they increase in velocity to the point of breaking sacred speed-of-light laws. They fly around the ring structure and ram head on into other enhanced but otherwise unexceptional particles coming in the opposite direction. The particles are smashed open like ripe pomegranates, only instead of getting sweet-sour little red seeds, humanity gets more particles. The hope each time is that maybe, just maybe, the elusive mass-giving thing they seek–the Higgs boson —is there as well. The search for this elusive particle takes up most of Act II, the end of which is signaled by the entrance of two very powerful ring structures facing off in a heated race for the Higgs. The Large Hadron Collider, henceforth known as LHC, lives in the natty Geneva section of Old World. The Tevatron, henceforth known as The Tevatron, lives in the outskirts of upper Batavia in New World.
Competition between the two principles comes to a head in Act III. Nationalistic pride fuels the contest, pitting the Batavians against the Genevans. Cheers and jeers around. The older, mature Tevatron has experience and street smarts on its side, but the younger, more virile LHC has strength and new technology. Whichever wins will receive raucous accolades, untold fame, and increased funding. Which will win the coveted prize? Will age be defeated by youth?
The Tevatron panics as it races against the clock. Time is running out. Two thirds of the way through Act III, in a last ditch effort, The Tevatron sends out a report that it has discovered the Higgs, sparking numerous false rumors of their success. Due to the efficiencies of a brand-new communications vehicle called The Internet (henceforth known as The Internet), as soon as the rumors start spreading, the truth is discovered and bypasses the rumors before they reach the far corners of the globe. The Tevatron bows its head in shame. The LHC seems poised to become master of the synchrotron world until it slips on a banana peel. The Tevatron is not defeated quite yet.
Act III abruptly ends at this point providing the movie with the sort of ambiguity usually reserved for French films. The story is open to interpretation and primed for a sequel. A wise choice for the filmmakers, guaranteeing we’ll be back for more edge of the seat action and to scarf up the licensing products such as luminous Higgs bosons artistically rendered in plastic, models of synchrotrons, snack pack sized jars of particle lubricant, etc.
Or maybe, the film is simply stating that we are not meant to have all the answers. There might not even be a Higgs boson. It’s only a theory after all. Unfortunately we cannot move on with the ultimate question (however we state it) unless we discover if such a thing even exists. The search must continue. That’s the plan anyway. Is God laughing yet? Are you?
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