Mind Food: Higgs Boson, Reality, and Life

Sean Carroll: The Particle at the End of the Universe

Got nailed by the flu the other day (despite getting a flu shot this fall) and was so out of it yesterday I didn’t even want to think of food to write about or eat. Instead, I did what my son did when he was flu-zonked himself this weekend; I fed my mind – while I was awake – and watched an hourlong YouTube video: Sean Carroll – The Particle at the End of the Universe (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwdY7Eqyguo).¬†

Sean Carroll is a bright, engaging and entertaining to watch theoretical cosmology physicist, who does very well at making the complex more easy to understand. The particle he talks about in the video is the Higgs boson, which was discovered, or really, verified on July 4th, 2012. If you watch the video, which I HIGHLY recommend, you’ll learn pretty quickly why the video title isn’t exactly correct. As Sean says boldly in the video, we think there are particles in the world: atoms, electrons, tables, chairs – but really there aren’t. The world/universe is made of fields: the gravity field, electromagnetic field, neutrino field, the Higgs field, and more.

According to Sean, “the reason we’re allowed to think of the world in terms of particles the due to quantum mechanics (the science of measuring how things work at the subatomic level). According to quantum mechanics, when we look at the world (everything around us – and even ourselves), we don’t see it directly. What really exists, again according to quantum mechanics, is immensely richer than the things we can actually observe.”

Life affecting? Absolutely! Mind bending? Maybe just a bit, but that has a lot to do with how we were educated.

Just think of the desk you’re sitting at, computer in front of you, coffee mug in your hand. What are they really? They’re all made of molecules. Those molecules are made of atoms. Atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons are made of two different types of quarks. And all of them are moving ALL THE TIME. Nothing is stationary – ever. And the only reason those components, particularly electrons, don’t fly off randomly at the speed of light is that they interact with the Higgs field.

It’s the Higgs field that fills what we think of as empty space around and within us that interacts with electrons, slows them down, gives them mass and allows them to become components of atoms. So, what does this mean to you and me? Without the Higgs field, there would be no life – or any universe that resembles what we have now. With the Higgs field, we have atoms, we have atomic physics, we have chemistry, we have biology – we have life. Great!

See the video by clicking either the picture or link above.

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