Never mind gay marriage, falling house prices or impending holidays in Paris or Buenos Aires. The smartest, sexiest people at your average office Christmas party this year are engaged in intense banter about the Higgs boson. The Higgs what? Yes, the Higgs boson. And it’s boh-sun not bos-son. What on earth are they on about? Don’t you know, stupid? No less than the hottest topic in the entire universe and for all time – how we all came to be.
Right now, every scientist is as obsessed with the Higgs boson as that blonde on the fourth floor is with her new pair of Jimmy Choos. Why? because it’s arguably the greatest mystery still to be solved and it looks as if a bunch of British geeks may be about to do do. It’s so complicated that in a random poll conducted by the London Daily Telegraph, 30 per cent of scientists questioned said they couldn’t understand the principle, let alone explain it. So here’s the bare bones of what you need to know to get you through your average party without looking like a complete dolt.
A boson is a subatomic particle that’s believed to be one of the basic building blocks of the universe. It’s widely referred to as The God Particle, the implication being that if it can be identified, we have a rational explanation as to why we’re all standing here half pissed other than courtesy of The Creator. Back in 1964, a bloke named Peter Higgs was one of six physicists who proposed the particle as an explanation for the property of mass. That’s right, THE THING. So Peter Higgs – who no-one else has ever heard of – is suddenly The Man, the real Mr Cool who – yes dear – can tell us how you got here to bore us silly with the story of how you scored your Jimmy Choos.
There’s only one problem. No-one has ever seen a Higgs boson. Huh? Well how do we know it exists? Good question. Right now it’s only a theory. But the BIG news is that a group of scientists say they’ve seen hints of the Higgs in the same mass in two experiments they’ve conducted on the world’s most sophisticated scientific instrument – something called the Large Hadron Collider. ( This is where you say “that’s a different story altogether ” and move on). But what do you mean “hints of the Higgs”? Surely they’ve either seen it or they haven’t? Well they think they did but it’s not conclusive. “You know what these scientists are like – absolute proof or nothing”. Sage nods all round.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, there’s intense excitement throughout the scientific world. The people who wield the Large Hadron Collider have gone back to work to collect more data, dreaming of their Nobel Prizes and convinced the world’s greatest mystery is finally about to be cracked. But why does it matter? Well, apparently discovering the Higgs will confirm the “standard model” of modern particle physics. Oh, really? This is where faces fall and you mutter “don’t go there” except to say “this will be the biggest scientific discovery since Newton’s apple”.
The worst that can happen next is that some smart arse says – “yeah mate, all very interesting, but what happens if they don’t? What happens if it’s all BS? Ahhhh. This is when you need help and a neat phrase to dig yourself out of the hole you’ve dug for yourself. The Daily Telegraph suggests – “Well, ruling the Higgs out would open the door to exciting new theories”, presumably said with all the enthusiasm you can muster. Gee, thanks for that.
On second thoughts, don’t mention the Higgs boson at all this holiday season, especially if you finally want to make out with that blonde from the fourth floor. Stick to the Jimmy Choos. And don’t talk about it at all with your superiors. Having made it to the top themselves on the Peter Principle*, they’re bound to think that you raising the Higgs boson when everyone is half cut is yet another reason why they were right to deny you that last pay rise and keep you firmly in your place.
*Peter Principle: Proven scientific fact that ” in any hierarchy, employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence and stay there”.