[ASC-list] After Higgs ... XKCD!

David Ellyard david at davidellyard.com
Thu Jul 12 08:20:15 UTC 2012


I accept that Charles is being humorous, but there has really been too much
fuss about the "Higgs" (and I am a physicist at heart!!). To a great extent
we are to blame.  No one has really done a good job in explaining what, if
anything, has been "found" and how it was done, other than by quoting the
mind- bending statistics about the Large Hadron Collider (it is a very
impressive machine of course and well worth our acclaim for that alone). 

I think it is even-handed to say that we have not "found" the Higgs boson.
We have rather a number of observations which can be explained by
hypothesising that that a particle similar to that proposed by Peter Higgs
50 years ago "exists".  But that  only one explanation  and other
explanations are possible, and it is not yet clear (it is very early days
after all) that the hypothesised origin of these observation matched what
Higgs envisaged.

It is clear that that these recent events are being used to boost the
profile of science, to get space in the papers and time on the airwaves,
even though our best communicators struggle to explain what the discovery
tells us , and more profoundly, what it will mean for our daily lives. The
answer to the latter is, most likely, nothing.

 It is like making a big noise over finding that the universe is flat, or
that maybe a particle can travel faster than light (it proved not so of
course). Or what might happen a trillion years into the future,   in the
hope of drawing  in the scientifically-illiterate populace. It reinforces
the image that science (particularly physical science)  is arcane and
generally incomprehensible, yet still somehow "important".

Along the way we have allowed the mixing of the scientific and the
theological, by having the media quote the "God particle" moniker without
serious challenge. We also read that this discovery has been equated with
the greatest achievements of Newton and Einstein (being the two physicists
who come most readily to mind). I might ask who has made such comparisons;
certainly no-one with  any  realistic overview of the progress of science.

I do not dispute the quality of the work done at CERN, or the legitimate
excitement it has generated  or the importance of seeking to answer the most
fundamental questions. But we must not forget that all scientific knowledge
is fragmentary and ephemeral, constantly open to well-founded challenge.
There are no final answers. The real value of science lies  in the everyday,
in helping us see the likely consequences of our actions. If the frenzy over
the Higgs helps project that purpose for science, then well and good. But I
doubt that it does.   

David Ellyard 

-----Original Message-----
From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au
[mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of Charles Willock
Sent: Thursday, 12 July 2012 2:39 PM
To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
Cc: Charles Willock
Subject: [ASC-list] After Higgs ... XKCD!

The possible discovery of Higgs Ho now allows the world to start focussing
on real-world important issues - both relativistic and quantum mechanical:
the intergration of the Newtonian and the weak-strong, symmetry-breaking,
W+Z-/W-Z+ electro-weak, strong nuclear force ... and gluon/gravitational
interactional domains. (*)

XKCD seems to pretty much capture the potential opportunities:



(sorry, couldn't resist!)
I'm charmed by the strangeness of it all, but if only they'd bring back
truth and beauty!  (sigh)

(*) apologies for the word salad.

      "Creativity and innovation are measured not by what is done, 
           but by what could have been done ... but wasn't"

Disclaimer: http://www.eng.unsw.edu.au/emaildis.htm
Charles Willock                                 charlesw at cse.unsw.edu.au
c/- School of Computer Science and Engineering       
University of New South Wales,                  
New South Wales  Australia  2052    http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~charlesw

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