A Blip That Speaks of Our Place in the Universe


REVELATION A computer-generated image shows a typical proton collision of the kind that produced evidence of a particle thought to be the Higgs boson.

ASPEN, Colo. — Last week, physicists around the world were glued to computers at very odd hours (I was at a 1 a.m. physics “party” here with a large projection screen and dozens of colleagues) to watch live as scientists at the Large Hadron Collider, outside Geneva, announced that they had apparently found one of the most important missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is nature.

The “Higgs particle,” proposed almost 50 years ago to allow for consistency between theoretical predictions and experimental observations in elementary particle physics, appears to have been discovered — even as the detailed nature of the discovery allows room for even more exotic revelations that may be just around the corner.

It is natural for those not deeply involved in the half-century quest for the Higgs to ask why they should care about this seemingly esoteric discovery. There are three reasons.

First, it caps one of the most remarkable intellectual adventures in human history — one that anyone interested in the progress of knowledge should at least be aware of.

Second, it makes even more remarkable the precarious accident that allowed our existence to form from nothing — further proof that the universe of our senses is just the tip of a vast, largely hidden cosmic iceberg.

And finally, the effort to uncover this tiny particle represents the very best of what the process of science can offer to modern civilization.

Written By: Lawrence M. Krauss
continue to source article at nytimes.com


  1. Going on a slight tangent, can anyone explain the Higgs field’s relation to the Big Bang? Is it created by the Big Bang or has it existed before Big Bang (if that’s even possible)? Is the edge of the universe expanding at a faster rate because the Higgs field is weaker there?

  2. I would have to refer to someone who actually knows what he is talking about (like Krauss) but it is my understanding that the Higgs field is ubiquitous, that is, it’s everywhere at the same density so would not be “weaker” anywhere.

    Was it created at the Big Bang.  Presumably.  It is a non-question to ask what was there before the Big Bang.  Krauss would probably say “nothing” but we cannot know.

  3. “It is a non-quetion to ask what was there before the Big Bang”

    You say that as if its obvious and beyoned debate. I don’t think its eithe and I think at least some physicists would agree with me. In one of his books Briane Green had a discussion of this and remarked how when he was younger the answer was that time began with the Big Bang and hence asking what came before it made no sense. He said that he never was satisfied with that answer and that eventually theories about the Multiverse might give us an answer.

    I think you may well be proved right eventually but I don’t think its a question that simply can’t be asked or that is completely settled at this point.

  4. “…great music…”  Calling all composers, please write a piece about this (presumed) discovery!

  5. I’m no physicist so I’d be interested to know others thoughts on this but I’ve long wondered if asking the question ‘What happened before the Big Bang?’ was like  finishing a novel and asking what happened to the characters before the book started. Clearly nothing happened. There was no before, there was no after. Because they only existed within the confines of the words on the page. And perhaps this is similar to our Universe. In much the same way that characters of a novel only exist within the construct of the world the words create, our Universe only exists within the construct its own existence created.

    I’d be interested in the opinions of others more educated than me on this issue as I’ve long found it a useful analogy to make but I’m happy to be pointed out where the metaphor fails.

  6. One of the arguments put forward to dismiss the idea of a designer e.g. god is “who designed the designer”. 
    Are we saying that the Big Bang had no cause? If it did then that cause must have been around before the big bang occurred.

    I am certainly not arguing that there must be a designer, I’m just saying that I don’t understand the logic that we can dismiss the idea of a designer/creator on the basis that he/she/it would have to be created first but we are happy to accept that nothing occurred before the Big Bang.

    Can somebody put me straight? 

  7. I tend to see it as particle physics has nothing to do with philosophy, while at the same time philosophy has everything to do with particle physics. Either one believes in an objective reality ultimately ‘knowable’ to human consciousness or one believes in whatever comes to mind and strikes a fancy.

  8. As Red Dog mentioned earlier, The Fabric of the Cosmos by physicist and string theorist Briane Greene is an excellent read that addresses the question of what came before the Big Bang, as well as most other aspects of modern cosmology.

    I just finished reading it tonight, and Greene says that, at least in the case of inflationary models of the universe, understanding what occurred before the Big Bang is currently limited by the mathematics of singularities.  New techniques are being developed to handle these difficulties, but analyzing events which took place in time periods as short as the Planck time (10E-43 seconds) is quite difficult.

    Greene also discusses “cyclical” models of the universe like Neil Turok’s “braneworld”, which would seem to obviate any “what happened before” questions, since there never was any “beginning”.  Greene expresses some skepticism about cyclical models since the entropy would increase each cycle, and thus there is no way they could be truly “eternal”.

  9. Someone asked Steven Hawking that same question once and his answer was: “What is south of the South pole?”
    It goes along what RedDog was saying, since we “experience” a 4 dimensional reality, with time being one of them, it is not possible to speculate what happened before time.


    It goes along what RedDog was saying, since we “experience” a 4
    dimensional reality, with time being one of them, it is not possible to
    speculate what happened before time.

    There is a serious issue here!  Time is necessary for sequential events, and sequential events are necessary for effects to follow causes.  Thinking in terms of the conventional space/time universe does not work.

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