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Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

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Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took reader questions.

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Posted at 07:29 AM ET, 12/13/2011

The God particle and Tim Tebow

That’s such a good SEO-friendly headline that I should stop right there and declare victory.

My smart colleague Brian Vastag has put together a preview of this morning’s presser on the LHC Higgs boson results at CERN. I am itching to throw another acronym or incomprehensible term into that sentence.

I’ll watch the webcast from CERN and will try to figure out what they’re saying. Here’s the background: The Higgs is the “God particle” because it is associated with the force field that gives other particles their mass. “Mass” is a specific concept in physics that shouldn’t be mistaken for weight or density. Mass is the resistance to being moved, is one way to put it (though I’m sure there’s a more elegant formulation). The Higgs field is, to borrow John Ellis’s metaphor, the mud through which particles slog (photons zip above the mud and have no mass). The Standard Model needs the Higgs as a mechanism by which to impart mass to other particles.

The mass of the Higgs itself has been a mystery, and no one even knows for sure if the Higgs exists. That’s why this briefing today is exciting for the physicists: The LHC seems to getting close to saying that there really is a Higgs and it has a mass of such-and-such. At least, that’s the rumor.

The word we’ve been getting is that the situation is still way too fuzzy to talk of a “discovery” and CERN itself has already said there won’t be a discovery announcement. See Sean Carroll’s blog for a good analogy to American politics: “it’s like a bill has been passed by the House, but not yet passed by the Senate, and certainly not signed by the President. Much can go wrong along the way.”

Still, this seems like a big deal to me. We live in a universe that is constructed around very specific laws, constants, physical parameters, not to mention codes, norms, rules and dictates [insert infield fly rule joke]. Only some fraction of these have been discovered by human beings. Right now we’re getting close (apparently) to discovering a basic component of the physical world. The nature of the Higgs, if it exists, could help us understand a whole lot of other stuff about the universe. I’m not a postmodernist who thinks that all we’re doing is constructing an arbitrary model that describes how physicists think. This feels historic. At the very least, it might make the time and expense of building that collider look worthwhile.

And think of how cool it would be to come home from work and tell your kids: I discovered a secret of the universe today. What I usually say when I get home is: They were out of Greek yogurt at Safeway.

When this basic truth of the universe is ferreted out, I assume some folks will say that it doesn’t look purely random, that there has to be some grand design in the mix. I subscribe to what I think is a simpler theory, which is that the universe is friendly to human beings because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to wonder why the universe is like this. The main problem with this anthropic principle is that it seems to require that there be other universes, most of them human-unfriendly, existing in a vast Multiverse, and now we’re starting to make my head hurt.

Which brings me — somehow — via a mental wormhole — to Tim Tebow. As everyone here knows, I’m a dirt-road Gator and a Tebow fan from way back. He had me at the first jump-pass in, like, 2006. The fact that he’s a very religious person and I’m a raging heathen is a rounding error in the grander scheme of things. But I was struck by something Tebow said after his latest miracle finish, when he vanquished the Bears in overtime. He said to a Denver Post columnist, “I think God has a plan for me.” It’s not entirely clear from the quote if Tebow was referring, specifically, to how the Bears game turned out. Conceivably he was seeing a divine intervention that caused the Bears to give the game away. More likely he was merely saying that he’s amazed by his recent run of good fortune. My guess is that any Creator of the Universe does not closely follow the NFL. He leaves that to fans and bookies. He probably has other things to worry about, like deciding on the proper mass of Higgs boson in various universes around the Multiverse.That’s a full-time job.

Every week, some NFL kicker makes a field goal and then points to heaven in a gesture of thanks, and every week, I think the same thing: Dude, God wanted a touchdown.

Tebow is the runaway story of the NFL this year, even if Aaron Rodgers is setting a new standard for excellence. I’ll be watching every play next week when New England goes to Denver and the Golden Boy faces the Chosen One. But the outcome will be decided by human beings — swift, strong of limb, stout of heart.

By  |  07:29 AM ET, 12/13/2011

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