A blip that speaks of our place in the universe

Lawrence Krauss in The New York Times:

HiggsLast 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. If one is a theoretical physicist working on some idea late at night or at a blackboard with colleagues over coffee one afternoon, it is almost terrifying to imagine that something that you cook up in your mind might actually be real. It’s like staring at a large jar and being asked to guess the number of jelly beans inside; if you guess right, it seems too good to be true. The prediction of the Higgs particle accompanied a remarkable revolution that completely changed our understanding of particle physics in the latter part of the 20th century.

More here.