Why Does the Higgs Particle Matter?

It has been one year since scientists announced the discovery of a particle believed to be Higgs. Read this essay by a Nobel prize winner in physics.

Frank Wilczek in Big Questions Online:

Templeton-higgs_0Imagine a planet encrusted with ice, beneath which a vast ocean lies. (Imagine Europa.)

Within that ocean a species of brilliant fish evolved. Those fish were so intelligent that they took up physics, and formulated the laws that govern motion. At first they derived quite complicated laws, because the motion of bodies within water is complicated.

One day, however, a genius among fish, call her Fish Newton, had a startling new idea. She proposed fundamental laws of motion––Newton's laws––that are simpler and more beautiful than the laws the fish had derived directly from experience. She demonstrated mathematically that you could reproduce the observed motions from the new, simpler laws, if you assume that there is a space-filling medium that complicates things. She called it Ocean.

Of course our fish had been immersed in Ocean for eons, but without knowing it. Since it was ever-present, they took it for granted. They regarded it as an aspect of space itself––as mere emptiness. But Fish Newton invited them to consider that they might be immersed in a material medium.

Thus inspired, fish scientists set out to find the atoms of Fish Newton's hypothetical medium. And soon they did!

That story is our own. We humans, like those fish, have been living within a material medium for millennia, without being consciously aware of it.

More here.