Thursday, 7 April 2011

"The Hunting of the Snark", or "Mr Higgs and His Remarkably Elusive Boson....."

One of the truly great things about my job at The Hole Making Shop is that one encounters all sorts of people from a huge variety of walks of life.

A week or so ago, a theoretical physicist came in to have to have a hole made....

We started to chat, as you do.... It soon came out that she was working on the same project as Brian Cox, the new darling of telly science programmes: namely, The Large Hadron Collider at Cern.

'So, how's it going then?' I asked. "Found it yet?"

"What?", she replied, nonplussed....

'Well, Higgs boson of course! I mean, here we are, millions of quid down the gurgler and still not a sign! Are you sure it's there?'

"Of course we are" she said, in a way which, while not actually being pigeon's-bum-hole-faced, was certainly on the continuum......"It fits the theoretical model...."


"And lots of other particles which we have found do too! So we're sure it's there...

"You just haven't actually found it yet, then..."

"Er, no."

I decided to leave it there. I didn't want to annoy my (truly) brilliant scientist guest.

I am a failed actor who now makes holes in things for a living, so I must be humble.

But, hang on.

Surely, looking for empirical evidence to support a theory is not just bad science, it's truly dodgy science at it's dodgiest on a particularly dodgy day!

Viz: The Flat Earth Society, supporters of The Phlogiston Theory, and those who reckon The Book of Genesis is a factual account of the formation of the universe! They're all looking for evidence to support their theory too!

Obviously, in theoretical physics, one is dealing with particles so small, and concepts so mind-bogglingly large, that the act of observing the former will affect them (our cat, Thomas, was very nearly called Schroedinger.......) and attempting to grapple with the latter will leave mortals like me with the kind of week-long head-ache that I endured, having, halt and lame, struggled across the vastness of Stephen Hawking's vision in 'A Brief History of Time'. (String Theory? Dark Matter? Sheesh!!!!)

And yet........

And yet I wonder.......

Will, in five hundred years time, pilgrims visit the huge complex at Cern in the way that they now flock to Santiago de Compostella, Canterbury, and Rome........?

Theoretical Physics?......


Whichever you choose, you are going to have to have Faith...............


  1. gorgeous post John--great writing and wonderful reading--speaking of which, the book arrived last night! My thanks to you and Jackie for your thoughtfulness, the lovely card, and yes, I will work on your suggestion! In the meantime I propose that Schroedinger shave his cat with Occam's razor.
    Cheers from the AFC (American Fraggle Contingent)

  2. Thing is, John, at least the Higgs boson has a putative existence. Whereas holes, however neatly crafted at the shop, would appear to have a somewhat shadowy existence, being essentially the absence of something. How would you show they are really there? Hm... ;-)

    I’m all in favour of empirical evidence testing a theory - it’s how science is supposed to work. I just wish it didn’t have to cost the equivalent of Portugal’s GDP.