During blissful interludes when life glides by with unexpected ease — when all known demons are grazing on the backside of the hill; and those yet to be encountered are otherwise engrossed, perhaps in video games — it is important to practice self-grounding techniques.
I usually head for the West Asheville library to find a book that zeroes in on something I know absolutely nothing about. At the moment I’m reading The Particle at the End of the Universe, in which Sean Carroll recounts the creation of the Large Hadron Collider and the resultant discovery of a heretofore only-rumored particle.
I am on page six and I’m hoping to reach page 20 where I’ll stop for a breather and assess. I confess my goal is not unlike that of an Everest aspirant who secretly hopes only to get close enough to the first base camp to take some interesting photographs of all those discarded oxygen canisters.
But what are these particles anyway? And aren’t there just jillions of them? Nope, somewhere on page five I learned that there were actually only two known fundamental particles, so the discovery of a third is, by any measure, a pretty big deal.
Particles of matter account for all physical things: This covers the gamut from hedge clippers and lemon jello to ruby throated hummingbirds and archived copies of The Saturday Evening Post — which is easy enough to understand. Particles of force concern themselves with gravity, electromagnetism and the nuclear forces that hold matter particles together; which is somewhat less easy to understand, but is surely a good thing.
And this newly found third elementary particle, known as the Higgs boson particle, apparently slows down all the electrons and quarks zipping across the universe, allowing them to gather mass. The Higgs boson is, I think, like the agar-agar my friend Todd adds as a thickening agent to the blueberry sauce he prepares for his best-in-the-nation waffles (which I am still trying to duplicate, and which I likely will duplicate before ever I finish Sean Carroll’s book or capture a Higgs boson particle of my very own).