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God particle sheds no light on God but lots on Wally

By Steven Meyer - posted Tuesday, 10 July 2012

I am sure that by now you have heard of the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle. What many people fail to understand is the political significance of this breakthrough in particle physics.

But first let me set your mind at rest.

  • Tony Abbott has not denied the existence of the Higgs boson.
  • As yet the Gillard Government does not have any plans to tax Higgs boson emissions.
  • While some Greens do advocate boycotting the Higgs boson party leader Christine Milne denies that this is official party policy.
  • For now the Occupy Higgs movement will not be disrupting traffic in any state capital.
  • In the US it appears the Higgs boson will be a non-issue in the forthcoming elections although Sarah Palin denounced Obama for allowing French bosons to permeate American mass.

With that out of the way let's get down to the nitty gritty of Higgs boson physics and how it affects the political universe.

What is mass?

From the perspective of a physicist mass is about oomph. "Oomph" is a technical term meaning push or shove. The more massive an object the more oomph it takes to get it moving. It takes a lot of oomph to get a train moving compared to a bicycle. If cricket balls were as massive as the Queen Mary 2 hitting a six would be impossible. No batsman could provide the necessary oomph.

But why should this be? Why should some things require a lot of oomph while others, like marbles, require hardly any oomph at all?

Well, there are two ways to figure this out.

  • One way is to delve into a lot of complicated equations with funny symbols.
  • The other way is to pretend to be a fish.

I am a fish person and this is a fishy explanation.

So imagine you are a fish. As a fish you are well adapted to a watery environment. Your streamlined shape enables you to cut through the water easily. It takes very little oomph to get you moving. In fact you are so well adapted to water that you are not really aware of its existence.

But let us suppose you are a fish with a scientific bent, a veritable piscine Einstein. You notice that going forwards requires very little oomph while trying to move sideways requires a lot. You discover that it is easier to push fish-shaped objects than squat ones.

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About the Author

Steven Meyer graduated as a physicist from the University of Cape Town and has spent most of his life in banking, insurance and utilities, with two stints into academe.

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