Physicists have recently announced that they have ‘all but discovered’ the Higgs Boson. What this means is that they have found evidence of a sub-atomic particle who’s existence was posited by Peter Higgs in 1964. The nature of the particle is such that its existence could not be proven (detected) until the recent construction of the largest ever particle accelerator called the Large Hadron Collider built in Geneva, Switzerland–or at least such detection was the hope when the Large Hadron project was initiated.
To explain how the existence of a given particle can be posited 48 years before it may have been isolated at the Large Hadron Collider, imagine that scientists have discovered some objects that share two properties. One property can be in two states which can be arbitrarily named up and down. A second property can similarly have a binary range called red or green. Combinatorically, a pair of binary properties can produce 4 different object types.
Lets imagine that a red up, red down, and green up objects have been discovered or isolated. While nobody can know if a green down object exists, a notion of symmetry suggests it might exist–that all combinations of properties exist. This sort of pursuit of symmetry, or filling in of missing combinations of properties has worked quite well for physicists exploring the building blocks of so-called atomic particles such as neutrons, protons, and electrons.
Many of the properties of the evanescent Higgs Boson, and any number of other particles and forces have also been inferred by the effect they are thought to have on systems of other particles–effects that cannot be explained by previously discovered particles and forces. Much as the shape of a missing puzzle piece can be inferred after the rest of the puzzle is assembled.
Of course, quantum mechanics, quarks, mesons, bosons, and the like, are much more complex than I have described, and are far beyond my comprehension–though I understand the big picture. Also, the process of detecting said particles is an extremely complex matter itself, and is not blessed with certainty. Hence, the reluctance of the research teams to declare the particle definitely detected at this point. For example, while the Higgs Boson may be singled out by breaking up a larger particle in the Collider, it may also be unstable and re-combine into the larger particle in a matter of billionths of a second, further complicating detection.
So, what of the media’s ignorant sensationalism? Well, the Large Hadron Collider hasn’t initiated some sort of cataclysmic reaction that will destroy the universe as some predicted, and the Higgs Boson is an important scientific discovery if scientists upgrade their ‘all but discovered’ with a bit more certainty. But in the end, its not a God Particle, and we still live in the same world we always have, with perhaps no more than 5,000 people in said world able to fully comprehend the nature of the Higgs Boson and whatever knowledge arises from its detection.