Explaining the Higgs Boson Particle To Almost Anyone

Ryan Abbott gives a different explanation of what this subatomic particle is, depending on who he’s talking to.


To a tween

Remember that time you went to see Justin Bieber sing at the mall? After he was done there were, like, ten thousand screaming fans trying to reach out and touch him. He and his entourage took twenty-five minutes to get from the American Eagle Outfitters to the exit by the Bavarian Pretzel Bakery because of the crowd.

You are just like a Higgs boson, a totally special microscopic subatomic particle that, when you get together with a whole lot of other particles just like you, gives significance and substance to the massive celebrities like Justin. Without you he’d be nothing! In your presence he shines a bit brighter, moves differently, basks in your devotion. Unfortunately I can’t explain his hair.

To a hipster

Ever notice how no one talks about who or what is cool, you just seem to know? One week everyone’s listening to Dirty Projectors, and the next week you’ve moved onto Japandroids? It may seem to some that coolness is an arbitrary force, randomly casting its whim upon certain beers or sunglass shapes or types of facial hair while deeming others “dank.” But people who are legit cool know there’s some order to it all.

What if I asked you to imagine that the state of coolness is actually made of an infinite number of particles of cool, which float eternally in a deliberately casual boho-chic existence. Like an Olsen twin. That’s the Higgs boson, man. A bunch of them get together in a big field and they drink and dance around, and decisions just sort of get made about what’s going on with the other particles out there, what’s in, what’s out, what size jeans to wear, etc.

To a Jedi

It’s what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.

To a reader of my food blog

What’s the secret to full-flavored chocolate brownies? Simple: add instant espresso powder to your batter. That’s the only thing that will bring out the complex and powerful chocolaty essence of each and every brownie piece, just like Higgs bosons do to some otherwise tasteless, massless particles. You could also consider adding orange zest.

To Chief Justice John Roberts

The most straightforward reading of the Higgs boson is that, when combined with other like particles in a broad field or collective, it commands some other individual particles with different properties, such as top quarks, to act differently by mandating them to have mass and, in some cases, move slower throughout the universe. Thus, one could conclude that the Higgs boson may be construed as imposing a sort of tax on other particles, if such a construction is reasonable.

To a liberal arts dropout who has recently converted to Buddhism

It’s what gives a Buddhist his strength. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds this yoga class together.

To an aspiring writer of short stories

You’ve been putting a lot of time in, I know you have, writing and editing and reading Chekov and Munro and then editing some more. You’ve sent a bunch of stories out for consideration but, to this point, you haven’t had a ton of success in terms of being published. Not that that’s the only measure of success. Hell no! Success as a writer comes in many forms: the satisfaction of crafting a tense climactic scene, the gratification of a pleasantly worded rejection slip, the knowledge that your latest story’s title might make someone smile.

Imagine that behind it all is a vast network of editors, agents, publishers and marketing guys who are silently calling all the shots, making all the decisions about where your career is headed, how far your work will travel, how big you will get. In other words, it’s out of your hands; the decisions made by these individuals add up to an infinite, invisible force field of influence that is pulling all the strings. Each person is a Higgs boson, my friend. Is there any way to control them? No. Just keep at it.

Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

Ryan Abbott is a writer from Vancouver, currently living in Paris. His writing has appeared in Joyland, The Globe & Mail, Vancouver Magazine, Sad Mag, McSweeney's Internet Tendency and a few other places where words gather.