The Higgs Boson Made Simple


What is the Higgs field? It’s hard to visualize, so many people resort to metaphor. The Higgs field has been called a kind of cosmic molasses, pulling and dragging particles as they move through it. It’s been compared to a room of paparazzi, blocking the way of celebrities but letting nobodies through without a fuss. And it’s been likened to The Force from Star Wars, which ‘surrounds us and penetrates us’ and ‘binds the galaxy together.’”

But we’ll use an amorphous cloud of nothingness.

The concept of infinity meets little resistance, gliding easily through the amorphous cloud.

The human soul shuffles by on a ghostly plane, fast but still slowed by the nothingness.

And God lags behind, plodding and tripping with every step.

The Higgs field is like our amorphous cloud of nothingness, but instead of nothingness, it’s made up of magic.

Particles that interact with the magic are changed somehow. They become, I dunno, “heavier?” An electron barely interacts with the magic, like the concept of infinity, and looks like the number 8, but laid on its side.

The quarks that make up protons and neutrons interact more strongly, like the human soul, and are immortal—destined to spend eternity either in heaven, eating whatever they want and without ever gaining weight, or in hell, sitting on a scratchy sofa in wet bathing suits watching Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal in Love and Other Drugs on an endless video loop. Depending on whether or not they believe in …

… Massive, plodding particles like the W and Z bosons.

Photons and gluons don’t interact with the Higgs at all. They float like dust motes in a sunbeam coming through a window in a cafe in Paris, except the cafe does not serve coffee, only tea, and the window is not a window made of glass—it is a brick wall. How is light coming through it?

Fifty years ago, physicists had no idea why some particles were more “somethingy” than other particles.

So they thought up the Higgs to explain the difference. Remember when Hegel finally synthesized the subjective/objective capabilities of the human mind, declared himself the logical endpoint of human thought and wrote a book about that no one understands but they still make you read and write a paper about in philosophy class? Think about the color of the sky before there was such a thing as color.

It’s basically like an invisible extra dimension, responsible for everything that we can perceive in our world, but no one knows for sure whether or not it exists.

Also, time.