I dunno when physics started, Aristotle maybe, or one of those guys.Before that probably, only it wasn’t written down maybe. We dunno.
Anyway, for the longest time, actually from Aristotle on through Archimedes and that pair of hand grenades Copernicus and Galileo and then all the way up past that crazy Newton fellow and on until Rutherford (the “atom as a miniature solar system” guy) — physics was more or less comprehensible to ordinary people willing to spend a little time and effort. A good teacher helped of course, one of those people who understood the material so well they could explain it a hundred different ways until the wretched student suddenly “got it”.
And that’s the thing, really. From the birth of “physics” in ancient Greece all the way up until shortly before my lifetime it could be explained, it could be understood conceptually by analogy to all kinds of things—water in a bathtub, teeter-totters, boiled eggs getting sucked into bottles, billiards—and the latest advances and theories were discussed over dinner by regular folk.
Then along came “modern” physics, and everything went south pretty quick. Not because it was no longer interesting, but because nobody knew what the hell those people were talking about now. I mean, folks kinda “got” Einstein, you know, where he’s looking at a clock on the church tower while riding on a tram and got to thinking “hey, if this tram was traveling at the speed of light, what would that clock look like to me then?”, and then off he plunged into that monster mathematical thicket and emerged with the relativity thing. That was fun, even if the math was way over your head. It was discussable.
It’s all been downhill ever since though. No? OK, when was your last dinner table conversation, complete with napkin sketches, that went something like this?
This is not to say that physics has not continued to generate personalities who capture attention by writing accessible books—Hawking for example, and Feynman—but basically after Niels Bohr and Max Planck got done whirling equations around and it became clear that matter itself could behave as particles (people get that) or as waves (but not that), and then that idiot Heisenberg suggested that if you know where something is you cannot know what it’s doing, or if you know what it’s doing you can’t know where the hell it is, and, well, whatever.
So now here we are, after having torn up half of France, or maybe Switzerland, or maybe both (remember, if you know where it is, you cannot know what it’s doing), to build The Large Hadron Collider, a 17 mile long doughnut thing with lots of sexy wires and stuff everywhere and which they plugged in a while ago, causing massive economic instability across Europe and cutting power for a week to Washington DC. The purpose of all this being to accelerate particles and smash them into each other as fast as possible, like some kind of subatomic NASCAR track meet, and then see what they can discover in the rubble.
Because that is what experimental physics has now become, smashing little tiny things to destruction and then deducing what they once were by sifting through the remains.
Anyway, the Higg’s Boson. It’s a particle. Another particle.
Basically, with three types of particles (electrons, up-quarks and down-quarks. Don’t ask.) you can make everything; with the up and down quarks you can make protons and neutrons, and with electrons, protons and neutrons you can make any atom. But there are at least 12 types of particles already discovered.
So if everything can be made with just 3, why do we have 12? — We dunno. How many are there? Just 12? Maybe 12,000,000? — We dunno. What’s the source of the patterns in their behavior? — We dunno.
How do I even know any of this? I don’t. All I know is that there’s a physicist in this video who says all that stuff, and he dunno either.
And it is kinda neat.