The Literary Higgs Boson (LHB)

Way back when PCs could be built out of old pieces of string and the UK still had summers, I was lucky enough to be working as a student* at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories in Oxfordshire. At this time, our glamorous sister site at CERN discovered something called the Z Boson and sent one of the hundreds involved to tell us all about it. On a warm June day, many sat in the lecture theatre at RAL as a very engaging lecturer regaled us with the tale of discovery. I was unclear as to why this discovery was so momentous, but it obviously was and I joined in the excitement, at least for a while. Then it was back to work.

Working at RAL in those days was like working on the set of Dr. Who, only where the equipment was real stuff. I walked around RAL’s particle accelerator ring just before it was sealed up (it was the Spallation Neutron Source Accelerator, for anyone who is interested); I wandered into an office with a handwritten note on the door that said “Prototype Neutrino Detector” (and the man in there told me how it worked); there was even a small nuclear reactor in the next-door neighbour’s yard (well, they were the UK Atomic Energy Authority at Harwell, after all).

It is only really now that the importance of that discovery so long ago reveals itself. Without it, and all the other particles found on the way, CERN would not have eventually discovered the Higgs Boson. Simply put, the Higgs Boson confers mass to everything, except photons that have no mass and certain pastries which are so light as to be unreal. Without Higgs, there would be no sticking together of stuff into things like bones, tennis balls and terriers. No wonder it’s called the Dog particle.

I like the idea of a particle, or at least a discrete thing, that gives mass to the universe in which it finds itself. Just like thermodynamics and the Latent Heat of Writing, is there a whole quantum physics of creativity with its equivalent Higgs at the centre? Certainly, some literature carries less weight** than others. Sure, War and Peace is a massive tome in all senses of the word, but what about works by Dickens or King or Aldiss? Do Mills and Boon stories have mass? I can only hope that the books I write are not, like the photon, devoid of it.

The Higgs Boson was a slippery, flighty beast to catch and I guess the LHB is too. Is it something nebulous such as the interactions between the actual letters of the words on a page (real or electronic), or more tangible such as the sounds if read aloud. The idea of sounds having power is well known – look at magic spells or the growl of a terrier. Perhaps, then, that power is a manifestation of the LHB in action.

We need to build a Large Handwriting Collider and smash words together at the speed of light to see what happens. Just send me donations and once we have £10 billion, I’ll start work at once.


* No, really, working and a student – it does happen sometimes!

** I know – weight and mass are not interchangeable terms. But, they are if the force of gravity is constant, which for now is what we will assume in the literary world. I reserve the right to change my mind later though, and claim I was right all along.

Categories: Particle Physics, Writing | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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