Monday, July 9, 2012

“Mr. Watson--Come here--I Want to See You"

The confirmation of the existence of the Higgs Boson is reminiscent of Alexander Graham Bell’s famous “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you.” The utterance on March l0, 1876 ushered in the age of modern telecommunications and it was a reference point at least once during the Golden Age of Television when programs like You Are There, hosted by Walter Cronkite, dramatized great moments in history. We’ve come a long way baby, but Dieter Heuer, the director general of CERN, was hard put to provide a useful answer when asked on CNN the other day about what the discovery of the Higgs Boson will mean for the average Joe. He made some general points about the discovery of the Boson having importance for anyone who is interested in how the universe came to be, but it was hard to surmise how the discovery of the Boson would fare when compared to that of the phone. Take-out Chinese food and escort services are examples of two industries that could not subsist without the phone, but it’s unclear what industries will be improved or created by the Boson. Will the discovery of the mysterious particle have an effect on equally mysterious financial instruments like synthetic derivatives? In some way the discovery of the Higgs Boson, which has represented an investment of billions of dollars in research funds, is too big to be useful. As if to underscore this point, the Times’ Dennis Overbye repeated the same line in his coverage of the event, “Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe,” 7/4/12) as he did on 6/19/12, “New Data on Elusive Particle is Shrouded in Secrecy.” Describing “a cosmic molasses” and the way it helps particles to get mass, he compared it to the way “a bill going through congress attracts riders and amendments, becoming ever more ponderous.” Only two words changed. In the original piece he used “moving” instead of “going through congress” and “gains” rather than “attracts riders.” When people start to repeat themselves, it usually means they have run out of things to say.

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