On the Franco-Swiss border, deep underground, inside the Large Hadron Collider, two proton beams – Beam X and Beam Y- race around tunnels inside magnetically sealed piping frozen to near absolute zero. Beam X is smooth, soft, and curvy; also known to sometimes break down into erratic emotional fits. It may seem improbable that proton beams, having only existed a few moments, could have any discernible characteristics. However, time for larger objects in our universe – stars, planets, moons, people and even beings as small as ants – experience time very differently compared to the way subatomic particles do. Though Beam X and Beam Y just flashed into existence from our perspective, to the proton have always existed. They existed even before time began, compacted into an infinitely small singular point in space, stuck there with every other particle.
When I say Beam X was prone to erratic emotional fits, we must understand that X had trillions of years to experience emotions. If humans are sad, they’re sad. If humans are happy, they’re happy. But protons can occupy multiple regions of space simultaneously. They can occupy different dimensions. They can even occupy no space at all, and still, somehow, continue to exist. This is why X feels all emotions throughout all of time, past, present, and future. If I tell you, X loved Y with all its heart, even though protons don’t actually have hearts, just using a figure of speech, understand X has loved Y forever, and will never be able to stop.
Beam Y, on the other hand, is rough and jagged around the edges, logical and direct in its thinking. Y has never been in love with X and therefore can never be in love with X. Even now as I speak, the two beams are picking up speed, approaching 0.999999991 times the speed of light. They have always been racing around the collider in parallel paths so close an atom couldn’t fit between them. Perhaps, now we can understand why X is so emotional. After being ignored for trillions of years would you be any less erratic?
It wasn’t for a lack of trying. X often yelled out, “You, Y! I love you!” And sometimes Y looked up from its chess board a moment as if it heard something, causing X to feel a rush of mesons to its belly. Studying its true love, gazing at Y, X hoped to have one fleeting moment of eye contact even though neither of them had eyes. Y always returned its focus to the board and smugly moved a piece. This caused a violent switch in X’s emotional well-being. It made the beam hate its counterpart. And if you think it’s difficult loving for trillions of years, imagine hating for just as long.
These were desperate times for X who knew it needed to try something new. But “new” is a difficult concept for particles. When you have existed for all of eternity, and in all future and prior eternities, the probability of finding something new is about as likely as a human tripping over a pile of dark matter. But we humans know that such discoveries can happen. And though X had no way of knowing about humans back when all the universe was compacted to a singular point, the building blocks of humanity were there.
Perhaps X drew from that distant connection in a way that no other particle tried to before, because in that moment, X, one little proton in a universe of 300 sextillion (that’s 1.2 x 10²³ to 3.0 x 10²³) atoms, relegated to an obscure region of the universe, inside a universe contained within a multiverse, discovered something no proton had ever experienced before. X discovered empathy and began to imagine what it was like to be Y, stuck in its unimaginably small space in the world, unaware of anything other than what it was aware of. Upon discovering empathy, simultaneously, across trillions of light years, spanning fifteen trillion years of past, present and future, all particles coupled together as if they were one- as if they were back together in one singular point in space. Together, they all learned empathy, and what’s more, had always known it.
With this new found understanding X began to play chess and ponder the calculations needed to predict every move on the board. But just as X changed so did Y. Y looked up from its game and noticed the soft sleek proton beam beside it for the first time, which you know by now means it had always noticed it. Despite the fact X was identical to Y in every way, and identical to all other protons, Y couldn’t help but see this new companion as anything other than the most beautiful particle in the multiverse. Y, feeling as though it was being clever, flirtatiously yelled out, “You there, hey you? Fancy a game of chess?” When Y’s offer went unanswered the reality that it had always gone unanswered and always will set in. X was too focused in its new-found love of mathematics and logic to see anything other than the chess pieces on the board. This caused Y to spiral downwards, and upwards, and in every other possible direction. Y spent its days drinking whiskey and throwing empty bottles in the direction of X, but it was too drunk to throw them with any accuracy. Wiping non-existent tears from its metaphorical eyes it yelled, “You there! Proton! Yeah you! Why don’t you love me?”
The two particles existed on multiple dimensions and in all of them they were either pleading or being ignored, playing chess or drinking whiskey, loving or hating, seeing or not seeing, destined to never come together. But what the particles couldn’t know, as they were now at precisely 0.999999991 times the speed of light, is that graduate students and their professors were standing around in lab coats and hard hats, staring at a monitor deep underground at CERN. They hit buttons and twisted nobs, activating the 1,232 dipole magnets, recalibrating them to change the paths of X and Y, turning them both in on themselves. As their trajectories changed something unthinkable happened. They became aware of one another.
“You there, Y! I think I love you! I think I have always loved you!”
“You there, X! I think I love you! I think I have always loved you!”
The strong and weak nuclear force connected their electromagnetic fields like static electricity pulling two balloons together. They teetered on the verge of coming and not coming, 1/100th of an atom away from crossing a threshold, divided by abstract concepts such as chemistry, emotion, and attraction. X and Y time their movements with one another creating a supersymmetry. They push forward, one step past where it could stop, liberating themselves from the confines of a predetermined existence. Random thoughts ricochet off their nucleus, neutrinos tingle, and perhaps, seeing themselves as they are, primal, made up of quarks, leptons, gluons and photons. All those parts shattered into pebbles and bits of glass, placed into a kaleidoscope reflecting their essential components – extravagant patterns and colors – back to one another as if they were laying atop a mirror with another mirror above them.
The two protons loved one another so much, before they vanished into the depths where the newly created standard model doesn’t apply, where quantum mechanics falls apart. The particles gave birth to something that had never existed. Their child was discovered in the wreckage of their collision, covered in dust, and debris. Emerging from a connection that no one could have understood, the child had never before existed, and yet, had always been there.
“What will we call it?” X asked.
“It comes from both of us, so let’s each pick a name.”
“I like that idea.” X responded “I want to call it Higgs.”
“That is a perfect name, my one true love,” Y answered. “I would like to call it Boson.”
The professors and grad students popped champagne corks and lit cigars to celebrate the first of many tests to come at CERN. None of them could have known that in that instant there was no difference between creation and discovery. Verifying where matter comes from made it seem as though this must be where matter had always come from. But the truth was that by simply discovering the Higgs Boson we created the need to understand. Simultaneously the universe created something to be understood.