BBC R4 had an interview this morning with two prof-types, prior to the LHC startup, and in a nod to the science they were asked for an analogy about how the Higgs particle (wot I don’t believe in) produces mass. So they said (apparently this is a familiar idea): its like a cocktail party; if someone famous, for example Thatcher, moves through the guests, they get slowed down – given mass, effectively – as the guests, the Higgs, congregate around them. “Ah thank you”, said the science reporter. “And good luck in your search for Margaret Thatcher”. “”The guests, actually” said an aggrieved prof. Demonstrating that the science reporter hadn’t understood a word of what they were saying. All he had understood is that Thatcher is famous, so is the Higgs, so they must the analogous bits.


  1. #1 stormen_per

    To the reporters defense, I must say that the analouge suggests that the guest are given mass by Thatcher. As far as I know (as well as most of my unversed friends), the Higgs particle is supposed to “cause” mass , so to me aswell it sounds like Thatcher would be the Higgs particle.

    I think the confusion is over more than fame here. Could some one perhaps clarify where I’ve gone wrong?

  2. #2 Lab Rat

    It took me a second read through to get it, but I think the main point of the anology is that the Thatcher is being given mass by the guests. In the same way that a partical is given mass by the Higgs partical.

    It was a bit of a tricky one to get though.

  3. #3 P

    Analogies! Pah! It’s not clear (to me) whether the guests are meant to be the Higgs boson or the Higgs field.

    Anyway, if the guests were Labour Party activists on a freebie lunch in some House of Commons room set aside for such things, then there would be no interactions/talk (Higgs boson exchanges) between Thatcher (the fundamental particle) and the guests (who would then be a non-existent Higgs field as far as the fundamental particle was concerned) as she continued her journey from entrance to exit at the fastest possible velocity.

  4. #4 P. Lewis

    Drat! P is me.

    And double drat!! You can’t post again immediately!

  5. #5 P. Lewis

    Of course! What you have are two Higgs fields. A zero Higgs field and a non-zero Higgs field. You can all work out the rest.

  6. #6 MikeB

    I’m still trying to work out why they’ve got Andrew Marr to report from CERN, considering that he’s a political journalist. I did wonder if he was out of his depth when he announced that there ‘are lost of thirsty, hungry science people here’.
    On the other hand – Torchwood is just starting, so who cares!

  7. #7 P. Lewis

    MikeB: obviously a heavyweight politician requires a heavyweight political journo.

    The BBC obviously mistakenly thought that MT was going to appear at CERN. Thing is, even if she (MT) does appear (well the “guests” actually — but they are confused), it won’t be until some time next year.

  8. #8 rpsms

    I presume the italics were a direct quote, so the Higgs particles were explicitly stated as being the guests & giving mass to Thatcher.

    Short of not paying attention, there’s little to excuse the reporter, nor the above posters.

  9. #9 P. Lewis

    No rpsms. It is not clear to me whether the people are the field or the boson (but then my knowledge of this is imperfect). I’d hold that “conversation” would be the boson and the people/guests are just representations of points in the field. Analogies, as always, are imperfect.

    As to mistaking “guests” for “Thatcher”, that is another matter.

    Anyway, that wasn’t really the point of my initial comment.

  10. #10 Hank Roberts

    Try “candidate” and “voters” — each voter contributes one unit of mass to the candidate they choose?
    That might explain why the political reporter’s covering the Higgs — to assess its gravitas.

  11. #11 pough

    Hmm… looks like an ambiguous pronoun antecedent to me.

    if someone famous, for example Thatcher, moves through the guests, they get slowed down

    Since Thatcher is neither royal not big enough to be plural, it’s maybe more natural for “they” to refer to “guests”.

    if someone famous, for example Thatcher, moves through the guests, she gets slowed down

    [Good pedanting, well done. However I was just paraphrasing – the original was not ambiguous -W]

  12. #12 eddie

    Particle wave duality means that the guests are both higgs particles and the field that generates them.
    Evil baby-eating bitch monster is given (black) mass.

  13. #13 stormen_per

    pough; Ok. That was the problem for me, the fact that “they” referred to the “someone famous”, not Thatcher, nor the guest.

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