We’ve Figured Out the Universe—and It’s Boring

Ideas of the Year 2013
Javier Jaén Benavides

Last year, when physicists at the Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of a particle suspected to be the elusive Higgs boson, the general mood seemed to be: Pop the champagne! We’ve got ourselves a Higgs!

But not everyone was cheering. “At some level I’m actually a little disappointed,” the scientist and author Stephen Wolfram wrote on his blog. Stephen Hawking agreed. He told the BBC that finding the particle was “a pity in a way,” noting that “the great advances in physics have come from experiments that gave results we didn’t expect.” The Higgs boson? Exactly what the so-called Standard Model of particle physics predicted. Peter Woit, a mathematical physicist at Columbia University, was also underwhelmed, telling the PBS show Nova, “I always felt the best possible thing for the LHC would be to not see the Higgs.”

Physics still has its mysteries—the strange “dark matter” that holds galaxies together, the shadowy “dark energy” that is pushing the universe apart—but this discovery has eliminated one more of them.

Pity the scientists of the future: Who knows what will be left to baffle them?

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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