These Hipsters Have No Idea About the Higgs Boson

A metal band? An art installation? A "creepy European man who goes around flashing people"?

On Wednesday, scientists announced the discovery of a particle that "looks for all the world" to be the Higgs boson. To celebrate the occasion, Vice magazine's technology site, Motherboard, took to the streets of New York to interview some of the creatures that, theoretically, owe their existence to the "God particle."

And those creatures -- those who made it to the Vice video team's final cut, at any rate -- were stumped. The people who gamely attempted an answer guessed that the elusive boson is, among other things:

  • an animal
  • a building
  • an art installation
  • "brown"
  • a thing
  • a person
  • "a hick"
  • "a famous German entrepreneur"
  • "something I am not entirely sure about"
  • "something that ... might be cool"
  • a band
  • a metal band
  • a concert venue
  • "an egg with a little bird inside"
  • "some sort of creepy European man who goes around flashing people"
  • magic
  • ("and by magic, I mean drugs")
  • "a little particle that they discovered in that Hadron collider"

That last one is particularly revealing. "I read the news," the lady in question explains. 

"Nerd," her companion replies. 

What I love about this, though, is not the making-fun-of-ignorance thing -- because anyone who tells you they fully understand the Higgs boson is either named Peter Higgs or mistaken. No, it's the social insight thing. The video participants' guesses are amusing not just because they're wrong, but because they're wrong in a revealing way: They're a reflection of a particular slice of New York City culture as it exists in the middle of 2012. Art installations! Concert venues! Magic! And by magic, I mean drugs!

Here, the "God particle" is a kind of Rorschach test -- a hazy shape upon which human hipsters can project their assumptions and desires. It's a lot like Higgs' theory itself: If you look into the thing long enough ... you see yourself reflected in it.

Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In