These Hipsters Have No Idea About the Higgs Boson

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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.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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