Shortly after the existence of the Higgs boson was quasi-confirmed, I wrote a short post noting, among other things, that I don't really understand what a Higgs boson is. This upset such commenters as Brad Watts, who wrote, "If you have no idea what the subject is about, then you shouldn't be writing about it."
Happily, the commenter known as ugluk2 (apparently 'ugluk1' was already taken) leapt to my defense:
Wright actually gave the standard explanation that is handed to us laymen when physicists or science writers try to explain what the Higgs boson is. Wright just had the honesty to admit he doesn't really understand it and speculates that physicists themselves only understand it on a mathematical level. Which is more or less what Richard Feynman said about quantum mechanics.
Exactly , ugluk2. Feynman (who won the Nobel Prize for his work in quantum physics) made that point in his great little book The Character of Physical Law. And if I recall correctly, he literally said that nobody--including him--really understands quantum physics. Because once you get very far down into the subatomic world, the reality implied by the math just isn't amenable to intuitive comprehension. Which was exactly and explicitly the point of my post.
My Atlantic colleague Garance Franke-Ruta, undaunted by the likes of me and Feynmann, has heroically assembled a state-of-the art layperson's description of what the Higgs boson is. When I saw the headline--"Still Confused About the Higgs Boson? Read This"--I was seized by alarm. I figured that if I read her piece and was no longer confused, I would have to retract my profession of ignorance and abashedly concede comprehension. It is with relief and delight that I now report that I have read her piece and still don't get it.