The Higgs field is what gives particles their mass. Go into orbit and try to push a 1 tonne satellite – you can’t. It weighs nothing but its mass is unchanged by being in free fall or even in deep space, and so the force needed to change its momentum is still too great for a mere astronaut.
Without the Higgs field there would be no mass and no matter, because mass is what distorts space-time and creates the effects we interpret as the ‘force’ of gravity. Without the Higgs field there would none of this world, none of us, nothing to be conscious or conscious of.
One way of imagining what the Higgs field does it that it makes space-time exert a drag on objects, like walking through water. It’s a tiny effect, which is one reason why gravity is so weak compared to electromagnetism or the strong and weak nuclear forces, but it adds up. With enough particles you can build atoms and planets and stars and galaxies. A whole observable universe, even.
And Twitter is doing something similar in the virtual world.
The ‘tweet’ provides a level of connection beween offline and online worlds, offering a form of communication that can, because of the prevalence of devices in our lives, permeate every place and give each a non-zero impact on other places. Tweets knit together the fabrics of online and offline existence, seamlessly crossing from website and laptop to iPhone and mobile, constantly offering a way to engage with online friends and to make the real virtual – a quick text, a short tweet, an aside in twhirl or twittervision.
And as a result my online life acquires mass and with it inertia, becomes interlinked with offline activity and relationships, part of a richer view of reality.
Twitter during the day is like being in a café among your friends, working in the ‘third space’ but occasionaly distracted, taking part in conversations, making observations but free at any time to drop back into a work mode.
Twitter in the evening is like your favourite bar, with the beer and wine at supermarket prices and music you love on the juke box. Your friends are there, and they don’t mind that you’ve brought a laptop to do some work. Except the worlds are inverted, and the physical one is your desk or sofa, and the bar is populated by people from around the world.
Twitter turns the old assumptions about offline and online on their head.
When someone becomes a born-again christian they occupy two worlds at once – the real world and a spiritual realm in which Christ fills their heart and illuminates existence.
There is a point at which use of Twitter does something similar, if secular: as I sit here at my laptop typing away I am present in the physical universe and can see the trees moving in the wind, watch the birds fly and hear my partner as she types in the last changes to her novel on a computer just to my right (we’re a wired couple!).
But I am also there with my Twitter friends and followers, aware that Gia’s is pleased to hear from Billy Bragg, that Luke has recently made coffee, that Documentally is enjoying his birthday. I am with and not with them, but more with them than if I was watching blog posts or chatting in MSN, simply because the freeform tweet does something less and more than facilitate conversation.
Each tiny update creates signficance, as the Higgs field gives mass, because it permeates my sense of self, reinforces links and therefore creates a non-zero expectation of future communication and contact.
For the non-physicists, here’s the current model of how the Higgs field works (from Wikipedia)
The particle called the Higgs boson is the quantum of one of the components of a Higgs field. In empty space, the Higgs field acquires a non-zero value, which permeates every place in the universe at all times. The vacuum expectation value (VEV) of the Higgs field is constant and equal to 246 GeV. The existence of this non-zero VEV plays a fundamental role: it gives mass to every elementary particle, including to the Higgs boson itself. In particular, the acquisition of a non-zero VEV spontaneously breaks the electroweak gauge symmetry, a phenomenon known as the Higgs mechanism. This is the simplest mechanism capable of giving mass to the gauge bosons that is also compatible with gauge theories
Of course the Large Hadron Collider could blow that model out of the water… watch this proton!