As you’ve likely heard by now, there’s been big news in the particle physics world this past week. CERN managed to discover a Higgs boson particle. Why is this a big deal? Well, my physics knowledge is fairly basic, but from what I gather, the Higgs boson is the particle that gives things mass. In essence, it is the thing that makes physical matter possible. This, as you can imagine, is a HUGELY important little particle. Without it, the world as we know it would not exist. Hence, it’s been called ‘the God Particle’.
In the Higgs boson, science fiction authors across the world suddenly have new and interesting ways to envision the future. Already, folks have been discussing the applications of the Higgs, and this is just the beginning. The Higgs boson gives hard sci-fi authors ways to explain FTL travel, antigravity, teleportation, and a bunch of other things without having to resort to the discovery of ‘handwavium’ on some distant world or the use of wishy-washy science babble to explain wild concepts. This is a really cool time to be writing hard scifi.
(Note to self: start writing more hard sci fi)
It’s always interesting to see what science fiction sees as the technology of our future. It is almost always colored by what they thought, at the time, was the Next Big Thing. In Asimov’s Foundation series, for instance, he present nuclear power as the gateway to things like hyperspace travel, personal energy shields, advanced industrial cutting equipment, and host of other things. Heck, they even irradiated their dishes to clean them. Today, such advances seem either irresponsible or ridiculous, mostly since we know a good deal more about nuclear power than we did and know that it wouldn’t be terribly useful in many of those applications, and mostly because the average person doesn’t want to die from radiation exposure.
Earlier than that, HG Wells used balloons to explain time travel in The Time Machine, theorizing that travel through time wasn’t substantially different than any other kind of travel–we simply lacked the technology to move forth dimensionally at will, just as man kind lacked the capacity to move in the third dimension at will until the advent of the balloon. Likewise, in War of the Worlds, the Martians arrive here in ballistic capsules that are fired from Mars to Earth from, presumably, very large cannons. This would demonstrate the Victorian era’s skepticism towards rocketry as a useful science. Oh, how wrong they were.
But, of course, this sneering down our nose needs to be accompanied with a fair amount of humility. We’re also probably wrong, you see. Predicting the future is never a good gamble, and what we think will be the Next Big Thing today might very well be a complete bust. Likewise, that gadget we’ve left by the wayside or decided to ignore (e.g. nuclear fission) might, in fact, be the very thing we find solves a myriad of problems in years to come. There is simply no way to tell, since science isn’t the kind of field that obeys deadlines or gives up its secrets easily. This is, ultimately, why I think all avenues of scientific research should be pursued. Someday, when we least expect it, the silliest thing we can imagine will wind up being the most important thing in the world.
I mean, c’mon, if I told you in 1982 that, in thirty years, they’d find a little particle that makes everything around you ‘actual’ and it was only found by creating a giant racetrack for subatomic particles at a cost of billions of dollars, you’d be skeptical. Then you’d probably watch something on Betamax, just for irony’s sake.