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It even seemed possible that, because the discovery is so new, a naf like me could ask the kind of insightful question that could lead to newer, even more amazing discoveries, like the Stein boson. "Doesn't this mean that you could change an object's mass by changing its acceleration?" I asked, wondering if I would put my Nobel Prize near my 1998 New York Association of Black Journalists award for First Place in Sports Spot News or the 2003 International Medical Marijuana Award for Best Newspaper/Magazine Article.
"Yes," Greene said. "Even Isaac Newton in the 1600s said, If you want to accelerate an object, it's related to the force you exert: force equals mass times acceleration." I wanted to tell him that even Shakespeare in the 1600s knew how to insult people more subtly.
But I can see why Greene would get frustrated. Usually when he gives talks to groups of clueless people like me, he has to tell them why this stuff matters--that cell-phone technology, personal computers and 35% of the gross national product are based on quantum mechanics. What he really wants is for people to just be curious. Proof of the Higgs field is supposed to fill us with wonder about our bizarre, endlessly surprising world--the same way we are fascinated by poetry, music and everything Malcolm Gladwell says. We're supposed to ask not what the Higgs boson can do for us, but--whenever we see a science nerd--what the Higgs boson is. Then we get to watch them try to talk in regular English instead of math and made-up words. And that is one of the truly fascinating phenomena of the universe.