Monday, August 27, 2012

#60 "I Give the Mass." Continued His High Quarkness. "but Not THAT Kind."

[c.f. last post]
No, not related, etymologically. There's a great joke going around though: a Higgs boson walks into church and the priest says, "I'm sorry we don't allow sub-atomic particles." The boson parries, "But you can't have MASS without me."  hahaha. I love a good laugh because it's serious stuff literally, that I deal with down here, 24/7 times infinity--a real head- (if I had one) ache keeping all those other quirky quarklets (some officially monikered e.g. "strange" and "charm"  no kidding) in line, giving them mass, and a certain gravitas. Haha ...told you  This is why I affectionately refer to St. Peter of  Higgs also as Dr Higglety-Pigglety. The quantum scene is to my poetic ear (if I had one) a double-dactyl rumbling-tumbling surreal sort of miasmic musical maelstrom (ha) that even I/ME find hard to believe in.                                                                               

[1] But back to the point: mass in the hieratic sense derives from the Late Latin "Ite, missa est" which means literally in order "Go,  dismissal is" from the past participle of mittere, to put, to put out, to place, to go,  etc. (and cognate with so many other Latin borrowings like mission and mess, in the sense of meal – the putting-out and placing thereof). Did I mention that I dearly love Latin, my second language? Well, so the Ite etc. phrase means more loosely something like Go away, it's put-you-out time. Funny isn't it that the parishioners would remember the end of the service as if glad to be through with it, rather than the beginning or the middle or the whole. The poor peasants didn't understand a word that was being said anyway. But in the late Middle Ages with the usual linguistic forces of phonetic compression and folk etymology ( the sense of "massing" together) at work, the phrase became the single word mass, unrelated historically to any other usage. But I love folk, and their etymology, and massing-together is so sweet an idea to a sentimental Old Particle at heart, if I had one – haha, somebody please stop me – because there's a symbolic connection at least between the priestish mass and myself. We're both in the congregation business – aggregating, gathering together bunches of people massed together at these holy functions, like e.g. the "masses" showing up in huge quantities for Funny Hat Day at St. Peter's (pace Higgs) Basilica most famously on Easter Sunday.

[2] But for me, the original Matter-Maker, mass has in fact a much more ancient and pregnant meaning, if you will. Goes like this: Proto-Indo-European root into Greek "Massein" = to knead (massage is related), and then into the Latin noun masa, the finished product = a lump of dough. Interesting creational implications here of course. and even Eucharistic. Matter is another matter – ultimately coming from another Latin  borrowing: mater, and, hey, I'm sort of in the mothering business myself. One more thing and I'll shut up:

[3] As to mess, as in meal, repast, brunch, munchies, snack, etc-- it's like the biblical mess of pottage or modern mess hall or in the epigraph to this blog's fraternal twin Daily Mosteller Weekly (below masthead), which asks the reader pun-ishingly to sit down to a "mess" of memes and mummery. You would expect the form to be related to the mass-masa-maize lump-o'-dough family, but no. We're back to  the holy service once again with that workhorse Latin verb mittere, which means, we recall, to place or put out though NOT in this sense the parishioners, but rather a meal. Of course the Eucharist is in its own way a mess, and after church they could mass in the mess hall and maybe get a group massage ...

Our interviewee continued in this vein for some time, later extolling in particular the virtues of the old-timey Latin form of mass, even praising current practitioners like Mel Gibson and Antonin Scalia as among his favorites, reminding us that grammar school originally meant learning LATIN grammar back in the day (one simply KNEW English already, forheavensake), and that Anglo-Humans should return to the old practice of high-school Latin for everybody, and Greek in college. Modern languages--pshaw. After this lengthy divigation the Supreme Quarkman returned to the issues at hand::

However, jokes and etymology aside, there's a nice parallel here because I AM in the congregation/aggregation business. I get things together and afford them weight and quant-ity, so to speak ... and then let them go. There's a cosmic cuteness there--don't you agree?-- and I'm the guy-particle who does it, by God. My good friend Peter Higgs figured it out mathematically. Another old friend, Pythagoras, had it half-right when he said that mathematics gives you the key to the universe, but only after you humans bumped your heads and started counting things. Incidentally, isn't it weird that Pythagoas, the first great "bean counter" in history, hated beans and forbade his followers from eating them! But I digress. Sorry. My first interview after all. Anyway, for Peter Higgs Ph.D. my quarkhood just had to be there, somehow, either as a particle, or field, or maybe both at the same time. Also weird, but that's Quantumland for you. Kudos to the young man– oops, it was 50 years ago– who predicted me, and now the CERN people, whoever they are, confirming my existence in the Large Hadron Collider, whatever that is.. I understand that they actually have sparkly images of me in action, or I should say REaction, to some pretty painful neutron bombardment just short of the speed of light. Ouch.  One of Me only lasts a Godzillionth of a second, but they managed to get me in the picture. You should be able to detect a smile.
Higgs Boson Residue, Two Lines on Right
This reporter readily agreed with the painful aspect of his experience because I had spent some stock-still bombardment-time in an MRI sound tunnel while in terrible back and sciatic pain ... and could sympathize. I felt like a subHUMAN particle. So why was it, I asked, that he/it could "crack" a smile, as it were. And how did it feel personally to be a SUB-atomic particle, the lowliest of the low in the material universe, not up even to the atomic level ... a fortiori the molecular and above (using a little Latin to put him at ease).

I'll take the second question first: technically I'm not quite a quark, since they discovered so many of us little buggers at Fermilab or Livermore or someplace North American, exploding the atom into all of those literally strange and plasmatic parts underlying everything that is or ever was even onto the Big Bang. They had to rename some of us undergirding the atom, which poor unsung Democritas, another old friend, discovered some 2500 years ago! I'm a big-banger, you know, from the very beginning of things. And remember, young man, I keep YOUR (M)ASS together. So I'm lately not a quark because of something or other, I don't know, but a boson. Nothing against the term quark – and I'll explain that in a minute –but I do alternatively like the very sound of  b o s o n. Pronounce it. How deep and masculine it is, and dignified, suitable for one in charge of massivity throughout the shiny parts of the universe. Sonorous. Nothing wimpy or tinny to the ear. Two great (un-morphemic) half-words as well: bow and son, the whole comprising deep-throated, low-back vowels. Nice.

But back to quarkitude: I don't mind being lumped with with those guys; they're terrific crazy twee things ...  fun to be with. I have, on the other hand, the weightiness of a proton or neutron, I'm told, all the better to throw it around and get these little Big-Bangers into a bonding frame of mind. Got to, in order to make things work, and let the graviton do ITS thing. And BTW I'm just crazy about Finnegan's Wake, though even I can't understand it. But I know enough to know that Murray Gell-Mann and his gang were right on track, and in probably a celebratory state, in naming all of us drunken and shaky maelstrom mavens after a phrase from the novel. The barman of the public house yells to a dipsodic regular, "Three quarks [quarts] for Muster Mark!"
 Since I forgot question #3, if there was one, I'll answer #1: Why am I smiling? Well, it's like this: as for the material, luminous universe, YOU'VE NOW GOT ALL THE ANSWERS ... right down to the singularity and the act of creation, a.k.a. the Big Bang. The subatomic quantum world is complete. No more mystery. Okay, y'all may need to deal with arcane problems like oscillating neutrinos etc etc and blah blah a bigger puzzlement afforded by those dread twins, Dark Matter and Dark Energy that seem to make up only the other 95% of the cosmos! But no more need for the SUPERnatural to answer the age-old question of how you got here. I am the answer. Here's the catch.[another smile] It's a terrifying but at the same time liberating idea that you humankind have reluctantly known in your hearts for a long time: you're on your own.

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