July 4, Law, and the Laws of Physics

Today is July 4, an important day for a number of reasons, not least of which is the celebration of U.S. Independence Day: on July 4, 1776 the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, an appeal “to the Supreme Judge of the world,” one of the great legal documents of all time and well-worth re-reading.

Today the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) has announced that as a result of billions of “appeals” to the universe, the long sought “God particle” — the Higgs boson — has (almost certainly) been found. The level of confidence is described in the CERN press release as “5 sigma,” meaning the odds are less than 1 in 3.5 million that the data bump was produced by chance: “This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found.”

For those of us who lack training in nuclear physics, NASA has produced a really good animated cartoon explaining what the fuss over the Higgs boson is all about.

Because good things can come in threes, I feel free to add another historical event that took place on July 4, though one having little to do with the laws of either humankind or nature: on this day in 1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published. We know that, curiously, Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) told the real-world Alice the story on the same date, July 4, three years earlier.

Happy fourth of July, everyone!

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