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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 13:12, 29 October 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki! Today, the wiki is in read-only mode to allow for a hosting migration. Please enjoy reading all our xkcd explanations. We have an explanation for all 1436 xkcd comics, and only 0 (0%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

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Higgs Boson
'Can't you just use the LHC you already built to find it again?' 'We MAY have disassembled it to build a death ray.' 'Just one, though.' 'Nothing you should worry about.' 'The death isn't even very serious.'
Title text: 'Can't you just use the LHC you already built to find it again?' 'We MAY have disassembled it to build a death ray.' 'Just one, though.' 'Nothing you should worry about.' 'The death isn't even very serious.'
Candidate Higgs boson events from collisions between protons in the LHC. (from Wikimedia Commons)

Explanation

Cueball and Ponytail are applying for a large amount of grant money to find the Higgs boson. Under scrutiny, they have been forced to admit that they have "lost" the particle which had been previously "found". This is a humorous play on the term "finding" when applied to fundamental particles. The common usage means to discover or observe the existence of a class of particles, rather than to know the current location of an individual particle.

The Higgs boson is an elementary particle that is predicted by a physical model of the universe (the 'Standard Model'). Observing evidence that Higgs bosons really exist is a key test of this model: if a search for the Higgs boson had failed to find evidence confirming its existence then the Standard Model would have been shown to be an incorrect description of reality. Finding the Higgs boson was one of the main reasons why the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was built: to create energies high enough for the Higgs boson to become manifest. The point is, once evidence for its existence has been observed it is not possible to 'lose' the Higgs boson in a way implied by Cueball and Ponytail.

In the title text, the off-screen questioner wonders why Cueball and Ponytail can't use the LHC to find the particle again. The implication is that this would avoid spending another $3 billion. Their responses imply that the pair have already dismantled the LHC and converted its components into a death ray (a particle-beam weapon to be exact). The ostensibly reassuring platitudes offered mimic those used to placate those who were worried about possible apocalyptic consequences of commissioning the LHC, for instance the creation of black holes, strange matter, a vacuum bubble or proton-eating magnetic monopoles.

The comment that "The death isn't even very serious" in the title text may be a reference to a Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot." Robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin tells supercomputer The Brain not to worry about death, that it wasn't a "big deal," when the robot is working on an equation relating to hyper drive. The Brain was able to deliver the solution, since anyone using the hyperdrive would be briefly "dead" (no longer exist), but in the end, they would arrive safe and sound.

This also implies that the death ray was only able to produce one death, as opposed to the many deaths such a weapon could be expected to cause, just as it is implied that the LHC only produced a single Higgs boson, which was subsequently misplaced.

Transcript

Voice Offscreen: Tell us about your proposal.
Ponytail: We're requesting $3 billion in funding to find the Higgs boson.

Voice Offscreen: ...wait. Didn't you already find it a year or two ago?
Cueball: Yes, well, um.

Ponytail: ...OK, this is embarrassing.
Cueball: See, the thing is —

Voice Offscreen: Don't tell us you lost it already.
Ponytail: Look.
Ponytail: In our defense, it's really small.

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