Residents of Williamsburg, hipster capital of the world, take a stab at the question:
The Dish covered the particle yesterday. A reader responds:
Your quote about Robert Wright's perplexity – " I think the physicists who 'understand' what it is can do so only because they don't have the layperson's compulsion to think about the world in ways that are ultimately metaphorical" – reminded me of a few paragraphs that James Gleick wrote in his biography of Isaac Newton. Newton's laws were once the bleeding edge of research, understandable by only a few. Nowadays, they're utterly intuitive:
"What Newton learned remains the essence of what we know, as if by our own intuition. Newton’s laws are our laws. We are Newtonians, fervent and devout, when we speak of forces and masses, of action and reaction; when we say that a sports team or political candidate has momentum; when we note the inertia of a tradition or bureaucracy; and when we stretch out an arm and feel the force of gravity all around, pulling earthward. Pre-Newtonians did not feel such a force. Before Newton the English word gravity denoted a mood—seriousness, solemnity—or an intrinsic quality. Objects could have heaviness or lightness, and the heavy ones tended downward, where they belonged.
We have assimilated Newtonianism as knowledge and as faith. We believe our scientists when they compute the past and future tracks of comets and spaceships. What is more, we know they do this not by magic but by mere technique. "The landscape has been so totally affected, that it is very hard to get hold of what it was like before,” said the cosmologist and relativist Hermann Bondi. "It is very hard to realize how total a change in outlook he produced."
Wait a few generations, and sports commentators will be making similar analogies for the Higgs.
Stop me if you've heard this one before:
Higgs Boson walks into a church.
The priest says, "I'm sorry but we don't recognize your existence."
The boson replies, "Well, you can't have mass without me."