I used to love math. I’d be the first in class, asking my professor questions, getting their thoughts on things, and staying after class to keep talking. I still remember what got me so hooked. It was high school, junior year. My teacher, Mrs. Tralli told us math is the key to everything, with math you can answer anything. She showed us the golden ratio. How in bodies and plants, and all throughout life, the same pattern can be found.
When the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) announced they were soon to find the Higgs Boson I stayed up all night waiting for the news. It was one of a few missing elementary particles. And on 4 July 2012 they found it. A little over a year later, in early October of 2013, François Englert and Peter Higgs were awarded the Nobel prize in physics.
But I’m not writing this to share a nice story. If only I were. I’m writing this because of what came up during lunch this afternoon. A few of the mathematic undergrads and I were getting a bite to eat at that soup and sandwich place just off campus when Charles, out of nowhere says, we’re about done.
“Uh? With what?” I asked. No one had said anything so his comment didn’t make any sense. There were still three problems on the board back in class. Charles tried to laugh, but it came out more like a weak sigh. Somehow I already knew what he meant, but I wanted him to say something else. My mouth went dry. My my jaw tensed.
“Everything.” Charles said. “I was reading a paper this morning...Some new findings out of Harvard and Oxford”—he shook his head—”there’s not much left. A few more equations and that’s that.”
“A few more”—I chuckled, but had to swallow. “What’re you talking about?”
Charles poked at his soup and half shrugged. “Without going into all the detail, the gist of it was that we’ve gotten down under the floorboards—”
“Of?” I didn’t want this to be going where it was, but I didn’t feel like I could stop it. Even that question felt like it was part of a scene. Like that part in Westworld where an android is trying to say something new while looking at a tablet of all her possible conversation choices. Hard as she tries to get off the dialog tree she can’t do it.
“Everything. Come on, it’s what we do. Get under nature’s skirts and have ourselves a peek. It’s like getting a computer all the way down to its zero and one logic gates. And there’s about three or four equations...We seem to be”—he smirked—“you’re not going to like hearing this.”
My heart was racing. No. Please. Say something else. Anything else. Tell me to forget it and ask if I want ice cream. Ask me if I want to see a movie, ask me what my favorite color is—you’ve never asked me that. Anything other than this.
“We seem to be nearing the end. These equations are so beautiful, they’re so tight. Almost like a movie that ended prematurely.”
“Well when we found the Higgs at the LHC there wasn’t anything left that needed explaining. There’s nothing missing anymore. We thought there might be a few more tight unifications, but...”
“Nothing. That’s just it. Nothing. That’s what I meant when I said we’re about done.”
I didn’t say anything else the rest of lunch. Neither did Charles. I came straight home and started writing. Maybe Mrs. Tralli was right. Maybe math is the key to everything. But what if we’ve been turning that key and now the lock is about to open? What then? I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s like an itch I can’t reach. An itch inside my head--no, inside Me.
I see them in a room. A group of the world’s brightest minds working on the final equations. Do they know what they’re doing, or are they blinded by their genius? The solution to one of the problems back in class dawns on me. As much as it’s the last thing I want to do, I can’t help myself. I have to go back and solve it. I have to know.