Scientists have a fairly straight-forward rule. Before they are allowed to make a major announcement (“Hello? Is this thing on? Attention everyone: water is composed of two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. That is all. Thank you.”) they have to prove it.
Not just to their colleagues or the skeptics at the parts store. Not even the unwashed masses who have not yet heard of water. No, they first have to convince a psychotherapist, who will tell them on the spot whether their Bunsen burner has flamed out.
It used to be a fail-safe system. A therapist, for example, quashed the theory of his scientist-patient that the speed of light was faster than the mass exodus from a bar whose keg has blown.
More recently, a scientist named Wilbert Higgs, PhD, stuck out his hand to his shrink and told him he was holding a very tiny particle that had just fallen out of his boson. He called it the Higgs boson particle and described it as “The quantum excitation of the Higgs* field.” The shrink looked into that empty, sweaty palm and immediately screamed for his in-house SWAT team.
(Ironically, before psychotherapists were invented, scientists had to run their theories past a panel of psychopaths such as the Spanish Inquisition–well-known for being evil, sometimes to a fault).
Lately, however, there are rumblings that the shrinks are falling down on the job. First they okayed the silly Big Bang theory. (“Attention everyone: One day there was no universe, okay? The next day, in the middle of raw nihility—aka nix, nada, zippo—a rude noise was heard. Suddenly there we were, naked and riding wooly mammoths to a Justin Bieber concert. Thank you.”)
But that was nothing compared to, well, nothing.
As you know, scientists with telescopes and flashlight apps have been looking skyward for years, searching for stuff like new stars and donut holes and signs of extra-terrestrial life. (One scientist even claimed to have discovered a blinking red neon sign that read “Live extra-terrestrial life ahead, no cover.” He was immediately jettisoned from Mt. Palomar.)
Anyway, back to nothing. Given the success of the Double Bubble Hubble telescope, scientists were running out of space objects they could discover to win a Nobel prize. That’s when an astronomer named Tycho “Taco” Johnson made a mockery of astronomy by discovering nothing.
“How’s it going Johnson?”
“Great. I discovered nothing today.”
“You bastard, I discovered that last week but didn’t say…”
“You didn’t say nothing.”
“I was going to. Really. But…”
“But you were afraid people would think you didn’t discover anything. Which is worse than nothing.”
The discovery of nothing wasn’t Johnson’s only brilliant act. That came in his decision to call nothing something else. Drum roll please:
Hello Dark Matter.
As Johnson notes in his autobiography “Cosmic or Comic?” dark matter is everywhere, even between your toes. It’s wherever there isn’t any light matter. Think of a closet or a black hole or your brain trying to explain to itself why umpires don’t have seeing eye dogs.
But that’s not the best part. Just in case you can’t find any, Dark Matter is conveniently invisible, making it that much harder to disprove or clean.
At his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Johnson explained his discovery this way:
“It’s been in front of us all the time, like a laundry basket full of darks that you keep forgetting to bring downstairs to be washed. You don’t see them because they’re more or less invisible, especially to men who don’t do household chores. So I say to my fellow scientists, it’s time to wake up and smell the laundry.”
*You think I make this stuff up? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgs_boson
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013-2015, all rights reserved.