Monday 8 June 2020

Higgs Boson Joke

A story from January 2020, before the pandemic.

I work out on a regular basis. I'm not a nut about it, but I'm doing my best to remain as fit as possible as anyone can at the age of 67. Use it or lose it.

Unlike some, I rarely talk with anybody at the gym. Why? I'm there to work out not socialise. But I'm not unfriendly. I've gotten to know a number of people by name and interacting with them at the gym ofttimes consists of nothing more than shaking hands, giving a wave, or doing a fist bump. They seem to be as focused as me.

I'm at the gym the other day, in the middle of my workout. Gino always does a long session with an elliptical bike facing out the window, his back to the room. But at some point, when he dismounts, he gives me a wave as I'm involved in some machine.

This time, he ends his routine and walks over to me. "I've got a joke."


"The Higgs Boson walks into a Catholic church. Priest says, 'What are you doing here?' The Higgs Boson replies, 'You can't have mass without me.'"

We laughed, and I complimented him on his choice of joke. Not many people are into particle physics humour. And saying "particle physics" is a mouthful unto itself.

Since then, I've mulled over with a smile what transpired. Normally, when we interact with strangers or acquaintances, we tend to stick to topics of common interest, the weather, the headlines, or the latest cultural event, something in entertainment. If I walked down the street and randomly stopped a hundred people, how many would know what Higgs Boson is? It's an unusual subject. In order to "get" the humour, one has to know something. If you don't know anything about the topic, the humour doesn't make any sense. The humour isn't, well, funny.

my blog: Star Wars and all that jazz (à la Dave Brubeck) - 2019-05-11

Last year, I ran across this Internet meme about Star Wars, a riff on annual word play about May fourth, May The Force Be With You. I had never seen it before. It made me chuckle and so, I passed it around to family and friends. After getting a response of crickets, no response at all, it suddenly occurred to me, one had to have a certain level of knowledge to get the joke. Who's Dave Brubeck? What is the 1959 jazz hit Take Five? What is the 5/4 time signature in music? Without knowing these key pieces of information, the humour makes absolutely no sense. I made some inquiries and sure enough, I had picked the wrong audience for the material. I bombed.
Late-Night TV
I've noted that some, maybe much, of the humour of late-night talk shows involves current events and cultural references. I've never played the games Angry Birds or Candy Crush, but I know what they are and understand when a host makes mention of them. I've never listened to Justin Bieber, but I know who he is. I have a passing knowledge about the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and can sort of understand if it's brought up in a newspaper article. In other words, a person doesn't have to be an expert to get certain jokes, but person has to know something about the subject.

I refer back to Dave Brubeck. A person can listen to music without knowing anything technical about music. What's a key signature? What's the difference between F𝄰 and G♭? (F sharp and G flat. That's not a mistake. That's a joke. It's the same note, the same black key on a piano.)

As you can see, the more knowledge one has, the more one can "get it". Not everybody gets F𝄰 and G♭, but many have had piano lessons at one time or another, so a fair number do chuckle.

I think back on Higgs Boson and still chuckle at Gino telling me that joke. It turns out he's been a career math teacher with a minor in physics. When I say math, he added he teaches university calculus, a course I just barely squeaked through. I'm afraid I do not understand that level of abstract thought. That means I won't be laughing too much at calculus-based humour, if there is such a thing.


Wikipedia: Higgs boson
The Higgs boson is an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics, produced by the quantum excitation of the Higgs field, one of the fields in particle physics theory. It is named after physicist Peter Higgs, who in 1964, along with five other scientists, proposed the Higgs mechanism to explain why particles have mass. This mechanism implies the existence of the Higgs boson. The boson's existence was confirmed in 2012 by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations based on collisions in the LHC at CERN.
CNN - July 9, 2012
Higgs Boson humorists get mass following By Michael Schulder, CNN

Boing Boing - July 4, 2012
Gettin' Higgy With it: A Roundup of Higgs Boson Jokes on Twitter

Wikipedia: Geek Humor
Geek humor may refer to:
* Humor of or about geeks
* Computer humor
* Internet humor
* Mathematical joke

my blog: Press any key to continue - 2010-11-04
My story about somebody who couldn't find the "any" key.

my blog: What the @#$%^* do I know? - 2012-01-03
Not much, it turns out.


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