Physicists have always intimidated me.

They inhabit a different mental space from mine. When it comes to being in a place, their world seems so compressed while simultaneously so boundless. Only mathematics can explain just where a physicist stands.

Our lead story, right, is not meant to intimidate.

Physicists think they are on the verge of a great discovery about mass - and therefore the movement of subatomic particles through space. They think they are going to find the Higgs boson particle. I understand some of this theory, just like I understand some of E=mc2.

But if I'm honest, what I understand is about as much as what I understood when I would talk with one of my college advisers who was a professor of physics. He was there but not there. He talked about seeing around corners while walking in the opposite direction. He taught something I didn't think could be real.

Like that guy walking toward me, both hands waving in the air and talking excitedly to no one I can see. Whew! No need to run to the other side of the street. He is using a hands-free ear piece for his cellphone. Such behavior has become a common sight - he's walking in mental space.

Maybe if I had learned to think like a physicist, I'd be better able to cope with the rate at which portable communications technology - cellphones, e-mail devices, pagers, headphones, Walkmans, discmans, Napster players - are transforming the way we have merged our private mental space with public space.

The more I see communications devices that allow private thoughts to transit public spaces, the more I wish I understood physics. Maybe I, too, could think about seeing around corners while going in the opposite direction.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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