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The Large Hadron Collider sprung back to life this month, smashing subatomic particles with nearly double the energy used to discover the Higgs boson, a landmark in understanding the makeup of the physical world. With the Higgs now in the bag, researchers are setting their sights on more exotic fare: signs of a new physics that not only describes the universe but explains why it is the way it is.

Four fundamental forces rule reality, but why is the number not three or five or 17? Matter is built from a grab bag of particles whose masses differ so wildly that they appear to have been handed out by a punch-drunk God. The proton weighs 0.9986 as much as the neutron, and each is more than 1,835 times as massive as the electron.

These values, like all the others making up the spec sheet of the universe, seem so arbitrary. Yet if they had been slightly different, theorists tell us, the universe would not have given rise to intelligent life.

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