Monday, July 9, 2012

Higgs boson "God Particle": What the mass media doesn't tell you about the media of the mass


 It has been often observed that the difference between men and boys is, the size and the price of their toys. So what is the difference between studying atomic and subatomic particles? Pretty much the same. You want to research atoms? Get a small lab, some equipment, and a laptop.

You want to study subatomic particles?? Go get yourself a loan of several billion dollars, thousands of acres of property, tons of liquid helium, several freight trains of magnets, and, uh, oh yeah---

---enough electricity to blackout a few third world nations.

If the old expression: "the bigger they are, the harder they fall" is true, then when it comes to subatomic physics we say: "the smaller the particles are, the harder and more expensive they are to find!"


It was the Greeks that brought this concept of really, really, really, really small things, things so small that they could not be divided into anything smaller...they called this concept an atomos (atom). It was from this basic concept of "tiny undividableness" that science pioneers in the 19th century, especially Dalton (though it had been speculated centuries earlier), first brought us into the modern understanding of atomic structure.

At first it was believed that atoms were the most basic and fundamental pieces of all physical things...kind of like the smallest Lego blocks in the toy chest of the Universe. Most thought that we had finally discovered, in a sense, the very fabric of reality. As mankind is prone to do, a sort of odd arrogance usually surrounds such discovery, an almost "we are smarter than God (if there is a god to be smarter than)!"

Like Dorothy pulling back the curtain and discovering the tiny man behind the mighty and powerful Oz, scientists thought that they had uncovered the secret of the Universe. Well, for a little while...


By the end of the 19th century, physicist J.J. Thomson revealed a slightly disconcerting fact---there were even smaller particles inside of the atom! The supposed tiniest particles were made of even tinier particles. 

Once the genie gets out the bottle, all bets are off.

As the world recovered from the ravages of the bombardments of world war two, during the1950's another type of bombardment revolutionized our understanding of the universe--the atom smasher. Also known as (particle) accelerators, these linear and circular devices allowed scientists to crash high powered beams of atomic material into each other at mind-numbing speeds. The result---even more particles smaller than an atom, or SUB-atomic.


The discovery of electrons were followed by protons and neutrons, then neutrinos, pions, muons, kaons, quarks, leptons, and several flavors of gauge bosons (bosons include the famous "light particle"--the photon). By the 1970's the famous Standard Model of physics, which is the unified theory that predicts and explains this popular parade of particles, was well established.

The sheer number and bizarre behavior exhibited by these incomprehensibly small components led to equally bizarre names like ups, downs, taus, gluons, charmed, and strange. By the turn of the 21st century, all of the particles predicted by the Standard Model had been "discovered" except for one elusive enigma, the holy grail of particle physics, the Higgs boson.


Rewinding to the mid 1960's, physicist Peter Higgs was working on the (still unsolved) riddle of how particles gain mass.  According to Einstein's equations, and demonstrated empirically in the lab, as things accelerate their mass increases. Higgs theorized that the entire Universe is filled with a special field (the Higgs Field), and as particles move through this field, they attract (nearly) massless particles (of the boson family)---thus, the name: the Higgs boson.


In the late 1990's, several European nations (CERN), thousands of scientists, and hundreds of universities joined forces, creating the world's most formidable particle posse, to hunt down physic's most perfect criminal. The result of this effort was the construction of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Located nearly 500 feet below the border of France and Switzerland, this mammoth enterprise (costing upwards of several billion dollars) produced a circular accelerator over 17 miles in circumference.

An atomic scientific undertaking of this magnitude had not been seen since the famous Manhattan Project over 60 years ago.  The top secret effort back then, which thrust the world into the age of atomic warfare, engineered some of the largest buildings ever constructed on planet Earth, most of which were located in the unassuming town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Likewise, who would have guessed that the Franco-Swiss underworld would host the largest sit-and-spin in human history?


So, why this (almost) interesting trip down material memory lane? Is this merely a primer on particle physics, maybe the Cliff Notes version of Particles for Dummies? Nah. Just a few short weeks ago, amid much media fanfare, officials from the LHC (CERN) announced that after 10 years of research, and as many billions of dollars, that they had (possibly) caught the Higgs boson red-handed. 

After conducting (get ready for this) over 1000 trillion collisions (1,000,000,000,000,000--that is not a misprint) the data they have collected has given more than a hint of the reality of the stealthy boson. (Actually this number is not that large when you realize that evidence for a Higgs boson particle is not expected any more frequently than one boson per trillion collisions.)


In the frustration to find the freakish phantasm, one physicist writing a pop-culture novel about the quest wanted to call the Higgs boson "the godd@#mn particle!" The publisher, not wanting to cause any unnecessary backlash from the sensitive public, convinced him to reduce it to "The God Particle" thereby altering his intended joke into an unintended quasi-metaphysical debate.

The media seized upon this unfortunate misnomer, which, incidentally has received much resentment from the physics community at large. A simple search of the web will demonstrate in countless blogs concerning the confusion about the relationship of God to the particle. 

What started as a cursing rant expressed in sheer frustration, has morphed into a Divine Replacement evangelized through misinformed euphoria.


What is the impact of this event (no pun intended)? No doubt the average man-on-the-street interprets this news of "The God Particle Discovered At Last!" as some type of scientific revelation that has further eliminated the actual need for God as the creator of the Universe.

Remember, it's not the truth that matters, it's the perception of the truth that matters. What you believe to be true is what motivates you, not what is actually true.

For example, if a reckless teenager prank pulls a fire alarm in a crowded building, people will rush out, some in complete hysteria--yet, in truth, there is no fire. But that matters not, only what people perceive (believe) to be true matters. 

If the local news announced that the air is lethal, local hospital emergency rooms would fill to overflowing within minutes. Perception is the reality.

News headlines announcing that "the God Particle" has been found fuels the popular fire of skepticism of all-things spiritual. It has the appearance of saying that the mysteries of the Universe, once relegated only to the existence of "god," have now been solved. It seems to verify Nietzsche's tormented cry: "God is dead! And (particle physics) has killed him!"  Someone once said that the Golden Rule is: "He who has the gold, makes the rules!" but in this case we could quip: "He who makes up the names, makes up the rules!"


In reality, what has occurred is that the detectors along the curved walls of the enormous super-collider have sensed a possible new particle, at least about once every trillion smashes.

Actually, it is not currently possible to directly detect a boson like Higgs, it can only be inferred due to the behavior of predicted decay particle patterns (don't get caught up in the technicalities of it all--or you may want to do some smashing of your own). 

It will probably take several months to a year for the peer-review process of the estimated 200 Petabytes of research data generated by these 1000 trillion experiments to have any firm, or at least, relatively firm conviction that the elusive particle has been found. If it is confirmed, don't expect your life to change right away. Truth is, it may never change due to this, or many of the other subatomic particle discoveries. Unlike the game-changing e=mc2 (which led to the nuclear arms race), the apprehension of the Higgs boson will probably only impact theoretical physicists, at least for the foreseeable future.


We simply can't say what the discovery WILL do, but I will tell you what it WON'T do:

1. it won't mean that God has been replaced by a physicists sleight of hand.

2. it won't expose theology as merely a search for a "God of the gaps"

3. it won't disprove Genesis 1

4. and sadly, it won't make discussions about God, life, and the Universe any easier. The Higgs boson, in one sense, is a particle that has no connection with God at all, other than the relationship of Creator to creation.

It is an axiom of logic that nothing can explain it's own existence---a consequence of cause and effect. Actually, for all that the Higgs boson supposedly explains concerning the issue of mass, it creates just as many new questions, and no lack of educated guesses.

What is the cause of the Higgs boson effect?
What is the Higgs boson comprised of?
Where did the Higgs Field come from in the first place?
What is the Higgs Field made of?
Is the Higgs Field affected by the inflation or hyper-inflation of the big bang expansion?
What is the relationship between dark matter, dark energy, exotic matter and the Higgs boson? And so on.

As technology progresses, surely even smaller "particles" will be discovered, and then, even smaller still. The Matruska doll of particle physics potentially has no limits, since "size" is a relative term. Even something as "small" as the Higgs boson is huge, it's just a simple matter of scale.

is infinitely larger than nothing.

Eminent mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, Johannes Kepler, once  described science as merely "thinking God's thoughts after Him." 

Einstein echoed this sentiment: "Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe- a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must feel humble."

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