The Goddamn Particle
He wanted to call it The Goddamn Particle, but the publisher thought it would offend even secular Americans. So Nobel prize winning physicist Leon M Lederman conceded in naming his book The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? Never heard of it? Maybe he should have stood his ground. Few know the book, but the particle monikered after the all mighty has been getting an ever increasing amount of attention from laymen and scientists alike.
The scientific community refers to this provincial particle as the Higgs Boson. This title was conferred upon the particle because of the six men most involved in its advent; Peter Higgs was the best looking of the six. Either that or ‘Higgs’ is easier on the ears and tongue than Guralnik or Englert. Factually 6 men all purported the particles place in physics at nearly the same time. The year we heard for the first time from the Surgeon General that smoking is officially bad for our health, the same year we heard the first plans for the World Trade Center; 1964, was the year the Higgs boson was prophesied. How many knew then that we would still be waiting today for it to show up.
Indeed, the Higgs is still a theoretical particle whose existence has yet to be substantiated by anything more than equations. This is what everyone finds so sexy about the Higgs though; it looks good in any equation. In fact, every equation needs it. The ice cream in the sundae, cream in the puff, cute in the puppy… without the Higgs existence no other particle has mass. That is to say, no other particle’s mass can be accounted for within the Standard Model of Physics, which is everyone’s favorite way to explain how the Universe works; and when we say everyone, you understand it to mean theoretical Physicists with German last names.
And yet, “Calling it the ’God particle’ is completely inappropriate,” according to one Oliver Buechmueller, a lead scientist and prominent German last name at CERN. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is famous for building the biggest toys boys ever conceived of on this planet. Known as the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC in geek speak, it lies on the border of France and Switzerland. Taking nearly 10,000 scientists from 100 countries 10 years to build, (talk about super-symmetry) the LHC is a 17-mile long race track for sub-atomic particles.
For all the brainwaves that went into the design and development of this modern science marvel, the logic of the machine’s approach is demolition derby simple. The LHC hopes to collide (read ‘smash’ or ‘crash’) particles together at speeds near those of light. Monitoring every parameter of these collisions they know to measure, CERNians and other scientists hope to record evidence of the Higgs popping out during one of these meticulous mashes.
15 Million Gigabytes of Data, or 100,000 DVDroms worth of information, will be generated each year by the experiments being conducted inside the giant tube. Magnets, which are apparently good for more than the mounting of adolescent artwork, guide the protons around the ‘track’ at speeds approaching 99.99% that of light.
All this pomp and precision leads scientists to loath the ‘God Particle’ nonsense that media and observers use to goad a naive public into believing they have a grasp on the implications of the Higgs relationship to its atomic associates. “The Higgs is not endowed with any religious meaning. It is ridiculous to call it that,” according to one Pauline Gagnon, a member of the Canadian CERN contingent. A CERN spokesman and physicist puts it this way: “of course it has nothing to do with God. But I can understand why people go that way because the Higgs is so important to our understanding of Nature.”
Yes, no relation between this understanding of God and Nature. Just like we do not need to know about Jobs to understand Apple, or Walt to know Disney; similarly, we do not need this God fellow to understand the cosmos and their workings. The pretension of such sentiments was foretold by another great German mind.
Before he himself lost his metaphysical marbles to a series of brain diseases, the German philosopher Nietzsche made the famous and egregiously misused statement that ‘God is Dead.’ An intelligent read of the entire passage, out of which this is a few words, finds Nietzsche questioning the merits of our modern philistine approach towards knowledge. “What good is information without direction!” cries the madman (Nietzsche’s voice) to an audience of jeering nihilists. Lamenting, the mad man cries, “What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move?” Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is useless.
If and when the Higgs or something more explanatory is discovered, it will be heralded as a great achievement. But what are the chances that the efficiency rate of coal burning to electricity output in power plants will still be sub 50%? And petrol? Will the world rid itself of carbons burden when this phantom is found?
The madman’s diatribe occurs in a marketplace, no doubt the sanctum of modern society, and Nietzsche understood it as such even before the Industrial Revolution made material luxury a middle class hallmark. When Mark Twain wanted to comment on the arbitrary nature of distinctions made based on the color of a man’s skin, he told a story set in the Deep South. When Nietzsche wanted to caution against the use of knowledge and understanding as a justification for skirting responsible human endeavor, he put his soap box in the market place. In the 21st century, the idea of the dollar being King is cliché, but perhaps it would not also be the truth had Nietzsche’s 19th century warnings been heeded.
It is completely illogical to think that knowing how the light bulb works means not having to pay the electric bill. Yet in what is characterized as our advanced modern society, this logical fallacy is happily accepted because it justifies abdication of moral responsibility. Animals are not Gods creation, they are just biological machines devoid of consciousness or volition, so it is okay if I eat them because I think they taste good. Abortion’s fine, because it is just getting rid of a zygote, which is nothing more than two gametes fused together. “Do we not smell the divine putrefaction?” Nietzsche’s madman prophesies.
Rain comes from a saturation of the atmosphere after enough water vapor has accumulated due to energy coming from the sun’s rays. The earth’s orbit is stable because of its gravitational relationship with the other comparatively massive objects around it. Somehow we have equated observation with ownership, as though by seeing what is being done we are ourselves doing it.
In his book, The Language of God, Francis Collins writes “uncovering the most remarkable of all texts was both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship.” Who is Collins? The chief biologist on the Human Genome Project -23,000 Genes, 3,000,000,000 nucleotides… all sequenced so that I could type and you could read these words. Every moment of his work was a relishable act of devotion, like sharing an amazing piece of music with a best friend for the first time. “Look what I’ve found!” Not that we made the music, that would be cheating both the person we care to share it with and the person who cared enough to create the work, but that we can enjoy it now together.
In his purport to the 15th text of the 7th chapter of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srila Prabhupada writes, “Those who are not actually philosophers, scientists, educators, administrators, et cetera, but who pose themselves as such for material gain, do not accept the plan or path of the Supreme Lord. They have no idea of God. They simply manufacture their own worldly plans and consequently complicate the problems of material existence in their vain attempts to solve them.”
The true problems of material existence, as stated in the Bhagavad-gita, are birth, old age, disease, and death. If and when the Higgs or some other explanatory particle is discovered, will these scourges be any less threatening? Four months ago, when it was asserted by several experimental findings that particles had in fact traveled faster than the speed of light, were any of the day-to-day issues affecting life on earth different? Cancer, malnutrition, air pollution… There is not an assumption more fundamental to modern science’s understanding of the cosmos than the one which necessitates light as the fastest energy. Do Somalians need to know the value of c to have access to clean water?
Saying the cart is coming before the horse is giving us too much credit. In our case the horse is an ass and the cart is a double wide trailer with a flat screen television, wireless internet, and a Dish TV hook up.
So scientists might dislike the relationship between their beloved Higgs and God; however, without such perceived implications and enticements of such a discovery killing those last pesky possibilities of an absolute moral law, how else could the $10 billion dollars to build the LHC be justified.
As the story goes, a man finally got the courage to ask his platonic girlfriend if she would sleep with him… for a million dollars. She rolled her eyes at the absurdity and said ‘of course!’ without hesitation. The man’s next question was if she would do the same for $1, which insulted the girl and prompted her to ask if the man thought she was some kind of prostitute. ‘We’ve already established that’ he replied, ‘now we’re just talking price.’