Saturday, March 10, 2007

The "God" Particle

Gentle reader,

A special installment, for the particle physicists out there...

In the excellent movie "Lock, Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels" there is a part where a gang of small-time hoodlums are being attacked by someone with an air-rifle.

The dialogue goes something like this:

person1: "Ouch, I've been shot!"
person2: "Ouch, I've been shot!"
person3 (annoyed): "Will everyone please stop getting shot?!"

In the same vein, I would like to ask:

Will everyone please stop calling the Higgs Particle the "God" Particle ?!

(e.g. Leon Lederman in his book )

The Higgs particle is the last-to-be-discovered particle in the menagerie that is described by the "Standard Model" of particle physics.

If the Higgs particle is discovered, will that prove, or disprove the existence of God?

Well no, actually it won't.

Is there anything more magical about the Higgs particle than any one of the dozens of other particles that are predicted by the Standard Model and that have been observed?

Let's see... One difference is that nobody's seen the Higgs yet (i.e. nobody has directly observed it). Also, the Higgs is "responsible for giving other particles their mass". But the W and Z vector bosons act as mediators of the Weak force.

The photon mediates the electromagnetic force. So why not call THEM God particles? The poor things undoubtedly have a terrible inferiority complex by now.

When the Top quark was observed back in 1994, was that seen as evidence for or against God?


So, why use that term?

My friends, there is one reason alone: marketing (and with that, book sales).

But the Higgs particle has no more to do with God (or absence of God) than any other particle.

So, how about we just call it "the Higgs particle"? We don't want to give any false impressions (do we?).

Moving on to today's quote:

"Wisdom comes with winters."
Oscar Wilde

Until the next time, dear reader, I remain,

your friend,

Buford Twain


Bro. Bartleby said...

Bro. Clarence spoke the other night and these are the notes I took:

A bell gongs and sends sound waves to my ears and the eardrum vibrates and these vibrations are sensed by the mechanisms of the inner ear which are translated to electro/chemical signals that are sent to the brain to be further processed and then inside that glob of grey matter the bell gongs in silence.

Likewise the candle is lit and the light waves strike my eyes and the rods and cones are stimulated and these stimulations are sensed by the optic nerve by electro/chemicals signals that are sent to the brain to be further processed and then inside my skull the candle is lit, in total darkness.

And in these two examples, the electro/chemical mix that transports both the bell's gong and the candle's light, are the exact same mix. The signal transporters are the same! For sound as for light! It is the mind that deciphers those signals and determines them to be sound or light. Now isn't that amazing?

Now hold that for a moment while I tell you about what Luis de Broglie discovered, a discovery now called de Broglie waves. First Einstein claimed that matter is really a form of energy, then de Broglie claimed that matter, all matter, is fundamentally wave lengths and frequency of that wave. Now when I say all matter, I mean everything, including me and you! So the floor and earth that I stand atop is really 99.9% empty space, and what isn't empty is de Broglie's waves. Now doesn't that boggle your minds? Well hold on for what's next.

If everything, except the 99.9% of nothing, is fundamentally waves, and the floor I'm standing on is but the .1% of matter ... I mean waves, and the floor atop the earth the same, and my sandals too! And me too! Now what am I saying? All the earth, we included, the stars overhead, everything ... are these de Broglie's waves? Which brings us back to the bell's gong and the candle's light ... that too! Brothers! I am not speaking metaphorically, I am not being poetic, we are talking science!

All existence is totally ethereal, in Hebrew is the word "emet" (truth) which means an all encompassing reality, the building blocks from which all is constructed, so are these de Broglie's waves in fact "emet" ... the building blocks of this all encompassing reality? I wonder.

Buford Twain said...

bro. bartleby,

Life as we know it is indeed a mystery. The behavior of things as you look at them closer and closer gets ever stranger and stranger.
It is maddening. Scientists do not really understand how "normal" things hold themselves together in any rational way. But, somehow, they do.

Take quantum mechanics. It provides a remarkably accurate theory of non-relativistic elementary particles. But only for the very simplest of systems. There is a giant leap between quantum mechanics, and explaining animals and humans. That chasm, as far as I know, is as un-crossable today as it was 100 years ago, when quantum mechanics was originally formulated.

But all of this uncertainty...does it suggest the existence of God? No, I don't believe so. It suggests something big that we don't understand. But to put a friendly face on that uncertainty - that seems unnecessary.

Tom Foss said...

Personally, I don't think most religionists would think that calling a particle "god" is particulrly an effort to prove or disprove religion; I think they'd see it as blasphemy.

What it comes down to, I think, is the tendency of physicists to like bombastic names for scientific principles. While searching for the "god particle," they're also trying to come up with a "theory of everything." I imagine it helps get grant money for large accelerators and whatnot.

And when it comes right down to it, you're right, it sells books. But I don't think anyone's using it to suggest that it proves or disproves the existence of god, just that it is vitally important to all of science. In a sense, it is omnipresent, and it certainly ties the standard model together. But calling it a "god particle" is no different from calling Eric Clapton a "guitar god." It's not suggesting that the existence of Eric Clapton proves that there is a god, or that there is a god of guitars, but that he is a very accomplished guitarist and a very influential musician. Similarly, the Higgs is a very influential and important particle, and the name "higgs boson" doesn't quite cover that.

Buford Twain said...

Tom, your comments are very insightful, thanks for visiting. For some reason the terminology "God particle" just gets my goat... Theory of everything is another one. Until a physical "theory of everything" can explain why if human A farts, human B laughs, I am not buying it.

An Anonymous Coward said...

Not to mention the misconceptions that calling something a "theory of everything" causes.

I remember about ten years ago seeing a newspaper article about the search for the "theory of everything" that...well, really took the phrase at face value, to preposterous extremes. "If this theory is developed," the article said, for example, "students will no longer have to memorize great numbers of different equations. Just one simple equation can be used to solve any problem." (That's not a word-for-word quote--like I said, it was about ten years ago, and I don't remember it verbatim--but it's as close as I can recall; yes, it really was that ludicrous.) There was no evidence that the reporter was joking or intentionally exaggerating--apparently that's really what he thought having a "theory of everything" would mean!...

Buford Twain said...

Yes when they come up with the theory of everything ("TOE") it will be great, we can just plug numbers into the equations and figure out what is going to happen tomorrow. Awesome.