the higgs boson – it’s not the God particle – but it is pretty cool

An illustration of inside the Hadron Collider. Where this kind of science happens.

So now I’m going to take a chance, and try to explain a little about something that just happened in particle physics. Some of you understand physics way better than I do, so please offer corrections in the comments if I get something wrong.

On July 4, 2012, scientists announced the discovery of a sub-atomic particle which appears to be similar to what the Higgs Boson was expected to be.

The Higgs Boson was a particle that had been proposed, but never found. Scientists thought it might exist because it was just the thing they needed to tie all the divergent theories of sub-atomic particle physics together.  The big picture theory of these little tiny things is called The Standard Model.  Without the Higgs Boson The Standard Model was just a bunch of sub-theories that all looked good, but didn’t work together.

If the theories didn’t work together, there had to be something fundamentally wrong with The Standard Model.

So finding the Higgs Boson meant that the prevailing theory for the composition of the universe on a very, very small scale is probably at least on the right track.

This idea that the Higgs Boson was the thing that made everything work together was the reason some people started calling it the God particle. I don’t like this name, nor do the scientists, because it’s really nothing more than a simple-minded sound byte that someone seized upon to sell magazines. This particle is not about the feeling/understanding of God that some of us walk around with.  And people saying how the discovery of this particle in some way disproves God, or makes the experience of Her unnecessary, are in so far over their heads that they don’t even know they’re drowning.  But the discovery of this particle can inform our spiritual understanding, in the same way any scientific discovery does, if we are open minded enough to let it in.

So now the question is why the existence of the Higgs Boson should even matter to you.

The discovery of the Higgs Boson isn’t going to change anything for you right now. Unless you are friends with a particle physicist, and in that case you should probably send a card or at least post something congratulatory on their facebook page.

All it really means right now is that physicists are on the right track in their quest to figure everything out about sub-atomic particles, how the universe was created, and what is actually real (and I mean the REAL that exists independently of our sensory filters).  Please don’t think that figuring things out is a waste of time and money. Figuring things out changes lives enormously over the long run. Think of radios, antibiotics and the power of splitting the atom. It would be fair to expect that this discovery, even if it proves to be something “like” the Higgs Boson but not the expected particle itself, would have a similarly far-reaching effect on our society and culture.

You might enjoy the following links if you want to read more:

The best video on the subject.  Theoretical physicist Garrett Lisi explains the discovery of the Higgs Boson.

National Geographic Daily News story on the Higgs Boson. A good summary.

Another scientist discusses the discovery.  Isabel Trigger, research scientist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Victoria.

LA Times has the best cartoon on the subject.

Amusing post on The Guardian. How to explain Higgs boson discovery.

Interesting mystical exploration from OmtamilHiggs Boson particle (God particle) in Tamil Saiva Siddhantham

The Elusive Particle: 5 Implications of Finding the Higgs Boson. Yes, it’s a Fox News article.   I just wanted you to know that I will open Fox News in my browser, sometimes.

The Standard Model does not explain gravity, so this really has nothing to do with the Higgs Boson, but I’ve gotta pass along this link from Live Science.  6 Weird Facts about Gravity.

 

 

3 Responses to “the higgs boson – it’s not the God particle – but it is pretty cool”

  1. Jeanne Hanson says on :

    Thanks for this “plain English” piece on a fascinating new step in physics.

  2. Casey says on :

    I appreciate this…I tried reading an article about it and got completely lost (NOT)an area of expertise for me).

    I especially appreciate the recommendation to send a card to friends who are particle physicists!

  3. Colleen Kelly says on :

    Maybe even someday – Unified Theory! YAY!

    Good explaination and understanding. First time I have seen or read your blog … think I will subscribe.

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