Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Thank Higgs

The news has left me breathless with excitement. They’ve found the God Particle!

          All those centuries of fussing about with theology, when all they needed to do was build a 25-kilometre tunnel 100 metres under a Swiss mountain, spend 9 billion dollars, and scare the bejesus out of all those Chicken Littles who thought black holes would gobble up the world. Undeterred, they kept bravely firing electrons at each other down the Large Hadron Collider until—voila!—the dream of physics was realised.
          The Standard Model rules OK.

          In case you don’t know a lot about the Higgs Boson, a word of elucidation might be useful. It is not to be confused with a species of large grazing animal. That is a bison. Etymologically, the word is not related to Bozo, who was a famous clown. Nor does it refer to the Bozo, a fishing people of the central Niger Delta in Mali. Why wonder, when you can ask Wikipedia: "In particle physics, bosons are one of the two fundamental classes of subatomic particles, the other being fermions. Bosons are characterized by their obedience to Bose–Einstein statistics”.
          The Higgs Boson, proposed in the 1960s by a physicist of that name (Prof. Higgs, not Prof. Boson) is one of six types of these obedient little particles. Finding it moved things from theory to fact. With it, the current view of the Universe and all that is thought to be proven. Not only that—because bosons are what is called “force carriers”, you have a handy way of explaining why there’s any stuff in the Universe at all.  You might as well just call it God.

          I’m as delighted as the news entitles me to be.  My only quibble is with that use of the word “why”. Bless them, the physicists may have confused what Aristotle called “efficient cause”, meaning the direct agent that brings about an event, with “ultimate cause”, which is about the purpose and meaning of an event. In other words, “how”, not “why”.
          So maybe the theologians won’t be in the unemployment queue quite yet, after all.

          Thank Higgs for that.


  1. "Bosons are characterized by their obedience to Bose–Einstein statistics”. Fermions, presumably, are disobedient. Why do I think of them as female, and Bosons as male?

    I like your discussion of causes, Art. I got there by thinking: physicist have found the Boson, but what we want is the Captain...

  2. Can we now to expect a Higgs religion? We could contemplate the particles that hold us and the universe together! What IF that by now REALLY knowing these particles exsist we can then influence them? We might soon be able to walk through walls like comic book's The Flash... or on water.

    I'm up for it.

    1. See you in Alpha Centauri-- just as soon as I finish this donut.

  3. Your Sunday job might be in danger after all - see http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/finding-the-moral-molecule-20120716-225t0.html .

    By the way, I'm always confused about the way they keep saying they've found THE Higgs boson. Is there only one of them? If so, at least that would save pedants like me from worrying about whether two of them are bosons or bosa.