So after the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson, you may be wondering just what is up with the so-called "God particle." There are a few things this little speck may reveal about the nature of our existence and a few it won´t.
What the discovery of the particle is supposed to reveal is existence of an invisible energy field that switched on a trillionth of a second after the big bang and provided the resistance that kept some bits of matter from moving around as freely as others, in other words giving mass to matter (whereas photons rocket through this invisible field at 186,000 miles a second, like a husband who barely notices your new hairdo). So you can see that this illumination of discovering the Higgs boson raises more questions than it answered, if in fact we really found it.
It is unlikely that peeling off one more layer into the inner workings of matter will take us to any satisfactory end. Because once we find the Higgs boson that in theory gives us mass--which allows different shapes to exist and differentiate, and keeps us from flying off into space at the speed of light--we will then just have to take the next step and ask, OK what´s the Higgs boson made of?
Here´s one more question for you, that this particle revealing the existence of this invisible energy field doesn´t answer, for example: why do we need a Higgs boson to keep us from racing off forever like photons unleashed from Alpha Centauri? What exactly is it that would make us do that, if the boson didn´t prevent it? In fact, what makes light itself tear out like that. Last time I got up early and turned on a light bulb, I did not see a battery pack, a jet engine, or even a propeller on the light that helped me find the coffee maker. What is the power source or propulsion that makes it go on like that without ever stopping (unless a black hole grabs it--but that is another explanation for another day), and does it explain why women remember every single little thing forever.
And what was all that light--or whatever it was made from--doing hanging around before the big bang created matter?
The Greek theory of matter being made up of indivisble units called atoms, refined by Democritus in about 400 B.C., is elegant in that atoms explain matter as best we can perceive it in our everyday reality. That is because it is the smallest unit at which matter exists in which we can perceive the substance it represents. An element composed of a single type of atom is recognizable to our perception as iron, as you know if you have ever been hit over the head with a skillet. It also explains the copper that is so popular to steal from air conditioners these days, so it is a good thing matter is not made up of flatscreen TVs or else our existence really would be endangered.
We have long since discovered though that even atoms are not the smallest units of matter, that they in turn are composed of electrons, protons, neutrons, etc, but once matter is broken down further than that atomic level we can´t recognize it with our eyes any more or hold it in our hand like gold or silver. Neutrons are not that likely to make us greedy.
Though we can´t see or hold them, we have learned to get along with electrons, and in fact every electrical appliance and the computations of your computer depend on them completely. But when it comes to other subatomic particles, it´s another story. We can´t very well recognize what they represent and breaking down the atom is rather messy. We depart from the elegant theory of atoms. One atom makes oxygen. We can live with that. One atom makes carbon. We know what that is. We don´t even mind that they can combine to make a compound substance like carbon dioxide. Plants don´t mind it either.
And we can cope with those atoms being made of different numbers of electrons, protons, and neutrons--it explains their difference reflected in their respective properties. But go past that and it is a wacky universe of quarks, for example. And we can´t just have quarks--we have to have up quarks and down quarks, tau, charm, and many more to explain the behavior of our otherwise respectable atoms. It is not simple and elegant any more as in the Greek days of yore.
And now we have to go to particles more obscure than that to find the nature of our existence? Even further, we spend $10 billion on an experiment that requires the building of a tunnel 27 miles around and 100 meters under the ground in Switzerland (to avoid interference from more random particles and radiation flying around from just anywhere, even outer space), and still we can´t really observe the Higgs boson. All we can do is analyze data picked up from sending protons racing around at near the speed of light in the Large Hadron Collider--yes it is just a demolition derby and we can´t even see it on Saturday afternoon TV (and we already know from quantum physics that these little devils of subatomic particles can be pretty quirky--in fact they can be in two places at once!).
So we collect a lot of data to see if it is consistent with this little boson being there. It is hard to see how that is ever going to make it easier to get along with others or get ahead at the office, much less explain the existence of God or not.
But here is where the God part does come in. The Large Hadron Collider is conceived to replicate the conditions believed to exist at the infinitesimal moment after the big bang, at the creation in other words. So it is supposed to show not only how things are but how they got started.
And though that boson is elusive by itself, so we cannot see it or hold it, but just collect data on it (so it is hard to see how we will ever harness it to power a lawnmower or make a bomb out of it), it does get to something we can perceive. It does give mass to matter, and thus it does reflect recognizable properties of the world we live in daily, some of us more than others according to the obesity statistics. Now if we can change weight, one of the properties of mass, we can commercialize that little boson.
And it is good to be able to detect what gives mass to matter, since 96 percent of the matter in the universe is invisible to our senses, according to the theories the scientists in Switzerland are trying to prove. Well, it will all be worth it if dark energy and dark matter can explain your moods and help me know when it is better just to leave the room.
And it is not just perplexing that we can´t really detect this boson either, but only look at numbers on a printout that reflect it (very much like the shadows in Plato´s cave that revealed the nature of reality--damn, those Greeks were smart!). This is just one of the little particles theorized out there that we are trying to find on a spreadsheet. The Higgs boson gives mass. The gravitron is the particle that must be there to explain why our mass subjects us to gravity-and why gravity even pulls on light, that otherwise flies around uninconvenienced by mass.
But the speed of light is not infinite according to our measurements, so something limits it if the true nature of things is to move as fast as possible. What?
Well Einstein is the start of all this mess, since he came up with another elegant theory, that did not depend on a bunch of upside down or sideways varieties, that mass and energy are equivalent and transferable. And the speed of light (the c in E = mc2) is at the heart of it.
And I will quit with one parting note, that Einstein´s observation came from the theorized existence of another invisible field being disproved. That one was called the "ether." It too was supposed to pervade space, and all light and matter moved through its medium (well something had to explain how objects could affect each other and relate through "empty space"). Michelson and Morley in 1898 set up an experiment to show that the speed of light through the ether in different directions would change according to the movement of the earth.
You only think the earth is standing still while you are waiting for time to get off work. It is actually moving along at 20 miles a second through outer space, and what got it going that fast is the big bang we are looking for at Happy Hour. Well M and M thought that relative to the fixed point of the ether, the only thing steady while everything else is running around like a chicken with its head cut off, you should have to add the speed of the earth to the speed of light in one direction and subtract it in the other.
But the results of the experiment came back all wrong. The speed of light is the same in every direction. It does not matter if the light is emitted from a moving object. It is like those people who jump out of cars at 100 mph in action movies and never seem to hit the ground going that fast--they just do a little roll and dust themselves off. By the same token, you can´t make your headlight beams go faster than the speed of light by mashing the accelerator. But you must have observed, maybe when you hit the wall during the 10k, that while light may go its merry way, something is definitely slowing us down. Thus the Higgs boson. Hey, it explains more than you thought. It may get to be popular, after all.