Monday, July 09, 2012

The Higgs Boson, a very Secular, Scientific Particle

By Gary Berg-Cross
In the photo above a scientist looks at the pictures of the first collisions at full power at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN). The head of the world's biggest atom smasher is claiming discovery of a new particle that he says is consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson known popularly as the "God particle". AP Photo/Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi, File
If your were attending to the news in July you probably heard about strong evidence for the existence of the Higgs Boson. The Higgs was proposed as a particle to explain where mass comes from.
Other particles interact with the Higgs and depending on how large this interaction is the mass of other particles is determined. Mass is of course an intuitive physical concepts based on our experience, but understanding precisely why some particles have mass and some like photons don’t is anything but obvious. The previously elusive Higgs particle provides a field mechanism (the 'Higgs field') for the ubiquitous mass so is central to the physics of large and small things. These particles are what populate something known as the. According to the theory this Higgs field envelopes everything but Higgs bosons are attracted to certain things more so than others. The greater the attraction, the more mass the other thing has. One Associated Press explained the concept by analogy to walking in a snowfield. If you have skis you don’t feel much resistance, but shoes make the going heavy.
The Higgs discovery is scientifically important because it supports the idea that we're on the right track with the mathematical description of nature called he Standard Model of particles.
The Standard Model took the sub-atomic building blocks of the universe, and describes how they interact with each other through three of the four known forces.Which 3?
Those were the electromagnetic force, the strong and weak nuclear force. Left out of the model was the 4th - gravity.Peter Higgs found a way to include it.

Essentially the Standard Model is a periodic table for particles explaing the organizational family structure of categories like quarks, leptons, photons (evidence for the electromagnetic field) and boson. It does what a good scientific theory should – it provides deep insights into the nature. But somewhere along the way the Higgs got stamped the "God particle" which complicated the message of the Higgs. And as reported on NPR almost all particle physicists detest that name. After all The God Particle was the title of a popular book about it by Leon Lederman,. According to Victoria Martin, a former student of Higgs, Lederman originally wanted to call the elusive Higgs the Goddamn Particle, but the editors objected. Publishers long ago discovered that putting "God" in the title of science books helps sales. (You can read that version of the story on NPR when they covered the announcement of CERN's discovery.) The media loves this God-phrasing and has run with it, and that's sparked quite a bit of religious discussion about a very physical concept. 
So when there is a chance to celebrate the advancement of science and a natural explanation filling a gap of knowledge, we get a fractured conversation about God’s design of the universe. It’s another chapter in the old, old fight for understanding and the truth. Religion says you cant explain phenomena X like why is there mass.  God created it and anything more is beyond our understanding. But when we do explain in a natural way, there is always that next thing you can’t explain that can be co-opted into some evidence for a god concept. You can’t undermine an un-testable belief.

Sub Atomic Particle © Gary Varvel,The Indianapolis Star News,religion,god,particle,atomic,higgs bosonPhoto Credits

Picture above:

Dr. Higgs:

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