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Don’t know much about… physics. July 5, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Our friend Ben must have slept through physics class. No, wait, though I had endless biology and biochemistry classes, I don’t think I actually took any physics classes. Maybe that’s why all the hype about the finding of the Higgs boson and the physics-related information released in the past two days blew me away.

Not that I’d been unaware of the frantic search by physicists worldwide to prove the existence of the so-called “God particle,” the Higgs boson, that explained the existence of matter after the Big Bang, creating stars, planets, and every form of life.

(But, excuse me, what about the existence of the matter that apparently existed before the Big Bang, that allowed the Big Bang to happen?! Without matter to blow up, how could there have been a Big Bang in the first place? And surely afterwards, there would have been some sort of realignment. But hey, I’m no Albert Einstein… or, say, Sir Peter Higgs.)

Anyway, I found out a lot about the state of modern physics through the barrage of data that followed CERN’s announcement that it had found a Higgs-like particle after smashing atoms together in its Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. For one thing, I’d heard of the Higgs boson for years. There was even a Dilbert cartoon a while back where someone in Dilbert’s office was bragging about her kid getting into Harvard, and a rival braggart announced something to the effect that his six-year-old had discovered the Higgs boson while brushing her teeth. But I had no idea that there were other bosons, and that photons were bosons.

Bosons, according to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, are “particles that transmit forces.” Photons transmit light. The Higgs boson transmits mass, enabling objects to exist. And it arises in the Higgs field, which one physicist compared to molasses, catching particles as they passed through, slowing them down, and adding mass to them.

Sir Peter Higgs, 83, who proposed the idea of the Higgs field and Higgs boson back in 1964, was able to attend the CERN reveal of its findings, rightfully earning loud applause. He modestly pointed out that this was simply another gateway to further discoveries about things like dark matter and dark energy, which create the yin to matter and energy’s yang (or is that vice-versa?!).

But finding proof of the Higgs boson’s existence puts the final piece in place in physics’ “Standard Model,” which explains the origins of everything, how matter arose, and thus how we arose. That’s why they call it the “God particle.” Sir Peter shed a tear when the discovery was announced.

Meanwhile, in the book review section of the same issue, a book called Darwin’s Ghosts was reviewed. This enlightened our friend Ben in a different way. If you, like me, wondered where the folks who oppose the Darwinian concept of evolution came up with the phrase “intelligent design,” here is the answer: An early nineteenth-century British scientist, William Paley,  compared the physical world to a watch, saying that both were far too complex to be anything but the work of an intelligent designer, in the former case, God.

Our friend Ben has never understood why this is considered an either/or proposition. Why couldn’t there be a Creator and evolution? The Bible says God created the world in six days. But it gets the order of creation exactly right, from a scientific viewpoint. And who would dare to say that one of God’s days was equivalent to one of ours? Every living thing has its own timetable. The mayfly lives only a day of our time, but perhaps it’s a century of its time. Just bear in mind how slowly time passed when you were a small child, versus how quickly it rushes past now. Who are we to judge?!

Er. I’ve strayed a bit from the topic. Getting back on track, I’m fascinated by all this physics trivia I didn’t know. And I’m so pleased that Sir Peter lived to see his boson found, something he’s said he never expected in his lifetime. And I’m so grateful to every scientist from Aristotle to the present for trying to figure out how our world and our universe and we and all life function. It’s this spirit of inquiry and discovery that defines us. Now, if someone could just tell me what existed before the Big Bang…


1. narf77 - July 8, 2012

I think it was chicken soup…or was that egg drop soup…sigh…


2. silver price - July 17, 2012

meaning that a higher than expected number of particle patterns compatible with the decay of a Higgs boson were detected in this energy range. The data was insufficient to show whether or not these excesses were due to background fluctuations (i.e. random chance or other causes), and its statistical significance was not large enough to draw conclusions yet or even formally to count as an “observation”, but the fact that two independent experiments had both shown excesses at around the same mass led to considerable excitement in the particle physics community.

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