The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Unless you haven’t listened to the news, opened a newspaper, or surfed the web in the past week, you probably heard that there was an astonishing new scientific development when scientists confirmed the existence of something called the Higgs boson. What the heck is the Higgs Boson?, you might ask. I asked the same very thing when my husband told me the news last week. Intrigued by the hullabaloo surrounding the discovery, I set out to learn more about this thing called the Higgs boson and the implications of its discovery.
After some cursory research, most of which caused my eyes to glaze over, I learned that the Higgs bosom is basically a mass-less subatomic particle that connects all particles to give them mass. Huh?
Everything in the universe is composed of atoms that are made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons, which are further composed of quarks and other subatomic particles. Until now, scientists have been stumped about how these subatomic particles acquire mass, for without mass there would be nothing to hold the particles together. About 50 years ago, Peter Higgs and other top scientists proposed a theory that a yet-to-be-discovered particle must be holding the quarks, protons, neutrons, electrons, and other subatomic particles together.
Until now, the theory of the Higgs boson as a mass-less adhesive force remained just that – a theory. In other words, before the discovery of the Higgs boson, scientists were unable to explain why anything – atoms, molecules, cells, and basically anything in the universe – has mass. With its detection, however, the door to a plethora of physics theories, equations, and fundamentals has been opened.
The media has latched on to its nickname as the “God particle,” but scientists are quick to point out that this trendy moniker holds no real significance. In fact, the Nobel Laureate who is credited with introducing the “God particle,” admitted that he originally referred to the Higgs boson as the “goddamn particle” due to its elusiveness.
The existence of subatomic particles, let alone mass-less subatomic particles, is something that my mind has considerable difficulties grasping. In fact, I still don’t fully understand the Higgs boson or its scientific implications. My mind just cannot grasp the miniscule nature of its existence, its mass-less nature, or the profoundly technical methods scientists used to discover it.
As you might expect, a discovery of this magnitude is not without controversy. In fact, some scientists question the discovery of the Higgs bosom and, instead, suspect that a mix of particles that may include the Higgs boson in different forms – “a generic Higgs doublet or triplet imposter” – was actually discovered. Religious groups are using the discovery of the “God particle,” or a mass-less energy force that ties the universe together, as support for the existence of God. Atheists, on the other hand, argue that the discovery supports a conclusion that the universe was created solely as a result of scientific principles at work, and not by God.
Now I don’t know whether the discovery “God particle” does much to prove or disprove the existence of God. What I do know, however, is that the existence of the Higgs boson is something that until recently had eluded even the most renowned scientific minds. Moreover, much of what we now know about the nature of the universe has eluded us for much of humanity’s existence simply because we lacked the technology or the intelligence or “the eye” to see it. Until half a century ago, we had lacked the technology to explore the moon and now astronauts regularly visit the moon and the Hubble Space Telescope is able to see galaxies that are several light years away.
Truth be told, there is much that lies beyond what our eyes can see and there always will be. Just think of the possibilities that we can’t “see” right now – other galaxies, other universes, or maybe even other mass-less energy fields similar to the Higgs boson. Does the fact that we can’t yet “see” them mean that they don’t exist? Our universe (and any others?) is full of existences and actualities that are, as yet, undetected. And isn’t there something wondrous, magical, and – dare I say – divine in the mystery of the unknowns lurking within and among us?