An atom is hard enough to find if you drop one. Imagine how much tougher to pick a Higgs Boson out of your deep-pile carpet. But, according to the gang over at CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research), it’s down there in the shag, with the Quarks, the Leptons, the Gluons and all the other denizens of the micro world.
Very very small, but very very vital. The Higgs Boson, so they say, gives matter its mass. Without it, we’d be all Energizer and no Bunny. The particle is named after physicist Peter Higgs (above, left), who theorized its existence. It got its nickname, The God Particle, from fellow physicist Leon Lederman, who joked that it might as well have been called The Goddam Particle for its villainously elusive nature and the cost of searching for it.
And the God Particle said, Let there be Proton and Electron; Hill and Valley; Rock and Tree; Gin and Tonic.
I like the idea of the God Particle. Something infinitesimally small and unimaginably vast. Modest and secretive, it doesn’t declare itself on mountain tops, in lightning bolts, or in mangers. It challenges human will and ingenuity to winkle it out, and, even then, declares itself only by inference drawn from fleeting tracks and arcane equations.
The possibility that this particle may bring us closer to an understanding of what “stuff” is made of, where it comes from, and where it’s going seems to satisfy one of the basic principles of religious belief — that it start with uncertainty and awe.
But the God Particle doesn’t tell us what to believe. It is silent on what it all means, whether we should be naughty or nice, and what are the eternal consequences thereof. It does not mark the fall of a sparrow, but allows the sparrow to exist. It sets the basic rules, gives everything a gentle push, and, like a good referee, lets the players get on with it.
The Higgs Boson may be “totally awesome,” but it isn’t necessarily the final spiritual answer. After all, it’s legitimate to ask what gives this thing being or to query what it itself is made of (according to Bloomberg News, Higgs himself says this is the necessary next step), or to wonder, If a Higgs Boson’s gotta do what a Higgs Boson’s gotta do, doesn’t that mean it operates by some external set of laws or principles?
One particle won’t undo the major corporate faiths. They’ve got the bricks and mortar (thanks to the fact that matter has mass) and they’ve got the network to explain why there has to be a God behind the God Particle. As for me, I’ll stick with the Animists since, clearly, there really is a deity in each rock and tree and every gin and tonic.