Image Source: Spaceports.
Freedom. Today, one of the world's most powerful nations celebrates freedom and independence. It is no coincidence that the scientists at CERN in Switzerland chose today to announce the discovery of the Higgs boson particle, the so-called 'God particle,' in the Large Hadron Collider. The press conference (here and here) started live at 2 a.m EST.
In the United States, Fermilab's Tevatron collider was closed on 30 September 2011, after scant funding from the Obama administration. This is ironic, since the Tevatron lies outside Chicago. Although the Tevatron's discoveries contributed greatly to the understanding of particle physics, credit for finding the final part of the Standard Model goes to Europe. In the strain of competition, Tevatron's scientists announced more of their final results on 2 July 2012 (see reports here and here). They did not find the Higgs boson particle, but they got closer to it. American physicists will rejoice at this discovery in the name of their science. But in the name of their country, this is a disappointment for big American physics. It is therefore all the more ironic that CERN is announcing findings on 4 July. You can see popularly-renowned American physicist Brian Greene discuss the importance of this discovery and the post-Higgs world here (Hat tip: Spaceports).
Image Source: Wired.
For years, the Higgs particle has been a maddening hypothesis essential to proving the Standard Model. Today's experimental results placed the Higgs boson right on the line between the theoretical and the real. You can see a video of a 2011 CERN ATLAS proton collision here; ATLAS is one of two teams at CERN which have searched for independent confirmation of the Higgs particle. The other is CMS.
In the past week, the elusive particle's experimental confirmation was surrounded by blogging, rumours and leaks. BBC comments on how huge this discovery is:
Perhaps today's announcement is bigger than the moon landing. The Higgs particle delves into the fascinating mystery of the Big Bang. The particle emerged out of the imagination and mathematics, has entered confirmed reality, and now invites more abstractions. The discovery paves the way for another hypothesis, in effect opens the Pandora's Box of Supersymmetry (see here).A confirmation would be one of the biggest scientific discoveries of the century; the hunt for the Higgs has been compared by some physicists to the Apollo programme that reached the Moon in the 1960s.
The particle accelerator at CERN. Image Source: Daily Mail.
And if the wildest promises of that Pandora's Box are true, this particle will open doors to new human pathways to understanding - a freedom and independence, if you will, from ignorance about the universe. The Standard Model might be resolved using Supersymmetry to conclude a Theory of Everything, a theory which eluded Albert Einstein.
Supersymmetry gives every last element of reality - from the tiniest sub-particle to the universe itself - a shadowy twin, a Doppelgänger. If the Higgs particle's discovery one day confirms this incredible hypothesis, it will serve as history's greatest metaphorical mirror. Supersymmetry could initiate a new era in human history, in which we can contemplate other dimensions, multiverses, and time travel as realities, not as mere speculations in science fiction.
But it just so happens that Doppelgänger and twin aspects giving way to triple worlds are extremely popular at the turn of the Millennium. In other words, scientific discoveries shape culture as much as they grow out of culture.
Aerial view drawn to show the underground path of the Large Hadron Collider beneath the French-Swiss border. Image Source: Daily Mail.
The problems of Dark Matter and of cheap limitless energy may be answered here, and initiate unprecedented global growth. The God Particle brings humankind to the onset of a new age, and allows us to glimpse a broader reality in which our modes of life, philosophy and spirituality will be revolutionized.
CERN news conference auditorium just before the announcement was broadcast (4 July 2012). Image Source: Alejandro Gomez.
And that is the tricky bit. Once a genie is out of its bottle, it can be difficult to anticipate and control. One of the big themes of the new Millennium is the overlap of science and the arts and humanities, whether intended or not, whether real or imagined. Physicists really dislike the popular name the 'God particle.'
Image Source: Discover Magazine.
The particle's popular nickname may be portentous. The Higgs particle could confirm physicists' wildest theories. Radical Shift warns that huge scientific discoveries are easily mobilized in the name of completely unrelated ideas and situations; that blogger points to the troubling correlation between incredible 2003 sequencing of the human genome and the misapplication of consequent attitudes to financial practices. Understanding how and why scientific discoveries are taken out of their confined fields and are mobilized in other contexts - sometimes with dangerous economic or damaging political or social effects - is the province of the humanities, not the sciences.
At precisely the point at which they seem furthest from each other, science and religion may converge, giving birth to completely new world faiths. Will people worship fanciful versions of scientific discoveries, or replace economists and politicians with scientific oligarchs? Will advanced science become mythology? Something like this happened to Darwin's Theory of Evolution when it fell in the hands of Social Darwinists. The possibility that a great expansion of a secular high tech civilization could ultimately give rise to new gods is as fascinating as it is unsettling. However, scientific and technological advances do inspire explosions in culture, as is evident with the birth of the World Wide Web. Today's press conference revealed this contrast between two paths and two worlds. The highly technical and scientific announcement was followed minute by minute online by millions of people who could not understand it. Nonetheless, they knew it was important; they knew that history had been made - and that history had suddenly changed.
See all my posts on the Large Hadron Collider.
See all my posts on Dark Matter.
Click to see my posts on Quantum Physics.