Well, this is a surprise, probably to me more than anyone else. I’m going to muster up a few words on the subject of physics. As a senior in high school, I grudgingly took physics because my father believed that “physics is important for life,” or something to that effect. Given the lack of diligence with which I pursued the course, I’m not sure that his opinion has much merit, but I do find the subject fascinating now.

Higgs boson cartoon

“Well, either we’ve found the Higgs boson, or Fred’s just put the kettle on.”

This morning, while savoring my cup of coffee, I read an interesting article in The New York Times on the race to prove the existence of the Higgs boson particle, also known rather dramatically as the “God particle,” since it is theorized to endow elementary particles with mass. I’m most interested not in the physics of this concept (sorry Dad), but the meaning ascribed to the natural world by humans. As stated in the article, definitive proof of the existence of such a particle would confirm something called the Standard Model of physics and open the door to new questions about the make-up of the universe, such as why it is filled with matter and not anti-matter. Here I began to wonder about my own assumptions and limitations as a thinker. For when faced with the dichotomy of matter and anti-matter I immediately made a mental leap to good and evil, and then wondered why I made such a leap. Is this the logical order of things? (I think not.) Have I ascribed this organizational model to something I do not understand simply because it is the only way I can make sense of it? (A more likely answer.) Or, did I jump to the polar opposites of good and evil because I knew that the Higgs boson particle is also referred to as the God particle? (Also a likely factor.) Maintaining a basic awareness of these very human limitations is paramount to understanding anything. That the Higgs boson particle, should its existence be proved or not, is also known as the “God particle” says as much about our understanding of the universe as the particle itself. We can only define what we see by what we already know. Unfortunately what we know is frequently riddled with contradictions or flat out wrong. How much is the current excitement centered around one little particle due to the fact that we have ascribed monumental meaning to its existence? How are our current assumptions about the universe influenced by our own existing models (organizational strategies)? Like I said, awareness is paramount.

Higgs boson cartoon from Fusion: The Open University Physics Society newsletter, published online in 2001.