Monday, March 9, 2009

The God Particle-Let There Be Hubris

"We live - as Madonna reminds us - in a material world. What then, we might ask, is the material of the material world made out of?"
Paraphrasing a line from noted metaphysician and quantum cosmologist, Madonna Ciccone , Christopher Potter takes a whimsical and unserious tact in reporting the progress physicists have made in their search for the so-called “God particle.” Notwithstanding the release of his new book on the subject, Mr. Potter seems particularly excited about the Nobel prizes expected to result from the scientific quest to confirm the standard quantum model of the universe. The fact that the Nobel prize has become a politically correct reward for adherence to a leftist political and quack scientific agenda (see Al Gore-he’s hard to miss) hasn’t dampened Mr. Potter’s enthusiasm for Nobellian accolades or cash.
The author’s conclusions unfortunately hinge upon a number of assumptions to which all readers are not ready to concede. Particularly not this reader.
The God Particle is the colloquial term used to describe the Higgs Boson: In particle physics, the Higgs boson is a massive scalar elementary particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model.
The Higgs boson is the only Standard Model particle that has not yet been observed. Experimental detection of the Higgs boson would help explain how massless elementary particles can have mass. More specifically, the Higgs boson would explain the difference between the massless photon, which mediates electromagnetism, and the massive W and Z bosons, which mediate the weak force. If the Higgs boson exists, it is an integral and pervasive component of the material world. (my italics)

Now if is a mighty big word: if the queen had balls,for instance, she would be king. Non-materialists would likely posit a different theoretical construct as the source of mediated electromagnetism and the weak force and everything else for that matter: for instance, God.
Thus, the vernacular description of the Higgs boson as the God particle. The term originated in Nobel-prize winning particle physicist Leon Lederman’s book: The God Particle: If the Universe is the answer, What is the Question?
Returning to Mr. Potter’s update on the state of the quest for this posited particle, we find the New York Post’s presumptuous headline:
The article reviews the race to discover this elusive boson between two teams of quantum physicists using particle accelerators: the Tevraton in Illinois and the much larger machine known as the Large Hadron Collider located in Geneva.
Pardon my skepticism, but teams of 99th percentile Thomas Dolbys smashing neutrinos into quarks in a glorified Jimmy Neutron particle bowling alley just doesn’t seem likely to yield much useful information about the origin of the universe! Most cultures have texts which are considered sacred and provide equally feasible alternative ideas about the origin.
While the Big-bang theory seems plausible enough once a considerable string of assumptions are conceded, it is still a theoretical construct. Mr. Potter appears to be afflicted like the other Dolbys-“She Blinded Me with Science!”
Like so many other rational thinkers and materialists, Potter has unwittingly made what Soren Kierkegaard calls the Leap of Faith:
Kierkegaard's point is that no matter how rigorous your logical system, there will always be gaps. As these gaps are logical gaps, it is futile to try and bridge them. Instead, they can only be breached by a leap of faith. What characterizes a leap of faith is the absolute uncertainty that underlies it. Faith is by definition that which cannot be proven or disproved.

The rationalist’s faith in the scientific method, and the power of human intellect, allows him to bridge gaps that more spiritually inclined thinkers might consider unbridgeable. The concept of a “God particle” reveals one such gap.
From a more spiritual perspective, one might make the leap to believe that all particles are God particles. From this same perspective, the idea that we are material beings might seem less conceivable than the idea that we are spiritual beings, temporarily enjoying a material experience. One need not have a creationist bent to be satisfied with the idea that the miracle of our existence and the splendor of this amazing universe might just be beyond explication via the human intellect. Explaining the origin of the universe by parsing the results of particle collisions with human consciousness is akin to measuring the radiation emitted from distant black holes with a ruler: the tool is simply not up to the job.
So when Christopher Potter makes a declarative statement such as: “The story of the universe begins with a Big Bang - a very hot and dense spot of radiation of almost no size that expands rapidly,”
His leap of faith has already been extended. How about starting that sentence with a qualifier, like: “Scientists believe” or “Quantum mechanics suggest?” In the same paragraph Potter goes on to inform us that the initial creation of matter suggested by the BB theory
“ has evolved into all the structures of matter we find in the universe, including observers like ourselves who tell this story.”
So not only is the Big Bang Theory established fact according to Potter, but the fact of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is assumed as easily as NBA players assume Muslim names. I would like to hear Mr. Potter debate Ann Coulter about that:
“This beady-eyed fly-torturer (Darwin) gave us a conclusionary theory that has become a crucial part of how we are programmed to think in nonspiritual terms.”
Evolution, Alchemy, and other “Settled” Scientific Theories, page 106 from If Democrats had any Brains, They’d be Republicans, Ann Coulter
Although Potter’s article is lively and interesting, it remains replete with similar assumptions that suggest that modern science has nearly all the answers and that we are running out of questions:
Particle accelerators recreate the conditions of the universe as it was close to the Big Bang.
Is this according to eye-witness accounts?
The Higgs boson tells us how light became stuff.
And then God said “Let there be Stuff.” But here is Potter’s clincher:
The story of science as we understand it today can now trace our descent - and the descent of all things - back to the origins of the universe. Surely that makes science the greatest story ever told.
It seems unlikely Potter selected this turn of phrase in a vacuum. I seem to recall a 1965 movie of the same name that was about Jesus of Nazareth.
I just don’t recall the men in lab coats with pocket protectors.
I am not carrying a brief for the creationists here, just the need to admit the assumptions that underlie our various leaps of faith. I believe Ken Wilber, in A Brief History of Everything, gets it right:
“Calculations done by scientists from Fred Hoyle to F.B. Salisbury consistently show that twelve billion years isn’t even enough to produce a single enzyme by chance. In other words, something other than chance is pushing the universe…..chance is what the universe is laboring mightily to overcome…. Creativity, not chance, builds a universe. But it does not follow that you can then equate creativity with your own favorite and particular God…..I prefer “Emptiness” as a term for Spirit because it means unbounded or unquantifiable.”
“The Pattern that Connects” page 25, from A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilber
Nothing like 12 billion year-long, nearly infinite parade of “light and stuff” to provide a sense of our small and simple place in this universe. Unless you are one of the Potterish guys who’s got it all figured out.

1 comment:

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