How the Higgs Boson Posits a New Story of our Creation

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The media-adopted name for the Higgs Boson, believed to be discovered this week, couldn’t be more misleading. Lawrence M. Krauss explains how the particle could finally dispense with the idea of a supernatural creator. Plus, cosmologist Sean Carroll on how the discovery will revolutionize physics.


There has been a lot of hoopla since the July 4 announcement by the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) that the two largest experiments at the Large Hadron Collider had uncovered evidence for a new elementary particle. The particle in question appears to be the Higgs particle, which scientists have been seeking for almost 50 years and is at the heart of our current best theory of nature. But the real excitement seems to stem from the fact that this long-sought discovery is frequently called, in colloquial circles, “the God particle.” This term appeared first in the unfortunate title of a book written by physicist Leon Lederman two decades ago, and while to my knowledge it was never used by any scientist (including Lederman) before or since, it has captured the media’s imagination.


Scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research jumped for joy at the possible discovery of an elementary particle. (Denis Balibouse / AFP-Getty Images)

What makes this term particularly unfortunate is that nothing could be further from the truth. Assuming the particle in question is indeed the Higgs, it validates an unprecedented revolution in our understanding of fundamental physics and brings science closer to dispensing with the need for any supernatural shenanigans all the way back to the beginning of the universe—and perhaps even before the beginning, if there was a before.

Written By: Lawrence M. Krauss
continue to source article at thedailybeast.com

47 COMMENTS

  1. But does “God Particle” bother you any more than planets named Jupiter or Mars? I have yet to meet anyone who actually thinks of the Higgs as proof of some supernatural being any more than they think of Budweiser as being really and truly the king of beers. It’s just a colloquialism, you know?

  2. “Assuming the particle in question is indeed the Higgs, it validates an unprecedented revolution in our understanding of fundamental physics and brings science closer to dispensing with the need for any supernatural shenanigans all the way back to the beginning of the universe—and perhaps even before the beginning, if there was a before.”

    Dispensing with the ‘supernatural’ being is all very well and good……but I have a serious problem with scientists using the term ‘explained’ or ‘understanding’ when the one thing scientists have not done is to ‘explain’ why things are the way they are….and not some other way. An empirical observation that something is so is not the same as a full explanation of why it is so. To me….’explained’ means something that rules out all other possible permutations the universe might have had and leaves only one possibility….what we actually observe….remaining. That has not been done.

  3. Could anybody verify and clarify a couple points? Am I right that, for experiments such as this, the goal is not to smash particles apart but rather to create massive amounts of energy which upon collision are transformed into matter?

    And it says here http://www.research.cornell.ed… that the energy contained in the particle accelerator while accelerating 100 trillion protons is roughly equal to a naval destroyer pushing forward at 30 knots. How concrete an analogy is that? Does that mean that there are two streams of protons moving towards each other with half that energy each? If one of those streams of protons were fired at a wall, would the collision be similar to that of a destroyer crashing into a wall at 15 knots?

    And if the mass of a proton is 1.67 x 10-27kg, and I’m rusty at math, a hundred trillion protons weigh about 1.67 x 10-13kg, right? Is that weight commensurate to anything I can understand as simply as boats?

    Thanks!

    (And incidentally, I’d also like to relearn how to post a link in the new comments page, though I’m less fascinated on that point.)

  4. Hi Misfire. One of my friends asked me that same question, but put it in terms of how many megatons of TNT is 125 gigaelectronvolts (GeV)? As it turns out, TNT energy per mass is an officially defined energy unit, and it is, exactly, 4.184 J/g. A GeV is approximately 160.2×10⁻¹² J (160 picojoules), so 125 GeV is 20.03×10⁻⁹ J (20 nanojoules) and that gives us 4.786 nanograms of TNT. So, I had to inform my friend that he did not even get a single megaton, or a single ton, or a single kilo, or a single gram, nor milligram nor microgram, but only about 5 nanograms. 

    Then, he wanted to know what that could blow up? Which put me at quite a loss. I went on to calculate how many molecules of TNT that was; I got 12.69×10¹² molecules, so about anything you could make out of about a hundred times that many molecules would do (or perhaps about half a microgram). I found that to be about the size of a grain of maze pollen. That was the answer I gave him, but he did not seem to like the idea that 125 GeV of TNT could go off in the lunch he just chomped down, and he would be none the wiser.

  5. The recent findings probably have no effect or is being celebrated as science VERIFYING certain deistic/New Age beliefs. I just read the comments by Abed Peerally and I assumed that his type of views would arise. While everyone is pointing and looking at those who think the world is 6K years old, there is a growing group of believers with a belief system that grows, changes and “evolves” right alongside any scientific finding.

    From the article, “…Higgs field validates the notion that seemingly empty space may contain the seeds of our existence”  Maybe this punches a massive hole in the talking snake version of evolution, but not in all religious/spiritual thought.

    Until people stop anthropomorphizing natural processes, the idea that ” brings science closer to dispensing with the need for any supernatural
    shenanigans all the way back to the beginning of the universe—and
    perhaps even before the beginning, if there was a before.” is very naive and overly optimistic view.

  6. At this pace of scientific discoveries, sooner than later the Lord of the Gaps – the assumption that gaps in scientific knowledge is regarded as an evidence of God’s existence – is going to be left with very few gaps and then, what will Creationists do? God created the Primal Particle? After so many centuries telling us that God created every single planet and star; every single animal and plant; rivers, lakes and seas; Man and Woman and so on; now He’s been demoted to creating a particle. I guess they’ll say that, as a particle can be easily created in 7 days, far easier than all the stuff mentioned before, that’s an evidence of God’s existence.

  7. So, Misfire, to get back to your original question about the 100 trillion protons, those go zooming around at very close to the speed of light and only very rarely get close enough to each other to interact in a “collision” producing other particles. If each pair could collide at 125 GeV (just for this example; it is well below top energy for the machine) then that would be 50 trillion pairs at 5 nanograms of TNT each for a total of 250 kg (1/4 ton) of TNT. That, you would notice blowing up (plenty of bombs that size fell on London in WW2), but is that the energy of a destroyer crashing into a wall at 15 knots? I don’t think so. If we pick a destroyer mass of a kiloton, 15 knots is about 7.7 m/s so the kinetic energy would be about 30 megajoules or 7 metric tons of TNT. Seems like a big difference.

    Now, the machine itself is using a great deal of power to keep those protons going that close to light speed. Beyond the kinetic energy, they have to overcome the losses in the track electromagnets, and the energy used to pump those down to close to absolute zero temperature. Then, as the protons are interacting with the magnets to get that curved path, photons are flying off as synchrotron radiation which costs yet more energy to overcome. Perhaps they calculated the destroyer energy based on the power the machine is pulling each second. Again, I don’t know about that.

  8. Hehe you have missed the sh*tstorm on Twitter I guess. A small sample:

    -the scientists found God atleast all the atheists will shut up once for all
    -I believe there were no atheists in the team that discovered the God particle.
    -Followers of Jezus have always known about the God particle.
    -Atheists are freaking out about the ‘God Particle’ – so scared we might use that to prove Gods existence
    -Scientists about to find the God particle, proof that God exists.

  9. “And if the mass of a proton is 1.67 x 10-27kg, and I’m rusty at math, a hundred trillion protons weigh about 1.67 x 10-13kg, right? Is that weight commensurate to anything I can understand as simply as boats?”

    Its about the weight of a single celled organism. An amazing thought…that a single cell contains 1000 times more atoms than there are stars in our galaxy.

  10. ‘atoms’ should read ‘protons’…….the actual number of atoms in a cell would be about 20 – 30 times smaller ( depending on what the average atomic weight of the elements in a cell is )

  11. “…many features of our universe, including our existence, may be
    accidental consequences of conditions associated with the universe’s
    birth; and second, that creating “stuff” from “no stuff” seems to be no
    problem at all—everything we see could have emerged as a purposeless
    quantum burp in space or perhaps a quantum burp of space itself. Humans,
    with their remarkable tools and their remarkable brains, may have just
    taken a giant step toward replacing metaphysical speculation with
    empirically verifiable knowledge”.

    I actually can’t agree with Krauss here. Describing the emergence of “stuff” from “no-stuff” as “accidental” and “purposeless” is itself a “metaphysical speculation” that goes beyond the strict facts. There’s no problem with that – it is, after all, a metaphysical speculation with which I agree – but we can’t confuse the metaphysical speculation itself with “empirically verifiable knowledge” heroically “replacing” metaphysical speculation!

  12. “… 
    brings science closer to dispensing with the need for any supernatural
    shenanigans all the way back to the beginning of the universe”…

    CLOSER to dispensing with the NEED? Like, we’re not there yet?

    Oops, Lawrence.

  13. I think Krauss needs to be careful not to take the evidence further than it can honestly take him. All that the discovery of the Higgs Boson has done is peel away one of potentially infinite layers of reality (or our reality, at least). I am excited by these discoveries in my lifetime, but in no way does it disprove God. Theists can simply ask, “Who created the Higgs?”

    What I find fascinating about the degree of media publicity that this discovery has garnered, especially in the religious circles, is the implicit admission by the pious that evidence does indeed matter. Theists do indeed seek verification of their God Hypothesis, even though most will obviously tell you that it is a matter of faith. They clearly crave scientific confirmation of their beliefs.

    Had this been a discovery of a protein which allows barnacles to bind with boat paint, there would be no mention of this in the pews. As soon as a scientific breakthrough comes which relates to the fringes of our scientific understanding, one of the last bastions of Gap Theology, we have the religious folks seizing the opportunity to reinterpret the evidence to once again claim, “God dunnit!”.

    I find this quite telling. I find it amusing and at the same time I find it quite sad. It tells me that the capacity to be rational is within them, but for various other reasons, they would prefer the comfort of the ramblings of a first century carpenter.

  14. It not as if people are calling in the Yahweh particle.
    To be honest, I hope the name Higgs doesn’t stick and eventually, once we no more about its properties, a more generic name is chosen.

  15. “At this pace of scientific discoveries, sooner than later the Lord of the Gaps – the assumption that gaps in scientific knowledge is regarded as an evidence of God’s existence – is going to be left with very few gaps and then, what will Creationists do? God created the Primal Particle? After so many centuries telling us that God created every single planet and star; every single animal and plant; rivers, lakes and seas; Man and Woman and so on; now He’s been demoted to creating a particle. I guess they’ll say that, as a particle can be easily created in 7 days, far easier than all the stuff mentioned before, that’s an evidence of God’s existence.”

    To the astute, the whole ‘gaps’ argument is nonsense. This is something a great many people simply don’t realise or consider. As I have argued for quite some time, the ‘God of the gaps’ argument is actually fallacious……and it is really not that hard to see why.

    There are two reasons….

    1) What would one expect the universe to look like if there WERE a god ? What would count as evidence FOR god ? Unless you can state what a universe WITH a god would look like……how can you possibly argue that any phenomenon is evidence against ? One has simply created a paradox in which anything and everything is evidence against god. By definition you won’t observe a ‘supernatural’ phenomenon….because by definition a supernatural phenomenon is not observable as it would immediately be labelled as natural if it was !

    2) One might equally as well argue that a universe with NO laws whatever was evidence of the absence of any god. After all…..no self-resepecting god would preside over a chaotic jumble without any laws. One then has the absurd paradox that a universe with laws would count as evidence against god…….whilst a universe with no laws at all would also count as evidence against god. That clearly demonstrates that there is actually a disconnect between laws and god.

    The whole ‘gaps’ argument arises from the faulty logic of trying to disprove a negative. It actually exists on a similar level to the fallacious ‘ you cant prove god doesnt exist’ of some believers. The only difference is that it requires a little more thought to demonstrate that the gaps argument is indeed fallacious.

    A far better argument is to dismiss god as simply not being a logical concept in the first place. Nobody talks about a ‘Russell’s Teapot of the gaps’ or a ‘Tooth Fairy of the gaps’ because it is immediately absurd to suggest such things created the universe. We thus don’t NEED to dismiss any god by finding gaps he doesn’t fill. A being that is logical nonsense in the first place doesn’t need empirical disproofs……..and in many ways it is doing logic a dis-service trying to use them.

  16. Our problem with the creationists is twofold:

    1. they are willing to believe any event so long at the word “God” is attached. I was quite amazed at how easily Christians discounted hundreds of impossibilities in the Noah story. They simply dismissed them with “With god, all things are possible.” (even if the workarounds were not mentioned in the bible). They think of the god Jehovah as like a cosmic script writer for Star Trek who can realise any idea without regard to practicalities or consistency.

    2. they imagine the entire universe, throughout all time and space and scale is constrained to behave the way their intuition thinks it does with their very dull understanding at their time, space and scale.

    It may be easier to crack them by showing them how mind-boggling the universe is on a day to day basis. Historically that it what has always made the notion of god take a step in retreat.

    It might also work to out-Christian them, by satirising them, while insisting you are sincere, making ever more silly and extravagant claims for the god Jehovah, challenging the to prove you wrong using the standard Christian debating tactics.

    It is really quite odd how Christians are willing to believe the wildest things about the acts of Jehovah the god, and are so skeptical about how amazing the universe is on a day to day basis if they would but look or read a text book.

    Creationism is almost like mathematical reasoning. You make up some postulates. Then you ask, if you presume the postulates are, what else follows.  It makes no sense to question the postulates. It does not matter if they are true, what counts is what must also be true if they are true.  

    A creationist postulates the bible is true, then reasons from that what else must be either true or false. This leads him to some extremely strange locutions, e.g. god manufacturing shells and hiding them in mountains to test faith. He forgets that the whole reasoning system is based on the huge presumption that the bible is the word of god and contains no faith-testing falsehoods. Like a mathematician, he refuses to even consider the question.

  17.  The problem with the idiotic person of “unshakable faith” is that they can use the “god is behind it” reasoning ad infinitum.
     When I was a child I remember how smart I thought I was just to say “why” after evry single answer given to me until I realized the ad infinitum fallacy.
     My family used to humor me by giving me that- wow, that’s really a deep thought- expression.

    To think adults still actually use this childlike reasoning is an embarrassment to out species. :)

  18. Science makes reality comprehensible to those who pursue both reality and science. Scientists don’t need to make their work comprehensible, it’s up to you to try to understand it. No one is going to teach you anything if you aren’t genuinely curious and willing to learn.

    Science and scientists have answered many questions, which give us an understanding of the reality we occupy. In what way is this not making reality comprehensible?

    Because science hasn’t been fully applied to everything? No, that is our own failure.

    Asking why is just a silly thing you grow out of doing. The ‘how’ question is much more worthwhile.

    Suffice to say Lawrence understands more about science, including mathematics and physics, than anyone commenting here.

    I’m not even sure what your gripe is, to be frank. Scientists shouldn’t boast about their understanding of the universe, garnered from hard work and the falsifiable scientific method? That they’ve made the world comprehensible?

    How dare they!

  19. While we’re on the topic of fallacy…

    A. The supernatural realm is not a paradox. It could be detected. This idea that it will become natural as soon as it’s discovered is mislead. If someone was able to levitate by no other known force, nothing explainable. That would certainly be proving the supernatural and it wouldn’t be considered natural, because only the one “special” person could do it. That IS the supernatural and it wouldn’t suddenly become natural, especially if we couldn’t explain it. That is the definition of supernatural and it is testable. If one person were able to prove their clairvoyance was genuine and not just a parlor trick, it would be proof of the supernatural realm and would not be explained away by science, as you’ve stated. This is to think that just because people think the Higgs particle is proof of god, science has somehow proven the existence of the supernatural. Or that because people once believed X-ray technology was magic, science then explained away it’s supernaturalness and it became science. That’s just not right.

    B. The god of the gaps argument is not fallacious. This idea that you can’t prove a negative is silly. I simply have to say. How do we find dark matter, etc.? I mean…
    Yes, we do prove things don’t exist to a high level of certainty all the time. Just recently we discounted arsenic eating bacteria. It’s called science and as it progresses, god declines. This notion that we can’t tell which way is which simply because some people think literally anything is possible. It’s not reductionist to say something is impossible. It’s impossible to live a billion years. Get over it. It’s impossible to travel backward in time, yet life keeps going and science keeps growing. As it grows, there are less impossibilities to consider. This is not a fallacy, it’s reality.

    Disproving god is easy. Simply learn that the universe cannot allow complexity to precede it and there you go. Nothing complex could exist before it. That is literally the end of god as a possibility.

    Kind of like the impossibility of traveling backward through time. You don’t have a problem with that I assume. Ah, because it has nothing to do with this mysterious god figure. Take god out and replace him with something billions of people don’t base their lives on and it becomes all too simple. That’s how you remain objective.

  20. Yes, it does. Those planets were named when those discovering them had no idea really. We have more than an idea to discount this particle as any kind of proof of god. Why would we be okay with labeling it completely falsely, while confusing and allowing the religious to confuse people even more with it?

    It’s not simply a colloquialism, it’s a euphemism. The thunder from the hard work of scientists is stolen by the god botherers and used for their propaganda machine, while demonizing the hard working scientists.

    You’ve yet to meet someone? Well, I’ve never met someone with no legs and arms… Never met an astronaut. I’ve never met a Nascar driver. I’ve never met… Do you see where I’m going?

    There are tons of people commenting, using this discovery to push their beliefs. But that doesn’t matter, because you haven’t personally shook hands with any of them…

    Budweiser saying they are the king of beers is a claim to an opinion. Labeling the Higgs particle the ‘god particle’ is making a claim that the Higgs has anything to do with the god hypothesis and intrinsically is a claim about the universe. Just as Lawrence correctly points out, it’s not only not evidence for god, it’s strong evidence against god, once again. To claim it is positive evidence for god, in labeling it the ‘god particle’, is to mislead and perpetuate an impossibility. It’s literally impossible for the Higgs discovery to be positive evidence for god. You just have to be very intelligent to understand why.

    In every single way, science has proven a world vastly different from the world described by religions. Across the board. Not to mention, science has proven beyond doubt that all religious texts are works of fiction. I’m sure I will get people to disagree, but then again, 90% of the world believes in nonsense. I don’t need anyone’s confirmation that impossibilities are not possible and that science is effective.

    I’m against labeling the Higgs particle the ‘god particle’ in the same way I’m against labeling arsenic as ‘milk’.

    If Budweiser labeled their beer as ‘cure all’, or ‘medicine’, I think we would all have a problem with it.

  21. So, because theists can ask “what came before the chicken” even after we’ve explained it and that is somehow evidence that evolution can’t be true. That’s essentially your argument when used with evolution.

    Again, just because a theist can ask a question, does not mean the question has anything to do with reality.

    A theist can ask “what came before the universe” but it doesn’t make it a valid question. Kind of like “if we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys”. It isn’t a knock out to evolution.

    In the same way, a theist could ask “who created the Higgs particle” but it doesn’t make it a valid question.

    Kind of like “what came before the big bang”, as I mentioned. Well, it seems NOTHING came before it. It also seems that nothing complex can arise at the infancy of the universe, discrediting the god hypothesis.

    Science has definitively discredited (intentionally using the word ‘discredited’, because you cannot disprove something not proven) the god hypothesis, it just requires a great deal of knowledge, attention and curiosity to understand how. So, to those paying a great deal of attention, god(s) is impossible.

  22. Isn’t the Higgs field a modern version of the 17th century theory of the ether, the medium postulated to explain the movements of all material things?  Or am I being hopelessly romantic about the early scientific thought?

     

  23. I’ve thought the same thing ever since I read about the Higgs. Of course its not exactly the same, for example I think one of the main reasons for postulating the ether was because people thought if EM radiation was a wave there had to be some something that the wave was travelling through (as air is for sound waves and water is for water waves the ether was for EM waves was I believe the argument). That was just an example of taking the analogy to literally and the Higgs plays no role like that as I understand it.

    Stilll, the idea of a field that permates all of space and gives matter mass seems to me very similar to the concept of the ether.

    To me its an interesting example of what people used to call a dialectic. An argument is advanced then refuted and then revised in many different ways but still the basic concept comes back.

  24.  @rdfrs-220a7f49d42406598587a66f02584ac3:disqus  FEGCAESKDHH&H

    So, because theists can ask “what came before the chicken” even after
    we’ve explained it and that is somehow evidence that evolution can’t be
    true. That’s essentially your argument when used with evolution.

    That’s easy!  The dinosaur egg came before the chicken – and before that the amphibian egg – and before that the fish egg ……… ….. all the way back to horizontal gene transfers, LUCA, RNA world, and abiogenesis.  (Too much study for fundie-brains)

  25. “Asking why is just a silly thing you grow out of doing.”

    No it’s that sort of response that is ‘silly’. Newton asked ‘why’ did the apple fall. Einstein asked ‘why’ does the speed of light appear the same regardless of motion. Strange how the entirety of science to date is based upon answering ‘why ?’………yet it is somehow ‘silly’ to continue to ask ‘why ?’ about unknown areas.

    I suspect this attitude, which is the true silliness, arises from not wanting to concede a response such as ‘we simply don’t know’.

    “I’m not even sure what your gripe is, to be frank.”

    Oh. Sorry. English is my first language……….I forgot it might not be everyone else’s.

  26. “A. The supernatural realm is not a paradox. It could be detected. This idea that it will become natural as soon as it’s discovered is mislead. If someone was able to levitate by no other known force, nothing explainable. That would certainly be proving the supernatural and it wouldn’t be considered natural, because only the one “special” person could do it. “

    This is untrue and I stand by my original assertion. If a person was shown to be genuinely levitating then by definition there would HAVE to be some force acting to counter gravity. As that force is acting within the natural world, and against an existing natural force, then the only means by which this ‘new’ force can be asserted is naturally !

    Scientists would, by definition, insist that the causal mechanism for this phenomenon was natural…….by virtue of it being a phenomenon within the natural world. That is the very basis of naturalism, which does not concede in the first place that supernatural phenomenon even exist.

    So no, the levitating person would not appear in Nature under the heading ‘Supernatural phenomenon observed’……..they would appear under a heading ‘Unknown natural phenomenon observed’. 

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