Last year, everyone was excited because they think they found the “God particle.” Now, we learn it holds the answer to the fate of the universe — except we won’t find out until the priests with all the answers tell us. Even then, no one will be able to test their answers, we’ll just have to accept them — on faith. We’ll take the messages of the God particle and believe them.
The Higgs boson is hard to peg. Physicist Leon Lederman called it the “God Particle” as being “so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive.” The thing has no spin (unlike other bosons) and no electric charge, and decays almost immediately. You can’t see it with your microscope or attract it with your magnet, or even be certain to catch it with that Large Hadron Collider you carry around in your pocket :). We might not nail it down until 2015, and if we nail it down then, there’s still a slight chance we’ll find that it isn’t Higgs after all.
If they are right (there seems little real reason to doubt it), it may prove the existence of the Higgs field, which would explain some things physicists can’t otherwise explain. I’ll skip the details — if you know your sub-atomic physics, you probably understand it better than me, and if you don’t, you didn’t come here to learn physics, anyway. My physics days are long ago and the sub-atomic particles in my brain are getting rusty.
What catches my eye, and yes, sometimes makes me laugh, is what people say. Last July, the Washington Post ran an anti-religion rant, which among other things (such as saying this is more important than Newton’s work on gravity!) claimed:
The discovery is yet another demonstration of Scientific methodology as the scrupulous process by which humankind acquires and authenticates all knowledge.
Well, you say can so, but I’ve noticed that “all knowledge” is a pretty big topic. There are things such as love, beauty, and happiness, that science cannot measure. “Scientific methodology” requires repetition in a controlled environment, which is ill-suited for historical knowledge. You can’t prove Julius Caesar existed using the scientific method. It would be pretty hard to devise a scientific experiment to prove that Churchill was Prime Minister. You rely on witnesses, documents, monuments, etc. — not on a repeated experiment. Winston isn’t coming back so you can repeat it all. Maybe there really is knowledge that is outside the remit of the scientific method?
The funny thing to me is this: his assertion of the scientific method as the only way to “acquire and authenticate knowledge” is itself not scientifically authenticated. Where are the scientific tests that prove the scientific method can authenticate all knowledge? How would you develop a scientific test of that premise? It is self-refuting — by its own standard, it is impossible to know his claim is true. He simply made an unprovable faith statement (one more sweeping than we would ever make, since we believe there is knowledge the Scripture doesn’t give us). The “religion of science” (as exhibited by this author) requires more faith than Christianity!
There’s been a lot of silliness like that. But there’s something new, not in an opinion rant but in a real scientific article — the Higgs boson can tell us the future(!) of the universe:
A concept known as vacuum instability could result, billions of years from now, in a new universe opening up in the present one and replacing it.
It all depends on some precise numbers related to the Higgs that researchers are currently trying to pin down.
No religion will be satisfactory unless it can explain how we got here and tell where we are going. Science is trying, but unfortunately, the scientific method (repeated controlled experiments) isn’t great for telling the future. But we have to give them credit for trying. But look at that quote again — the best part is that the theory says some day the universe will be destroyed and replaced by a new one!
“If you use all the physics we know now, and you do this straightforward calculation – it’s bad news.
“What happens is you get just a quantum fluctuation that makes a tiny bubble of the vacuum the Universe really wants to be in. And because it’s a lower-energy state, this bubble will then expand, basically at the speed of light, and sweep everything before it,” the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory theoretician told BBC News.
It was not something we need worry about, he said. The Sun and the Earth will be long gone by this time.
Oh. You mean it can’t be tested because we’ll be gone already? Too bad. Is this really knowledge we can authenticate, then? 🙂 Remember that “scientific method” repeated experiment thing? This is more like having to, well, take someone’s word (belief!). (At least the BBC didn’t say to worry about it — maybe they read my blog.)
“Before we knew, the Higgs could have been any mass over a very wide range. And what’s amazing to me is that out of all those possible masses from 114 to several hundred GeV, it’s landed at 126-ish where it’s right on the critical line, and now we have to measure it more precisely to find the fate of the Universe,” he said.
WOW! The fate of the universe depends on whether the Higgs boson is 125 GeV or 127 GeV! 🙂
The article finishes by giving the game away:
If the calculation on vacuum instability stands up, it will revive an old idea that the Big Bang Universe we observe today is just the latest version in a permanent cycle of events.
“I think that idea is getting more and more traction,” said Dr Lykken.
“It’s much easier to explain a lot of things if what we see is a cycle. If I were to bet my own money on it, I’d bet the cyclic idea is right,” he told BBC News.
No scientist is really happy with a “Big Bang” with no known cause, no known origin for the material involved. Just suddenly, out of nowhere, for no reason, a Big Bang just happened? That’s not too scientific. Science (real science) wants to know why things happen — even the “Big Bang.” It’s not too satisfactory, as a scientist, to believe in a Big Bang without some explanation as to why it happened. But if God, er, I mean, the “God particle” tells us we have an unstable universe and a permanent cycle, then we can at least speculate that the Big Bang was caused by the last universe’s instability! Now we can say we’ve got a scientific theory / explanation!
So that’s part of this picture. The future isn’t the only concern — the “religion of science” is still struggling to handle the past, how we got here. Its adherents may soon “believe” (depending on the actual mass of the Higgs boson) something that they can’t test by the scientific method. It just happens to be very similar to what another Source of knowledge (one that also can’t be tested by the scientific method) said long ago:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away;