Many God Particles

Forces2 GIF

At some point in the next few years enough experimentation will have been done to refine a few more of the configuring constants of Modern Physics, in particular those of the Standard Model. There are a limited number of fundamental qualities in nature, like electric/magnetic charge, angular momentum (spin), and mass. Much of the current attention of physicists is devoted to an investigation of mass in the search for the Higg’s Boson, which has been popularly dubbed the “God Particle.”

According to Wikipedia, the origin of this title lies with a book written in 1993 by Leon M. Lederman, who originally wanted to call it “the goddamn particle” (the italics are mine). But this lofty headline grabbing moniker is a misnomer; the Higg’s Boson is certainly not anymore a fundamental particle than, say, an electron.  It explains the phenomenon of mass in some particles and not others by a “coupling” mechanism, in essence a simplification through broad application, and a frequently used tool from the physics toolbox. The Higg’s Boson itself has mass, whose value is not experimentally known except for a lower limit of about 200,000 electrons worth. For comparison, the top quark, another Standard Model particle, has a mass equivalent of about 340,000 electrons.

But lets consider our rationale – even if this particle was somehow more fundamental in its relation to the natural component of mass, why would we call it the  “God Particle?” Mass may be an easy concept to gain a grasp on, but as a student of physics I do not have any particular affection for mass, at least not anymore than I have for charge or spin. And if we’re going for fundamentals here, what would physics call a particle that explained time? Us catholics hear a lot about glorious light, why isn’t the photon the God particle? The photon is the medium of the force that keeps our nuclei together with electrons in atoms, keeps atoms together in molecules, and prevents solid matter from passing through itself. Or what about the proposed graviton, the particle representation of gravity?


1 Response to “Many God Particles”

  1. 1 butttub
    February 20, 2009 at 5:47 am

    it seems like they are only calling it the god particle because it’s hard to locate, not because of any properties inherent to it. this is an essentially theological argument, and a christian one at that. unlike a more pagan understanding of god being the earth or in the spirit of everything around us, god must be singular and unknowable. once something is known, it cannot be god, so the h.b.is only the god particle until it is observed, after which some other un-observed piece of the standard model puzzle ought to take on the godly mantle. unless of course the h.b. has been so built up that the name of god sticks to it anachronistically even after it’s discovered.

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