Gregory Farrelly FAITH Magazine September – October 2012
The Higgs-Boson Discovery: Science and Metaphysics
In a recent press release (http://press.web.cern.ch), the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN in Switzerland-France presented their latest preliminary results concerning the search for the elusive Higgs particle, sometimes called the "God particle". Both experiments observe a new particle in the mass region around 125-126 GeV/c, which may or may not be the sought-after Higgs boson.
"We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature," said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. "The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle's properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe."
This discovery (if so it proves to be) is the result of recent experiments at CERN's LHC (Large Hadron Collider) involving the acceleration and collision of protons in opposing beams with the highest energies ever achieved on earth. This happens in tubes with the lowest vacuum pressures ever produced and using superconducting magnets at the lowest temperatures ever obtained. By detecting the showers of particles produced by these collisions some of their properties can be determined.
Past experiments at CERN and elsewhere (but using lower energies) together with theoretical work linking the electromagnetic, weak and strong forces led to the "Standard Model" of particle physics, formulated in the 1970s. This describes the three "generations" of matter and antimatter particles (cf. the first three columns in the diagram below), and the so-called gauge bosons, the force-carrier particles. The rows and columns are based on fundamental symmetry properties, described by equations.
The brilliance of this model was that it used mathematical symmetries, enabling the prediction of new particles with definite predicted properties (since verified) such as charge and spin. It unifies three of the four fundamental forces, leaving only the gravitational force to be accounted for. The Higgs mechanism, named after the Edinburgh physicist Peter Higgs, and its related particle, the Higgs boson, form an integral part of the Standard Model, explaining how the elementary particles have the masses that they do. John Ellis, a British theoretical physicist who works at CERN as well as at King's College, London, explains the Higgs boson as the fundamental quantum of the Higgs field, a sort of "snow" (http://cdsweb. cern.ch/record/1458922) through which various particles either ski(if massless, like the photon) or sink (if with non-zero rest mass, like the quarks).
If the published results do verify the existence of the Higgs boson, this will be a milestone in fundamental physics and a towering achievement of both theoretical and experimental physics. The physical and technological problems encountered during this experiment are astounding, involving the analysis of unprecedented amounts of data in very short periods.
However, it is not merely a stunning result for physicists. For those who recognise the relevance of physics to metaphysics this fundamental discovery would seem to be further confirmation of the coherence of all physical reality and its interrelation in a Unity-Law of Being. Fr Edward Holloway used discoveries such as the periodic table and the balance of ecosystems to develop the Unity Law concept.
The Standard Model, as noted above, uses mathematical symmetries to link the properties of particles and predict other particles (successfully). This is not an approach that regards all things as having equal probabilities of occurring. There is, of course, an intrinsic indefiniteness in nature, described in physics by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, but this is no arbitrary uncertainty; it is a precise limit concerning the relationship between momentum and position for each particle. In fact, the mathematical formulation of the electric force (Coulomb's law) can be derived from it. The very notion of a "field", such as the Higgs field, is a mathematical and physical model describing the interrelationship of matter at the subatomic level, what Holloway would have called an"equational" relationship since in this vision (that espoused by Faith movement) the cosmos is a vast, ordered equation.
One has to be careful here, however, not to invoke the beauty of the mathematical symmetries involved as a "proof" of the existence of a creator. The philosophical work required is more complex and more fundamental. What is necessary is a philosophical analysis of nature in which the very existence of equational fields of force in the material universe is linked to a metaphysical view of what an object is and how it is related to other objects. The full working out of such a metaphysics is at the heart of the intellectual work of the Faith movement.
The sorts of particles studied at CERN in these experiments are short-lived because they are unstable, but quarks combine to form protons and neutrons; these, in turn, combine with electrons to form atoms, many of which are stable and enable the formation of complex molecules such as DNA. This ascent of complexity can be linked directly to the unity and increasing independence of material objects using a reworking of the concept of the "analogy of being".
Much work still needs to be done by physicists to determine the precise nature of the Higgs particle and its significance for our physical understanding of the material universe. The Standard Model describes the fundamental particles from which we, and every visible thing in the universe, are made, and the forces acting between them. However, astrophysics indicates that the matter that we can see or detect appears to be no more than about 4 per cent of the total matter in the universe. It may be that a more exotic version of the Higgs particle could help us understand the remaining 96 per cent of matter, the so-called "dark matter".
However, even if the results turn out not to be significant enough to indicate the discovery of the Higgs boson, the intellectual and technological work involved in looking for it are a testament to the unique brilliance of the human mind, which is itself a reflection, we believe, of the Mind of God in whose image we are made.