God and Man at the Higgs Boson Level
I wrote the other day how most physicists who speak of it are uncomfortable with the label “God” particle for the Higgs boson particle, the existence of which scientists at CERN confirmed on Wednesday. The rather casual, sensationalistic origin of the label clarifies that discomfort, as does, I suspect, unsurprising scientific worry that too conventional religious thinking might make of the word a matter light years from what even a sympathetic eye should see in it. In my post, I offer a more serious argument for the neutral B-meson as something like a “God” particle. But none of this is the point today beyond the discomfort so many scientists have with language that suggests anything about the world beyond the interactive relationships of its particle matter.
So much of life is in the immaterial interstices, and the God fearing scientist, so brilliant in the calculation, within the laboratory, is just another fearful and arrogant human being on a country road or a city street. Maybe more arrogant, for there is that tendency to think the calculation the sum of life, the laboratory the center of the universe.
So it is that fellow blogger Bella Center informed me yesterday that British mathematician Peter Higgs, suddenly now quite famous, after experimental confirmation of his theorized particle, is a supporter of the BDS campaign against Israel. Word first broke widely, though not blaringly, on the Daily Beast’s Open Zion page. There isn’t a great deal to be found on the internet, not even a link to Open Zion’s source, but, of course, the BDS’ers think it confirmation of some truth.
Among the momentous immaterial elements of life with which physics is powerless to aid us is in understanding the distinction between facts and the truth, and how we may gain any grasp of the latter. To quote my friend Bella, it’s complicated. For instance, if you happen to read the Raw Story two days ago about the “Shy physicist whose name lives on in Higgs boson,” you would have learned of Higgs and his collaborators that
[t]he trio had shared the 2004 Wolf Prize, one of the top awards in physics.
Now there is an apparent truth, encoded in publicly disseminated news media. If it were the sum of your reading on the subject, it would constitute an alternative, because incomplete, universe, as we learn from PhyicaPlus, the online journal of the Israel Physical Society (emphasis added) that
[a]lthough the British scientist Peter Higgs gave his name to the Higgs field and Higgs particle, at least two other physicists, François Englert and Robert Brout, had a part in the discovery. All three were awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize by Israel’s Knesset in 2004. Higgs boycotted the ceremony for political reasons.
Of course, we do not learn even in that Israeli journal what the “political reasons” were, perhaps because the writer here was more fully inhabiting his physics than his Israeli universe.
We can learn only a little more from consulting Wikipedia, where the extent of Higgs’s political activities, is thus reported:
Higgs was an activist in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) while in London and later in Edinburgh, but resigned his membership when the group extended its remit from campaigning against nuclear weapons to campaigning against nuclear power too. He was a Greenpeace member until the group opposed genetically modified organisms.
Higgs was awarded the 2004 Wolf Prize in Physics (sharing it with Brout and Englert), but he refused to fly to Jerusalem to receive the award because it was a state occasion attended by the then president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, and Higgs is opposed to Israel’s actions in Palestine.
No indication – as is so with many other British adversaries of Israel and BDS proponents these days – that the political situation in any other nation in the world has ever gained Higg’s interest or provoked him to discriminatory and exclusionary action. Nonetheless, it is reported in the Jerusalem Post that “Israelis rejoice over discovery of ‘God particle.'”
Astrophysicists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Tel Aviv University, the Technion-Institute of Technology in Haifa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have been active in the massive effort, which involved CERN’s particle accelerator – the largest machine in the world, costing over $10 billion.
Prof. Yaron Oz, dean of TAU’s faculty for exact sciences, who worked on CERN’s multinational team at Geneva for four years and has made numerous visits since, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that the huge facility “is like the UN should be. Everybody is devoted to making the discovery as a team, without any politics or vested interests. I worked even with Iranians there, and there was never a harsh word between us. We all just wanted to understand. It has already proven that the nations of the world can function harmoniously for joint targets.”
Ah, well, you know what Bella says, and the particular electron-volt weight for what all this represents and how it gets calculated has not yet materialized at CERN. I must close, though – really, I must – by faithfully reporting what else I came across, just by the way, from following seemingly relevant links, while digging into the cyberspace of this material. It, too, is part of the universe, part of the truth, however, in the end, it will all completely add up: Elie Wiesel Cons the World, by Carolyn Yeager.