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The hunt for ‘God’s particle’?!

By Jon Cartwright

We have Leon Lederman to blame. For the “God particle”, that is. Since he published his 1993 book, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?, the layperson might be forgiven for believing the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is not searching for a particle called the Higgs boson, but a path to spiritual enlightenment.

Many physicists hate referring to Him. For some particle physicists, the “God particle” belittles the hoards of other theoretical particles that might be detected at the LHC. They say it reveals little of the particle’s function, and is savoured by writers with little rhetoric. For some non-particle physicists, the God particle epitomizes the hype that surrounds particle physics. Then there are those who think divine connotations are always a bad idea.

Are they, though? When a furore about the use of “God particle” began bouncing around the blogsphere last August, mostly in response to an article written by Dennis Overbye of the New York Times in which he defended the term, several agreed that religious metaphors should be an acceptable part of our language. Einstein used them all the time (e.g. “Quantum mechanics…yields much, but it hardly brings us close to the secrets of the Old One”) yet historians tend to conclude he was not a theist. Even when I began writing this blog entry I thought I might be clever and refer to the Higgs as the light at the end of the LHC’s tunnel — before I reminded myself that the Higgs is not the only particle of import they expect to find.

As Sean Carroll noted on the Cosmic Variance blog, it is a fear of pandering to the religious right that is driving the expulsion of religious metaphors. If certain atheists succeed, religious metaphors will go the way of the dodo. The God particle is not one of the best, but it might be one of the last.

Which brings me to the point of this entry (not that Earth-shattering, I’ll warn you now). This morning I was looking at the news links posted on the Interactions website, only to find one from the Guardian newspaper headlined “The hunt for God’s particle“. That’s right — you read it right the first time. “God’s particle”? Where’s the metaphor in that? Have we now come full-circle, having compared the search for the Higgs boson to the path for spiritual enlightenment, only to reduce it to another of God’s creations?

Poor old Lederman must wonder what he started.

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  1. alena

    Today’s world is all upside down.While we are wasting millions of dollars on finding ‘God’ particle’, there are millions of people dying of hunger and illnesses, that have been pretty much created by man and their ‘science’…Could not we just listen and work with nature rather then keep poking it?!

  2. kneepoint

    I jus’ got back from the pub (bit worse for wear) and there it was … a Higgs Boson that somone had just chucked in the trash. ‘course I ‘ad to get out my pocket sized Hadron collider to detect it and it appeared in all 11 dimensions at once , I think I’ll steer clear of the Holts in future.

  3. It is precisely the reason that the former US president once said, “physicists have found evidence for God in their equations”. If Leon is the reason for particle physics being painted as God physics, then he deserves all this treatment by the physics community.

  4. The grand physics of philosophy and religion is that; Equator of self-contradiction (gluon of pair), is the Absolute Logic and quantum of self-creation of Spacetime-Continuum(Cosmos).-Aiya-Oba (Poet/Philosopher).
    Hence, the absolute logic of All in all:
    (2A + B) + (2B + A)… = 3(A + B).
    where A and B, can be any non-zero integer, but never both zero.


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