What is the Higgs Boson?

Today (July 4, 2012), scientists from CERN in Europe announced that they may have found clear signs of a particle which is thought to be the Higgs boson, popularly known as the God particle. The hardworking scientists aren’t getting ahead of themselves, and are not quite confirming the existence of the Higgs boson outright. They’ve stopped at saying that they have evidence for a new particle, which “must be a boson” and that “there is a high probability that this could be the Higgs boson.”

What is the Higgs boson? Why is it called the God particle?

Is there a simple way to describe this without doing gross injustice to the years of work and thought that has gone into it? Not really, but what ho! plunge into it we shall, in any case.

All matter is composed of fundamental particles. In fact, scientists have uncovered twelve particles that can be described as building blocks of matter. There may be more yet to be found. As of now, there are twelve. Out of these twelve, three (electron, up/down quarks) are considered even more fundamental for the reason that everything else can be constructed using a combination of these three. In other words, a few basic particles combine in various possible ways to create higher level particles. Higher level particles get together in other possible manners and shapes to form chairs, cats, people and plants, which have perceptible mass. I think we should leave this at that, for fear that if we go any further, our brains will begin to tie themselves into knots.

Long story short, there are a small number of sub-atomic, “massless” particles which combine mysteriously to form matter. Mysteriously? How do an electron and an up quark decide to form a neutron? What is it that triggers these combinations causing matter to be formed?

This is where the Higgs boson comes in. Peter Higgs, a British physicist, came up with the theory that there *had* be this even more inscrutably mysterious particle that catalyzed interactions between the fundamental particles, which results in matter being formed. He and later scientists have envisioned this “thing” as sort of a massless wave that exists everywhere. When other particles interact with this energy field, if you will, they combine and begin transformation into matter. Whew! Hope that made sense. This theoretical particle was named the Higgs boson, in honor of its postulator, and the popular media began dubbing it the “God particle” due to the powers of creation ascribed to it.

How do you prove something called the God particle exists?

For a good part of four decades, the Higgs boson has remained a theory in search of proof. Speaking of proof, how exactly do you go about proving a thing like the God particle? Well, here’s how it roughly works. You have two models. One which says, “Yes, there’s a Higgs boson”. And another that says, “No, there isn’t.” You let each model to make predictions on effects that can be observed. An example of an observable effect is what happens when two particles are smashed into each other, otherwise known as a “particle collision.” So, scientist conduct collisions and record the data from the collisions. And then they check to see if there are observable differences between predictions of the two models. In this particular case of the Higgs boson, the difference predicted between the models is incredibly tiny. Since this difference is so small, bajillions of data are needed before you can come to a statistically significant conclusion. All of this also means you need apparatus that can generate enormous amounts of energy required to conduct particle collision experiments.

This is where the CERN labs in Europe came in. They spent billions of dollars in building the Large Hadron Collider, designed to go in search of the God particle. And, they have been running 40 million collisions a second, all day for the entire year during the last two years.  And, it looks like they have finally found something that looks like the God particle. Amazing stuff.

So, what does this all mean?

First, it is a reflection on this day and age that we have to hold a press conference to cautiously announce that we may have discovered the God particle. There is something indefinably amusing and ironic about this act. That we who have been created by the God particle are not yet sure if our creator exists! This drama appears filled with even more irony when you consider that a large majority of people on this planet are unlikely to even notice this announcement regarding their creator.

Cartoon on reactions to God particle announcement

Having said that, the quest for figuring out how it all got started just got a whole lot interesting. We’ve all heard that the universe started from nothingness and exploded into what we know as the universe with a big bang. The one thing that has mystified scientists about this theory is the question, “How and why did matter form after the big bang?” The Higgs boson, if proved, gives them something to stand and build on.

The day is not too far when CERN scientists will be able to confidently confirm that the God particle does exist. And then will come the question, “Who created the God particle? And where did it come from?”

Picture, my friend, abhi bakhi hai. Get some popcorn, sit back on the couch, make yourself comfortable and have fun watching! Cheers.

26 Replies to “What is the Higgs Boson?”

  1. That God matters, is particle theory. That God signals, is wave theory. Higgs Boson is an entity, which signals to the world that it matters. That’s why it is God particle:-)

  2. That God matters, is particle theory. That God signals, is wave theory. Higgs Boson is an entity, which signals to the world that it matters. That’s why it is God particle:-)

  3. Wow! You reaffirm my statement that you can simplify the most complex theories for dummies like me. Can you believe it that I actually understood the gist of it? Believers like me can’t stop smiling at the antics of the scientists spending billions of dollars to prove something that ignorant people like me already know — God exists 🙂

  4. Wow! You reaffirm my statement that you can simplify the most complex theories for dummies like me. Can you believe it that I actually understood the gist of it? Believers like me can’t stop smiling at the antics of the scientists spending billions of dollars to prove something that ignorant people like me already know — God exists 🙂

  5. As Zephyr said, you’ve simplified this complex subject so dummies like us can (at least somewhat) understand it!

    Wonder what happens next. And it will be interesting to see what the atheists say…..

  6. As Zephyr said, you’ve simplified this complex subject so dummies like us can (at least somewhat) understand it!

    Wonder what happens next. And it will be interesting to see what the atheists say…..

  7. So, after centuries of fighting over God vs Science, we have come to realize that spending insane amounts of money to keep the people guessing, is better than fighting and laying siege to peace!
    Suppose this is the biggest secret that Nature has kept from us, aren’t we going to be annihilated?
    No! Few humans are too stupid to believe stuff like that! They’ll think that it is high time that we too kept secrets from Nature. They’ll simply ask some other stupid questions, as you have told, and spend another zillion dollars to answer each of those.

  8. So, after centuries of fighting over God vs Science, we have come to realize that spending insane amounts of money to keep the people guessing, is better than fighting and laying siege to peace!
    Suppose this is the biggest secret that Nature has kept from us, aren’t we going to be annihilated?
    No! Few humans are too stupid to believe stuff like that! They’ll think that it is high time that we too kept secrets from Nature. They’ll simply ask some other stupid questions, as you have told, and spend another zillion dollars to answer each of those.

  9. I find bosons to be extremely interesting from what is said of them by physicists…
    an interesting parallel can be drawn between physics and metaphysics based on their behavior. bosons exhibit spatio-temporal or dimensional intelligence that show a close resemblence to a fully centred consciousness or a neutral state of mind.
    and i find that remarkable, not reductionist.

  10. I find bosons to be extremely interesting from what is said of them by physicists…
    an interesting parallel can be drawn between physics and metaphysics based on their behavior. bosons exhibit spatio-temporal or dimensional intelligence that show a close resemblence to a fully centred consciousness or a neutral state of mind.
    and i find that remarkable, not reductionist.

  11. The “twain” happen to be two sides to a coin, and are facets of the same reality. They meet in the middle of the coin itself 🙂

  12. The “twain” happen to be two sides to a coin, and are facets of the same reality. They meet in the middle of the coin itself 🙂

  13. Thanks Zephyr! That God exists is a matter of belief for some of us. I completely empathize with the scientist who prefers to have tangible proof before she will commit to belief. The ‘God particle’ is a misnomer for the Higgs boson, according to English physicist, Peter Higgs, an avowed atheist who’s distressed that the name ‘God’ is being used to describe “his” particle. I am amused by the fact that Higgs believes that the Higgs boson is his baby and has sole naming rights over it 🙂

  14. Thanks Zephyr! That God exists is a matter of belief for some of us. I completely empathize with the scientist who prefers to have tangible proof before she will commit to belief. The ‘God particle’ is a misnomer for the Higgs boson, according to English physicist, Peter Higgs, an avowed atheist who’s distressed that the name ‘God’ is being used to describe “his” particle. I am amused by the fact that Higgs believes that the Higgs boson is his baby and has sole naming rights over it 🙂

  15. Thanks Manju! There’s more left in this drama. Atheists, in fact, have celebrated the discovery of the Higgs boson, and believe it supports their position that the concept of God as “the supreme power that watches over and rewards/punishes us” is bogus. I tend to agree with their assertion that religion has misrepresented God as a punitive person. This discovery should make us all – theists and atheists – wonder as to the nature of the Supreme One.

  16. Thanks Manju! There’s more left in this drama. Atheists, in fact, have celebrated the discovery of the Higgs boson, and believe it supports their position that the concept of God as “the supreme power that watches over and rewards/punishes us” is bogus. I tend to agree with their assertion that religion has misrepresented God as a punitive person. This discovery should make us all – theists and atheists – wonder as to the nature of the Supreme One.

  17. Harsha, I empathize with the scientists. I think there is good that comes from asking questions and questioning traditional wisdom. Anything that’s taken as doctrine does not lead to goodness or peace. In that sense, the hardworking scientists are doing us all good by uncovering these mysteries. I think science and spirituality can co-exist in the same consciousness and essentially two different tools to prise open the same chest of treasures.

  18. Harsha, I empathize with the scientists. I think there is good that comes from asking questions and questioning traditional wisdom. Anything that’s taken as doctrine does not lead to goodness or peace. In that sense, the hardworking scientists are doing us all good by uncovering these mysteries. I think science and spirituality can co-exist in the same consciousness and essentially two different tools to prise open the same chest of treasures.

  19. This is a truly remarkable discovery in terms of how it impacts and opens our minds to exciting possibilities! Some may object to taking scientific concepts and connecting them to the mystical/spiritual domain. What Ho! I say that this connecting of the two worlds is incredible fun!

  20. This is a truly remarkable discovery in terms of how it impacts and opens our minds to exciting possibilities! Some may object to taking scientific concepts and connecting them to the mystical/spiritual domain. What Ho! I say that this connecting of the two worlds is incredible fun!

  21. An excellent and lucid exposition of a very complex and complicated scientific subject, which failed to register inspite of repeated endeavours to understand what it is. I can now vouchsafe that I have succeeded in untying the knots of this mysterious scientific phenomenon and have digested almost 30% of the concept, thanks to your presenting it in such simple language, understandable to dull heads like me. I still do not understand as to why they hesitate to accept the fact of the presence of an omnipresence of the concept of God. Time alone will rid them of this malady of mistrust in admitting what they have almost discovered. . They are on the threshold of a momentous discovery and let them have the courage to announce to the world at large.

  22. An excellent and lucid exposition of a very complex and complicated scientific subject, which failed to register inspite of repeated endeavours to understand what it is. I can now vouchsafe that I have succeeded in untying the knots of this mysterious scientific phenomenon and have digested almost 30% of the concept, thanks to your presenting it in such simple language, understandable to dull heads like me. I still do not understand as to why they hesitate to accept the fact of the presence of an omnipresence of the concept of God. Time alone will rid them of this malady of mistrust in admitting what they have almost discovered. . They are on the threshold of a momentous discovery and let them have the courage to announce to the world at large.

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