Higgs Boson (Science & Metaphor)

So this is what I’m getting from the exciting discovery of what more cautious physicists are calling a (the!) Higgs-like boson. All of this is severely beyond my ken, but I think it’s incumbent for laypeople to try to grasp even a little bit of it. Whether or not this is the so-called “God particle,” which I’m sure has to be a seriously bad metaphor, is seriously beside the point. So the first thing I understand is that this is so much bigger than anything I can understand.

 I got this from Wired Magazine:

The Higgs is important because it is the manifestation of the Higgs field, which is thought to permeate all of space and interact with all other subatomic particles. This interaction leads to the different mass for each elementary particle. Some particles, like protons, are slowed by this field, like a tennis ball going through molasses, and are relatively heavy while others, like electrons, shoot rapidly through like BB gun pellets, making them light 

Or in other words, also from Wired: It’s a heavy particle that immediately decays into fragments.

I like how the Higgs field, said to permeate the universe as part of its most basic structure, is being described as molasses-like. It’s a funny metaphor.

And this from the NYT:

The finding affirms a grand view of a universe described by simple and elegant and symmetrical laws — but one in which everything interesting, like ourselves, results from flaws or breaks in that symmetry.

Without the Higgs field, as it is known, or something like it, all elementary forms of matter would zoom around at the speed of light, flowing through our hands like moonlight. There would be neither atoms nor life.

(And now for a bit of overinterpretation: maybe perhaps, the structuralists and poststucturalists can call a truce. The universe is liberal: big, sticky, structured and subject to differentiation and fragmentation. Who knew?)

(In fact, I think it’s not worthwhile to bother with any interpretation, although I’m sure these will follow, as happened with quantum and chaos theories.)

(My ultimate hope is that it settles nothing about the universe.)

(The Arab Spring was a big disappointment for me as a Religion Studies scholar. [Yes, I’m being facetious.] At first I hoped against hope that finally, none of this had anything to do with “religion.” It didn’t work out that way, did it? I think it’s a sounder hope to say that none of this will have anything to do with religion, God, or “the Jews.”)

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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