Friday, September 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

How the "God Particle" is not like God and Where Mass Comes From.

It sounds very anti-intuitive to say a particle gives mass to other particles. It's almost like saying God created the universe, which begs the question of what created God. If you need some outside entitiy to give you mass, when what gives the Higgs its mass?

How the "God Particle" is not like God and Where Mass Comes From.

 To cheers and standing ovations, scientists at the world´s biggest atom smasher claimed the discovery of a new subatomic particle Wednesday July 4, 2012, calling it "consistent" with the long-sought Higgs boson — popularly known as the "God particle" — that helps explain what gives all matter in the universe size and shape. (AP Photo/CERN)
To cheers and standing ovations, scientists at the world's biggest atom smasher claimed the discovery of a new subatomic particle Wednesday July 4, 2012, calling it "consistent" with the long-sought Higgs boson — popularly known as the "God particle" — that helps explain what gives all matter in the universe size and shape. (AP Photo/CERN)

Hi. Higgs here. Whether I won my bet or not, I’m happy for the physicists, even if the Higgs particle has acquired has the most annoying nickname ever to be given to a scientific idea. Every time I hear the term “God Particle” I bring up a hairball.

It's just plain pompous, whether one believes in God or not. It's also not descriptive or helpful.

And it's confusing. When people say the Higgs particle gives other particles their masses, it suggests that particles need some outside entity to give them mass. So what, then, gives the Higgs its mass? The situation is quite analogous to the proposition that God created everything in the universe, which implies that things can't exist without a creator and then begs the question of who or what created God.

Despite their inability to shake the odious "God Particle" label, physicists don't really think of the Higgs this way.

More coverage
 
More in Health: The challenge of treating irritable bowel
 
More in Health: Grilling tip - don't eat the wire brush

Here’s the result of some research we did with our local physicists:

The Higgs is named after the English physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed a theory in 1964 to explain a mystery: why the constituents of matter have mass but the light particle, or photon, is massless. Scientists had gotten used to the idea that electric and magnetic fields could pervade space, and Higgs proposed another field, bearing his name, through which particles could acquire mass.
Physicists say Higgs particles can be thought of as waves or ripples in the Higgs field. The particle is the manifestation of the Higgs theory that's potentially testable.

In the 1970s, the Higgs field was incorporated into a Nobel-winning theory that united electromagnetism with one of the forces involved in nuclear reactions. Now the Higgs idea is woven into the so-called Standard Model, which describes the constituents of matter and the forces that act on them.

So there you go. What they’re seeing is the testable prediction of Dr. Higgs’ idea. The particle doesn't magically bestow mass on other particles. All the particles, including the Higgs, are being weighted down by the Higgs field. By the way, this idea was independently formulated by a few other scientists so there may be a big catfight around Nobel time. Still, the physicists all deserve a treat. Thanks for letting me express my views. – Higgs.

About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

Planet of the Apes
Latest Health Videos
Also on Philly.com:
Stay Connected