Wednesday, July 4, 2012

They Found the God Particle? Well, Sort Of...

The news is all abuzz abou the announcement of the discovery of the "God" particle, which really isn't a "God" particle at all, as its discovery sheds no information whatsoever on the origin of the universe. In fact, according to Wikipedia, scientists hate the name. Why is it called the "God" particle?
The Higgs boson is often referred to as "the God particle" by the media, after the title of Leon Lederman's popular science book on particle physics, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? Lederman said he gave it the nickname "The God Particle" because the particle is "so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive," but jokingly added that a second reason was because "the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing."
Still, the media loves the name, because it's much more exciting (and generates far more clicks) than, "The Higgs boson", which sounds much more like a bad rock band; or the name of a recent LeCarre novel.)
And yet, reading about the discovery in the Washington Post, which really tries hard to explain what the heck the Higgs boson is - and fails miserably - one paragraph caught my attention. Writing about how the scientists "found" the particle, we learn that they didn't actually find anything at all.
The CERN physicists did not see this new particle directly, because it disintegrates too quickly. Rather, they divined its existence from sifting through the debris of millions of high-energy subatomic collisions and then searching for clues that the Higgs had been there. It’s like divining the presence of an elusive snow leopard by studying thousands of criss-crossed paw prints. 
In other words, they didn't actually see the particle. That's impossible. They just saw evidence that it exists. Sounds a lot, actually, like the way we relate to God.
As we all know, we cannot see the existence of God. But the evidence of the Divine presence is all around us, if we just know how to look for it.
This morning, I was speaking with a neighbor whose wife just gave birth to a daughter (Mazal Tov Shapiro Family!), and he mentioned to me a TED Talks video about the miracle of birth. The speaker, Alexander Tsiaras of Harvard University, never mentions God, but alludes to God (it's almost as if a scientist can't explicitly say God), but he does say that the things that they saw in their scans of the body, "Just make you marvel. "It was hard," he says, "not to attribute divinity to [the beautiful, miraculous organization of the human body], because we kept seeing this over and over and over again in different parts of the body. "
You don't need a $17 Billion Large Hadron Collider in France to find a God particle. No, we cannot see God Himself. But the evidence of His existence is right before us, if only we know how to look.