Well, that got your attention. But the title isn’t original; it’s taken from a number of newspaper articles that describe the approaching end to the search for the mysteriously named Higgs boson.
As we all know (!) the Higgs boson is that supposed subatomic particle, that basis of all matter, which, if it exists is god – perhaps I should leave the typo – news for those who persuaded Europe to spend close to $7 billion looking for it, and a lot of red faces if they find out it doesn’t exist.
Far be it for me to write a science blog and explain that discovery of the Higgs boson would support the standard model of physics that supposed tiny ‘subatomic’ particles combined to form the atoms that make the universe. The elusive one of those particles is our Higgs boson. Not finding it will have all students of physics since the 1960s with a great hole in their knowledge, or to put it another way, a whole lot of knowledge that is quite simply wrong.
The reason I am finding this so interesting is the connection to nothing. After all, what is the Higgs boson if not the closest we can get to nothing? And it is why it is also called “the God particle”.
And so it goes on: the unquenchable quest for nothing, the urge to find the smallest point before there is nothing. The Higgs boson, God, or whatever…
After they find it – or some other “God particle” – what happens? One step beyond, will there be nothing? Will everything all disappear?
Got link for your blog from LinkedIn Philosophy thread. It is more likely that discovery of the ‘smallest’ subatomic particle will only lead to realization that there are even smaller sub atomic particles…I propose infinity in all directions.
I think you are right, Tina. The urge to get to nothing is astonishing. There will always be something smaller and then something smaller than that. It is what happens in minimalistic art, with the urge to get to less and less in order to get to the basics. It’s impossible, of course.
I disagree with what you are saying here in several aspects. LHC (and any past and future accelerator) is tooling used to test models and find more about particle zoo we have. As such, search for Higgs boson has received loads of media hype, but this is not the only purpose of LHC. Far away from that. Finding Higgs or finding that it’s not there (or at least not where we expect it to be) is equally important. Knowing this builds further paths of exploration and search for knowledge. Concept of nothing to be is closely related to concept of infinity or finite sizes – it is interesting and mind bowling due to its nature which is not our common experience, but once you dig further it gets interesting from many points and views.
In our universe or reality, we are aware of certain finite features and they do build virtual cage as far as we can go (technologically not being able to reach those is something completely different – that’s dynamic component).
As always, I expect Standard model to be incomplete and I believe many would agree to that. And that’s beauty of the science; questioning all the time values we firmly set and learning more about reality around us. From that point, I would say quantum physics (and not just physics) has opened, and still is as we just started grasping initial concepts, may change our notion of reality in future (space, time and its projection).
I believe we are pretty limited to get to the bottom of the things as they are and there is nothing wrong with it. Advance has its own pace which is exponential and we learn more and more compare to previous (same) time frames. What I really like is the fact that theory has taken a lead now; so far our findings focused on what we could observe and then we tried to explain it. For the past 200 years we see more and more shit; we build models on our finding and we build theories which then needs to be tested and thus approved or disapproved. That’s also very nice thing for philosophic concepts too.
Will there will be something smaller? Sure, it is possible. But there might be finite point where you can’t dig any further. While mainstream claim is that Planck is the limit, some recent observations of gravitational waves for example suggest quantum jitters happening at much smaller scale. At the moment, we know empty space is full of life and we recently started to experimentally prove that too. Such organisation and structure will require modification, update or upgrade of current models (maybe even new something completely new if we learn that all the time we have been trying to explain cloud of consequence instead of cloud of causes).
I can easily see nothing being everything – it all depends on point of view and whether definition should come with incorporated limits of our sensing or some deeper layers that we suspect and may confirm in future. I believe one can spend days, weeks or even more debating and throwing different philosophical aspects on this. Search for Higgs (or more precisely, mechanism which would explain mass in particles) is model testing. And it is not just model of Higgs boson, but also other theories who abandoned Higgs like technicolor or even its upgrade with 5D gauge theory (based on holographic principle I believe). It will take at least one to two years more – and then we will know whether Higgs mechanism concept was right or not.
Thank you for your interesting response. I’m not sure, though, what it is that you are disagreeing with. I was not disparaging the work of LHC, nor stating that searching for the Higgs boson is its only purpose. My blog post was about the [philosophical] repercussions of finding, or not finding, it. I agree that not finding it would be just as important as finding it – a point I made in my blog.
I agree with what you wrote about the beauty of science and its willingness to progress and possibly change our most basic assumptions. Like philosophy, science deals more and more with theory and then sets out to “prove” it. At the end of the day, science is philosophy, which is the point I was making regarding the Higgs boson.
Your statement that “there might be a finite point where you can’t dig any further” is problematic. You have no more reason for making that conjecture than others before you made about what seemed the limits of knowledge at the time. In fact, your following remarks show that we are still moving “downwards”. And that was my main point: what happens when we have dug as far as we can go? Will be get to nothing? Nothing means exactly that – the impossibility of anything (including us!) being around.
The relation between “nothing” and infinity is dealt with in my book, specifically in pp 225-228 as part of my general thesis as to what Nothing might be (or not be). I have a strong suspicion that you will disagree upon that particular point.
Furthermore, I don’t understand what you mean about the possibility of “nothing being everything”. Treading onto dangerous ground, you throw down a contradiction and leave it dangling. For Nothing to be everything, it would mean that there isn’t anything. If nothing is nothing, than it can’t be something – and certainly not everything.
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