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Archive for November, 2009

Looking for the God Particle?

Now there is a Test

 

 What occurred within a billionth of a second after the Big Bang? How was our universe actually created? These types of questions have generated a great deal of excitement among the world’s particle physicists and cosmologists for a very long time. The latter question about the origin of our universe has also generated a lot of interest on the part of general public as well. Speculation and explanation as to how the universe was actually created has tended to fall into two categories—scientific and religious.

 These two perspectives may soon cross paths on the road to a final definitive answer of how the universe began. I will explain the fascinating realm of particle physics and the interconnection to religious thought about the origin of the universe from both a scientific and religious perspective. I’m going to put forth my ideas using logic and reasoning power as to what the connection is and try to resolve it. It’s a tall order but someone has to do it. My ideas will come at the end of this Blog. For now, the reader needs a little background on these questions and the scientific approach to answering them.

Background

 Physics is now on the verge (perhaps) of confirming a “Theory of Everything” known as String Theory or M-Theory.  Albert Einstein spent the last thirty years of his life trying to reconcile the physical laws of Quantum Mechanics with General Relativity. It was an attempt to weave together the physics of the very large (with concepts like time, space, gravity and huge entities like galaxies, solar systems, and the movement of planets) with the physics underlying of the very small (atomic and sub-atomic particles and their motions such as atoms [the smallest unit of any chemical element] and sub-atomic particles [which are the basic indivisible particles of matter, like quarks and leptons]).

 As brilliant as Albert Einstein was, he was not successful with bridging quantum mechanics with his theory of general relativity. In addition to understanding a theory of everything are questions important to understanding the origin of our universe. Without getting much into the theoretical background of particle physics, I want to explain to the reader what the scientific questions will be explored with the Hadron Collider.

  It is anticipated that the Hadron Collider will either demonstrate or rule out the existence of the elusive Higgs boson, the last unobserved particle among those predicted by the Standard Model. The particles in the Standard Model make up all the visible matter in the universe. The problem of the Standard Model in physics is threefold: (1) We don’t know if all particles are there, (2) it doesn’t tell one how matter in our universe was created, and (3) the model doesn’t account for gravitation, dark matter, and dark energy.

 The God Particle (viewed by some as the Goddamn particle), or more aptly named, Higgs boson, is theorized to have existed in that billionth of a second after the Big Bang and is believed to help most of the particles in the Standard Model obtain their mass at that time. This gets complicated real quick because wave-particles like photons probably were unaffected by the Higgs boson and simply passed through it at the time of the Big Bang.

The following are some of the important scientific questions to be answered by the Hadron Collider experiment:

Scientific Questions

Is the Higgs mechanism for generating elementary particle masses in the Standard Model indeed realized in nature? If so, how many Higgs bosons are there, and what are their masses?

 Why is gravity so many orders of magnitude weaker than the other three  fundamental forces?

 Are electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force just different manifestations of a single unified force, as predicted by various Grand Unification Theories?

 Is Supersymmetry realized in nature, implying that the known Standard Model particles have supersymmetric partners?

 Are there additional sources of quark flavour violation beyond those already predicted within the Standard Model?

 Why are there apparent violations of the symmetry between matter and antimatter?

 What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy?

 Are there extra dimensions, as predicted by various models inspired by string theory, and can we detect them?

Now There is a Test

 There are efforts that have been underway for some time to answer some of the greatest secrets of our universe. One such effort is known as the Hadron Collider. It is 17 miles in circumference and 570 feet beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. It was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). It is believed that at the beginning of the universe (in that billionth or trillionth of a second) after the Big Bang Singularity, particle mass was created from energy [remember Einstein’s E = mc2 which was a beautiful formula for the interconnection of mass and energy]

 The Hadron Collider’s importance to science cannot be underestimated. Briefly, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, intended to collide opposing particle beams of either protons or lead nuclei. The purpose of doing this is to search for the hypothesized Higgs boson, and the large family of new particles predicted by supersymmetry.

In 2008, the LHC was successful for the very first tine in colliding proton beams, but was halted due to a serious fault between two superconducting bending magnets. Due to repair time the LHC is scheduled to come back online in mid-November 2009. The scientific world is looking forward to the results of the LHC experiment.

 But readers need to know—what does all this mean? Why is it important? If you want to explore this on your own I recommend the following book: The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? This book was written by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon M. Lederman and science writer Dick Terisi.

The LHC will try to create the Higgs boson again by shooting protons at each other traveling at near the speed of light [approximately 11,000 times around the 17-mile collider in just one second]. The results will be spectacular even if the Higgs boson is not confirmed. Steven Hawking is betting that it doesn’t exist. Non findings would be significant because it means, according to Hawking that, “I think it will be much more exciting if we don’t find the Higgs. That will show something is wrong, and we need to think again….. If the LHC does find supersymmetry, this would be one of the greatest achievements in the history of theoretical physics.” Hawking also has said, “It would also be a key confirmation of string theory.”   

 As mentioned at the top of this Blog, there are two basic perspectives on the origin of the universe, one scientific and the other religious. Two subjects modern day physicists haven’t spoken of in relation to the Hadron Collider (but are very much aware of them) has to do with the possible existence of a mutiverse, i.e., a large bubble or sea of universes (trillions upon trillions upon trillions of them with no limit) and consistent with such a notion as a multiverse is the concept of forever.

Whenever I’ve tried to conceptualize these two ideas (multiverse and forever)—it has raised goose bumps on my spine. The Hadron Collider is an impressive step forward among particle physicists and cosmologists in their ability to understand our universe. But what I’m going to discuss now is the concept of forever, and what, if anything, a religious perspective can contribute to our understanding of forever as a concept. These are my original ideas.    

Exploring Hypotheses Regarding God and the Universe

 Karen Armstrong described in her book, The History of God, how the concept of God changed over time in biblical scriptures. God changes in meaning over time because man’s relationship to a God changes over time. One of the biggest changes enacted by religious followers of Christianity occurred in the Fourth Century (325 C.E.) when the bizarre concept of the Trinity was created to settle the question of Christ’s humanness versus his alleged divinity.

This profound change in the ‘divinity’ status of Christ paralleled many of the changes that occurred among the pantheon of polytheistic Gods that people worshipped in the ancient world. Pagan religions and Christianity were very similar in creating anthropomorphic images of themselves and the God(s).  The many gods of paganism and polytheism attributed human characteristics to their gods; by contrast, Christianity attributed human characteristics (male gender, emotions like love, anger, jealousy and rage) to their monotheistic God. If God is unknowable or incomprehensible then how did the writers of the Bible attribute so many human characteristics to God?

 But Christianity took it one step further and made a man of human flesh and blood into a god when the concept of the Trinity was created. These changes were all about images that were very much anthropomorphic. The idea that God is not because He transcends all being was never considered by the Christian traditional perspective.

It is said in many locations throughout the Bible that man was created in the image of God. What was meant by this? The idea of image was not something new to the ancient world in which Christianity developed. Many of the images that arose in connection from the many Gods of Paganism (polytheism) were of animals, or the sun or the planets.

 Christianity attributed a one creator God of the Universe with purely human characteristics. This Christian act is only one step beyond polytheism. By doing this, man essentially was placing himself at the center of his own universe. At that moment— mankind took ownership of the universe. Not wanting to appear egotistical, he substituted himself with the term God, which is the embodiment of man himself.

 By creating an externalized image and calling it God, man could use that idea to make sense and order out of man’s existence. He could following this then make sense and order out of the universe. Ancient peoples desire to make sense of the universe parallels modern day scientists desire who also want to make sense of the universe. It is an enviable goal—but religion and science  just do it differently. Religion is all about Mythos and the attribution of meaning, and Science is all about Logos, a search for rational explanations, based on facts, theories, and  real world observation and data collection on maturalistic phenomena. As explanations go, science in the modern era is now in the driver’s seat. Religion, and religious explanations (natural theology) is a passenger in the back seat.

 Scientific theories of the universe, and their extraordinary complexity, all point to the possible eventual comprehensibility of our universe. There exist the possibility that our universe had no beginning and will have no end and that the laws of physics resulted in a self-contained universe.

Despite its eventual darkness and infinite expansion, it will go on forever. To say that something always existed and will always exist is to cause goose bumps on one’s spine. This occurs because man has difficulty fathoming the concept of infinity or “forever.” It is a “mind-boggling” concept.

The concept is difficult to fathom because our everyday experiences on this earth run counter to it. That is, everything we see, hear and experience in everyday life has a beginning and an end. The seasons come and the seasons go. People are born, live their lives, and then they die. There is nothing very sentimental about reality in that regard. However, the concept of forever is extremely difficult to grasp. The idea that something always existed is equally troubling. Why? Because it is certain that such a concept of forever is indeed outside our everyday experience.

M-Theory and String Theory suggests the possibility that perhaps there are trillions upon trillions of other universes all with their own big bangs and singularities that occurred. Or, perhaps the laws of physics differ from universe to universe, meaning their creation occurred in some other way.

If you can imagine for a moment the idea that the future will go on forever, and that the past “goes back” forever, one is confronting the impossible task of understanding the past from the future, but also by default trying to understand what the concept of   “present” really means in that context. If there is, as Albert Einstein suggested, a space-time continuum where neither space nor time are separate entities, then perhaps there was no creation in the first place if one cannot ever separate space from time.

If one remembers their college physics class, then one must remember the Law of Conservation of Energy. That is, neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed. They are the same thing. What makes them different is that they are simply different forms of the same thing.

If our universe (or any of the other trillions upon trillions of universes) had no beginning and will have no end, and the past goes back forever and the future goes on forever, then that would mean there was no beginning point to any of it. If no beginning point exists (or ever existed), then there is no “creation” or creation point. And if there was no creation or creation point (no beginning and no end) then by definition, there is no need to attribute or invent the need for a supernatural creator. Why? Because there wasn’t a “creation” in the first place that a creator would be needed for. The singularity at the beginning of our inflationary universe may have come about because a parallel universe rubbed up against another universe, thus initiating the big bang singularity and our universe.

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