Mil gaya bhagwan ka ‘kan’! (Found the God Particle)

An artistic impression of the Higgs-Boson particle discovery by CERN

That was how the prime time headline read in a popular Hindi news channel. ‘God Particle’ has captured news space following CERN’s discovery of Higgs Boson particle, the particle which physicists believe lays at the core of The Big Bang. Media, and I need not explain why, is holding on to the terminology of ‘God Particle’like a child getting a candy. The fancy term was coined by Leon Lederman, a Nobel laureate, indicating the divinity aspect of science. (‘kan’, for those who are unfamiliar is the Hindi for particle).

The first brush of a large swathe of people to God Particle must have come from Dan Brown’s novel Angels and Demons, where the antimatter, church, and thereby science and religion played the backdrop of the gripping book. And that such a particle which now is claimed to have been found or characterized with high precision, after it was proposed way back in the 1960’s, has caught people’s imagination.

So what in simple words would be god particle or more correctly Higgs Boson? In what non-physicists can understand is that the electrons and protons (yes we have been bombarded with those since high school) have obtained their mass have from some other sub atomic particle. That this sub atomic particle in its course of movement, in a field, gets attracted by other sub atomic particles and help them gain weight. The particle also in the process gains mass. The extrapolation of this theory goes well into beginning of matter.

So far so good. Physicists at CERN have however emphasized that it is not going to affect the average person in any way. This discovery is to understand the beginning of the universe, or how mass is attributed to particles, or the interplay of subatomic particles and such theories. What is particularly a point of criticism is the amount of pounds spent in arriving at these conclusions. A staggering figure in recessionary times.

Do we need to discover the Higgs boson, or the god particle, or the elusive one at such cost is the question. Funding for research is highly essential for newer discoveries that would help in the betterment of the human race. There are also plenty of research done for finding some answers which may not in the end benefit directly humans or animals but would satiate some questions. Higgs boson is about the latter. It may not change our daily lives, it may still take another decade or two to actually distinguish the molecule, but it clarifies some questions like ‘how did it all start?’ Millions of pounds which could feed billions for years to find some answers, is it justified?

The media owing to its need to sensationalize and the lack of scientific knowledge have painted this news in various lights. While not many in the media have been able to explain Higgs Boson to the average person, it has been able to catch on to God Particle and convey to masses the religious implication of a scientific discovery. The right question that it should be asking is about the coexistence of science and divinity.

It is the philosophical questions, like ‘Who are we’? ‘Where did we come from?’, ‘What is our purpose on earth?’ that humans have asked since time immemorial. And the answers have been sought in that particular domain earlier and in science later. That the answer seeking can become such a costly affair, especially when translation into anything meaningful is nowhere in sight, that more questions than answers get added.

About Sambit Dash 30 Articles
Other than teaching Biochemistry to undergraduate students of medicine i write, i research, i speak, i read...and i am passionate about these activities