Nobel Prize for ‘God Particle’ Discovery Prompts Deeper Questions

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - 5:56am
Photo by Rene Passet

Nobel Prize for ‘God Particle’ Discovery Prompts Deeper Questions

For their revolutionary prediction of the Higgs boson – the so-called God particle – physicists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert were recently awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Although their discovery lays the groundwork for explaining the nature and essence of pretty much everything we see, there is at least one question that remains to be answered: Where did the thought of the Higgs boson come from?

But first, a little background.

What Higgs and Englert did was to explain how elementary particles gain mass by interacting with other particles within an invisible field of energy – the Higgs field – that spans the entire universe. Just like you might feel if you were swimming through a pool of molasses, the more these particles interact, the heavier and slower they become, allowing other particles to latch on. The particle associated with this field is the Higgs boson.

Well-known futurist and theoretical physicist, Michio Kaku, described this process in more dramatic terms in the Wall Street Journal last year, saying that the Higgs boson is what put the “bang” in the proverbial Big Bang.

“Everything we see around us, including galaxies, stars, planets and us,” said Kaku, “owes its existence to the Higgs boson.”

To characterize this as a significant discovery would be an understatement of cosmic proportions. And yet for all our ability to conceive of such particles and processes, the scientific community has yet to come up with a satisfactory explanation as to the nature of consciousness itself.

“Consciousness cannot be perceived, but without it there is no perception,” said physician-turned-mind-body-guru, Deepak Chopra, in a video produced for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. “It cannot be cognized, but without it there is no thought.”

Even so, there are many these days, including Chopra, who think that consciousness, as imperceptible and inexplicable as it may be, is actually at the root of everything we experience. Not just what we think, but what we see, what we feel – even our health.

Within this context, you have to wonder if the Higgs boson itself would exist without our thinking it existed in the first place. Is it possible that by thinking differently – about ourselves, about others, about our universe – we might begin to see things differently?

Nineteen century religious reformer and medical pioneer, Mary Baker Eddy, thought so. Long before the Higgs boson was even conceived, her own experiments led her to conclude that the divinely inspired consciousness “relinquishes a material, sensual, and mortal theory of the universe, and adopts the spiritual and immortal” – a process that she observed results in both moral and physical transformation.

Years later, Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind-Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, came to essentially the same conclusion.

In 2008 he, along with Dr. Towia Libermann, director of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, co-authored a study showing that what Benson calls the “relaxation response” – a physiologic state of deep rest elicited by meditation, deep breathing and prayer – influences the activation patterns of genes associated with the body’s response to stress. In other words, different thought = different body.

Since then a number of other studies have documented how this relaxation response not only alleviates the symptoms of psychological disorders such as anxiety, but also affects physiologic factors such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and brain activity.

“For hundreds of years Western medicine has looked at mind and body as totally separate entities, to the point where saying something ‘is all in your head’ implied that it was imaginary,” wrote Benson in his report. “Now we’ve found how changing the activity of the mind can alter the way basic genetic instructions are implemented.”

This brings us back to the original and still unanswered question: Where did the thought of the Higgs boson come from? Does this particle exist only in our mind? Can it be manipulated by our thoughts? Is it possible that matter isn’t so much a thing as it is a perspective? If so, could it be that by changing this perspective we might discover that our essential nature isn’t matter-based after all?

Maybe the most important thing we have learned with the discovery of the Higgs boson is that there are a lot more questions to be answered and a lot more discoveries to be made – discoveries of both cosmic proportion and, perhaps more importantly, spiritual dimension.


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Eric Nelson

is the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. His writing on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications.

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While I have my spiritual belief and practice, I am always conscious of my own conscious thought limitations AND, for me, importantly, do not delve in pseudo-science babble, which is the content of this article, however well-intentioned the author. The ability to shift or transform perception is a characteristic of human psychology, and has its roots in neuro-science. Whether we yet fully understand it is really immaterial. To make the leap that Higgs Boson somehow bestows special divinity on humans is nothing that any physicist wants to have anything to do with. This is definitely a "get over yourselves" moment.

When I read your remark, I wondered if you had ever read Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." Knowledge generation---new ways of seeing and understanding, scientific or otherwise-- and changes in the way we understand and conceptualize, is a mucky process, even using quantitative methods. Science is not pure--physics or otherwise.

Speaking of the power of thoughts, the self-referential nature of these kinds of arguments is one of our favorite kinds of thought trap! Take the same argument one step beyond consciousness-as-perceived-by-humans (to ontological metaphysics) and you get something quite interesting.

Thank you for the contribution Eric!

Thanks for the comments so far. One question that comes to mind is whether or not we're willing to allow our consciousness and our view of things in general to be influenced/informed by something besides the five physical senses. Even if you don't think this "something" is divine in nature, I think it's important to at least be open to the possibility that "things" are necessarily what they appear and that perhaps consciousness plays a much bigger role in our experience than is generally accepted.

Thanks, Eric. I think you are onto something important. What if the Big Bang represents effect and not cause? What if particles and their agglomeration into this or that form over time was/is caused by thought or consciousness? Science has demonstrated that different parts of the brain have different functions but what decided that this would be so? In short, have we been guilty of upside -down thinking?

I love's great stuff. The Big Bang is a synapse firing in the mind of Dog.

Thanks for your comments Bruce and Michelle. The only thing I'll add at this point is that, by their own admission, consciousness is not something that is entirely understood by scientists. The brain? Sure, we have a pretty good idea how that works. But consciousness? I've had a chance to chat with at least a few neuroscientists on this subject and I have yet to find anyone who has come up with "the" definitive answer as to what consciousness is. Until we do, I'd say that we should keep all possibilities on the table.

The fundamental problem of scientists is that all of their discussions -- and not just in neuroscience but also, say, in biology -- is that regardless of how they try to unravel the workings of consciousness in various ways, they are basically dealing with consciousness AFTER it's inside matter. No one ever deals with how it gets inside matter in the first place; or, as Richard Grossinger puts it, they haven't figured out "how to get the city inside the acorn."

As Grossinger has pointed out, there was a time where some seemed to be saying that, if you keep adding more and more neurons, at a certain point they become conscious. But what determines that? Is there some kind of tipping point of quantification? It seems like an easy way out… Consciousness itself suggests that it isn't "in there" to begin with, and you can't get it in there by way of quantity. Regarding how consciousness appears in various so-called paranormal documented activity (like telepathy) strongly supports positing non-locality for consciousness.

To the best of my lay understanding, the Higgs Boson was essential to inflation of the universe and existed prior to emergence of human (and maybe even alien thought) consciousness. Thus it seems to me, the question is moot.

But not necessarily prior to the existence of a 'universal consciousness', 'mind-at-large'...

As a youth in the 1960s, I was an avid reader of Scientific American and noticed that "new" subatomic particles were regularly being "found" soon after they were proposed as necessary components of the Standard Model. In the naive wisdom of youth, unconstrained by the accepted axioms of the scientific community, it occurred to me that these "particles" were epiphenomena of the intellectual theories which demanded them. It seemed to me that the thought of matter not only preceded but created that material "reality".

Contrary to Bruce Taylor's dismissal of this article as "pseudo-scientific babble", I read it as meta-scientific analysis - a larger than science perception of both the limits and the power of human thought.

Many rationalists stumble upon any suggestion of divinity in the greater consciousness which almost all humans have considered the ultimate reality, but there is no need to call it God or conceive of it as something "outside" of the physical universe. All matter and energy is coded information, to which physicists put names such as 11 dimensions of vibrating strings, six flavors of quarks, three colors of gluons, and Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) which comprise the dark matter that is 27% of the total mass of the universe, and dark energy which comprises another 68%, leaving less than 5% that can be detected and measured - a far more fanciful and fantastic story than that found in any religious text.

But, if the fundamental "field" of the universe is coded information with inherent symmetries, then there is no reason not to conceive of this as a Great Consciousness which manifests as the "things" of physical reality, with our personal consciousness being elements of the Greater and the Collective Unconscious postulated by Yung as the portion of the Greater that is shared by all humanity.

Do we We share The Great Consiousness with "God"?

Maybe The Great Consciousness IS God? :)

I am amazed how wicked smart you all are....hey wait, did you just call me a wimp. This is great stuff.

Mary Baker Eddy author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures who taught "mental healing" and believed in the existence of "malicious animal magnetism" is no more a "medical pioneer" than Ron L. Hubbard author of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health is a pioneer of mental health.

What both of these colorful characters - in the venerable line of new world charlatans that includes Joseph Smith founder of the Mormon Church - have in common with Deepak Chopra is the misappropriation of the word Science to capitalize on the legitimacy and truthfulness that science confers. Neither of their claims have anything to do with science and of course collapse instantly under rational and scientific scrutiny, which is governed by standards of evidence.

The misguided massive following that this pseudoscience enjoys is in part attributable to the deplorable state of science education. The author of this article appears to be a product of this education also: He asks: Does the Higgs boson exist only in our mind?

Over a period of more than 40 years since the particle was first proposed thousands of the world's top scientists and engineers from over 100 countries, as well as hundreds of universities and laboratories spent millions of man-hours and billions of Euros for the sole purpose of answering precisely that question. They answered it on March 14, 2013 with the help of a machine considered one of the great engineering milestones of mankind specially built for that purpose. The answer, sadly, appears to have been lost on Mr. Nelson.

When reading this article, I am reminded of the Hindu mythology of the god Vishnu, resting on the cosmic lotus blossom. If I remember correctly, the diety opens his eyes and the universe comes into being. He closes his eyes, and it disappears. To look is to create.
Some parallels here too with experiments in physics in which things not looked at do not exist.

Yes, and not just in physics, but in the sciences generally - wherein things not perceived remain unseen. Although it can also be said that there are things which one doesn't want to understand, and so they remain not understood. The supposed objectivity of scientists in their quest to determine what is "real" is extremely relative. Since science posits its own pre-determined and narrowed range of perceptions (as in its "reductionist" prerogative), it cannot see beyond that materialistic playing field - and not because it is the only thing that could be truly said to exist, but merely because it is only what it is willing to accept subjectively and engage with. It is truly a choice, truly subjective… not objective at all. And so what science can teach us is limited...

A physicist responds
I am an experimental physicist and process theologian and I would like to clarify a few things about the Higgs boson, or "God" particle.

1.  NO ELEMENTARY PARTICLE HAS EVER BEEN "SEEN".  This is because not all of them interact with the electromagnetic field and, those that do, are much, much smaller then the wavelength of visible light.  We have only seen photons that suggest the existence of elementary particles.

2.  What has been observed is changes in systems (atomic or sub-atomic) measured through interactions with devices that we believe that we understand.  WHAT HAS BEEN OBSERVED IS EVIDENCE THAT SOME OF WHAT WE THINK ARE ELEMENTARY PARTICLES HAVE MASS AND OTHERS DO NOT.  Also, the existence of particles, their collisions and creation, seem to suggest that the property called mass is grainy.  It is not continuously distributed, but rather comes in distinct jumps and changes in magnitude.

3.  THESE OBSERVATIONS ARE A PUZZLE OR PROBLEM BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT WHAT WE HAD EXPECTED FROM OUR THEORIES.  Here is a related example:  by looking at particle collisions, physicists have observed the incoming and outgoing particles of these collisions that suggest that particles we call baryons and mesons (like protons and neutrons), are composed of fractionally charged particles that have been called, amusingly, “quarks”.  According to the theory embraced currently by most physicists, a single quark CANNOT be observed; all that can be observed is reactions that make the most sense if we posit the existence of quarks.  Quarks have never been seen and, possibly, can never be seen; but some experimental evidence is most easily explained by positing their existence. 

4.  THE SOLUTION TO THIS PUZZLE IS EXPLAINED BY THE INVENTION OF A THEORY THAT POSITS UNSEEN PARTICLES OR INTERACTIONS. Therefore the solution of the question “[w]here did the thought of the Higgs boson come from?” is the statement taken from the Wikipedia article on them that states “the Higgs Boson is an elementary particle initially theorized in 1964 and TENTATIVELY confirmed to exist on 14 March 2013.”

So, having explained all this, I believe that it is fair to state that the Higgs boson WOULD NOT have existed without our first thinking of it.  The effect of the Higgs particles did, of course, exist for many millennia before humans walked upright; but the concept of the Higgs boson did not exist until the mid 60s.  This is all that the Higgs boson is:  it is a concept that helps us explain observations that we have made.  It helps us build a conceptual framework that we can use to explain our observations of the universe around us. 

Like all elementary particles, the Higgs boson exists in our minds as a convenient tool that we posit to help us make sense of what we observe.  We can’t manipulate these particles by our thoughts, though we might find the need to append our thoughts slightly if doing so will help us make sense of further observations.

so, if we can find these particles, dark matter, neutrons, electrons, protons, etc. then why hasnt anyone found the energy that powers humans and other mammals, amphibians, etc. surely there is an energy other than electricity over synapse that powers us

I know if I do not put the peanut butter on the cracker it will taste like a cracker without the peanut butter.

These thoughts bring outrageous speculation. Exactly the intent.

Is a thought matter? If so, what is the physical limit of our imaginations? If thought is not matter, what forms an image? If thoughts could be mathematical potentials of no dimensions, is their existence biological quantum superposition realized but not actualized? Is math a representation of our reality or is it our reality whose fundamental properties are revealing our elemental existence in a mathematical reality?

I humbly suggest this is vital exploration for all areas of inquiry.

I think you would be interested in reading works by Bernardo Kastrup (scientist, philosopher, computer expert), especially "Rationalist Spirituality: An exploration of the meaning of life and existence informed by logic and science." He is an idealist. Believes consciousness forms the fundamental fabric of the universe; mind is not limited by brain and materiality is a product of consciousness. Very articulate & brilliant.