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Particles – “I want to be a particle of your light”

A general view of ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) cavern and detector during a behind the scenes tour at CERN, the World’s Largest Particle Physics Laboratory on April 19, 2017 in Meyrin, Switzerland.

In physics a particle is defined as a tiny unit of matter. But what is matter?

Subatomic physics discoveries along with the development of semiotics (the study of signs) have thrown the entire notion of matter into question.

Erwin Schrödinger, an Austrian physicist, saw the particle as a standing wave, which is a relatively stable energy pattern. For others, particles are seen as wave packets of energy.

Particle physicists also hypothesize what the media has sensationalized as the “God Particle.”¹ If its existence is confirmed, the God Particle apparently would resolve some of the inconsistencies found in theoretical physics.

Time to step back and think intelligently, something that some scientists fail to do. My main beef with the claims of some researchers rests on the problem of subjectivity.

How may we confirm the independent existence of something when the longstanding debate about subjectivity (biased observation) vs. objectivity (unbiased observation) is unresolved, and might always be?

An example of simulated data modelled for the ...

An example of simulated data modelled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. Here, following a collision of two protons, a is produced which decays into two jets of hadrons and two electrons. The lines represent the possible paths of particles produced by the proton-proton collision in the detector while the energy these particles deposit is shown in blue. (Wikipedia)

Physicists play a high priced game and convince a good number of people that they’re getting at some basic truth when arguably they’re just fabricating a historically relative worldview.

As any sociologist worth his or her salt with note, scientists carry out experiments within a given framework that, consciously or unconsciously, not only advance knowledge but also reinforce and legitimize beliefs about (a) how best to proceed and (b) what our world is all about.

So alleged high-tech “confirmations” run the risk of becoming, at bottom, a biased way of saying that a particular truth game is the truth game.

But science is no abstract game. It’s a human enterprise that takes money to operate. The general public is easily enchanted by glimmering machines and Photoshopped lab results. And this popular enthusiasm probably makes it easier for scientists to get funded.²

Not that I’m a Luddite, dead against anything new. Physics, of course, can be theoretically useful and reap many practical rewards. Our limits as a species should not deter us from exploring and developing new ideas. However, we would be wise to remember that ideas like the God Particle are culturally relative stories and certainly not the whole story.

¹ Many scientists, themselves, see this as an irresponsible metaphor for the hypothesized Higgs Boson particle.

² I have no data on this but it seems like common sense. Science exists in society. If nobody in society is interested in something, chances are funding won’t happen. Enthusiasm can have a ripple effect throughout the whole system.

† Title quote from Bruce Cockburn, “Hills of Morning” from the True North album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. One of the things I like about Cockburn’s “peak period” lyrics is his intelligent mix of science and spirituality.

Related » Democritus, David Hume, Philipp Eduard Anton Lenard, Particle-Wave Duality, Thomas Young

 Lithuania joins CERN as associate member (

 Clash of the particle people (

 Physicists find new particle with a double dose of charm (

 CERN’s LHCb experiment announces observation of a new particle (

 Can World’s Largest Atom Smasher Solve the Universe’s Deepest Mysteries? (

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Thomas Young (1773 – 1829)

English: Wave particle duality p known

Wave particle duality p known (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas Young (1773-1829) was an English scientist, physician and Egyptologist. He made important contributions toward deciphering the Rosetta Stone, has been called the father of physiological optics, and has made other significant contributions in the history of ideas,¹ but he’s remembered most for conducting the famous double slit experiment in 1803.

In this experiment light was said to behave like a wave due to an observable interference pattern. This suggests that light is a type of energy, as opposed to a collection of particles.

In 1905 the view of light as energy was challenged or, perhaps, better said, confounded by the Hungarian-German Nazi Philipp Lenard, whose own experiments demonstrated that light also behaves like a particle, which is normally understood as a unit of matter.

Diagram for the double-slit experiment

Diagram for the double-slit experiment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until this point in Western intellectual history, a history that Richard Nisbett² and others say is almost obsessively concerned with rational categories, matter and energy were thought to be entirely different because, according to previously available observational frameworks, matter behaved differently than energy.

Since the discovery of the apparent duality of light as matter and energy, however, an entirely new series of experiments and theories have arisen about the enigmatic “stuff” of the universe.

This search includes what physicists have recently called the “God Particle” (Higgs boson). If its existence is confirmed, this would apparently resolve some inconsistencies in theoretical physics, as it now stands.

Related Posts » Democritus, Hume (David), Particle, Particle-Wave Duality, Schrödinger (Erwin), Standing Wave


² Richard E. Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why. New York: The Free Press, 2003.