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.
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?
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.
Lithuania joins CERN as associate member (cerncourier.com)
Clash of the particle people (physicsworld.com)
Physicists find new particle with a double dose of charm (bostonherald.com)
CERN’s LHCb experiment announces observation of a new particle (watchers.news)
Can World’s Largest Atom Smasher Solve the Universe’s Deepest Mysteries? (livescience.com)