Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why “The God Particle” Needs no God?

In 1964 a British physicist by the name of Peter Higgs along with many others wanted to explain the origin of mass in elementary particles. The Higgs mechanism as it’s called proposes that all particles gain mass through the interaction of a quantum field in space called the Higgs field. The elementary particles that are associated with this field are called Higgs boson.

In particle physics, particles are divided into two major groups, the fermions and the bosons. Fermions are particles that take up space and are often referred to as matter particles. Fermions cannot occupy the same quantum state, which means fermions cannot exist in the same space at the same time. Bosons are particles and are often referred to as force carrier particles and are in direct contrast to fermions because they can occupy the same spacetime.  Bosons are responsible for the interaction of the forces like gravity, the weak and strong nuclear forces, and electromagnetism.

The Higgs boson was proposed as a particle that was responsible for giving other particles mass and would have been responsible for all the matter in the universe today.  For the last 50 years scientists have been looking for the particle with no luck, but recently scientists at CERN in Geneva have announced that they have discovered the Higgs Boson.

You may have seen the media talk about this discovery and refer to it as “The God Particle” alluding to some religious implication. However, if anything, this discovery may be one of the early nails in the coffin for the concept of a God-creation event.

The term The God Particle came from a 1983 book on particle physics by a physicist by the name of Leon Lederman entitled: The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?

Now the use of the term The God Particle in the media is a misnomer and one that no one seems apt to correct at this point. First Lederman has stated on countless occasions the original title of the book was “The Goddamn Particle” because of the illusive and villainous nature of the particle, and great expense that it was causing to find. The publisher refused to accept the title and renamed the book. My guess is that a book entitled The God Particle is more likely to sell than one named The Goddamn Particle. Second, there is nothing about the Higgs boson that suggests it has anything to do with a God; to the contrary it suggests that a God is unnecessary to spark existence.

I’ve heard the argument a thousand times.  If there was a big bang than who started it?

For every argument involving the creation of something new, there is a suggestion that existence is required to create further existence. It seems reasonable after all to assume this. For the everyday person sitting in their home, watching their television or driving in their car, they see things going forward, existing in response to something. They understand cause and effect. It’s the old chicken and the egg argument, and for some people the best answer is to just say God did it. After all, you can’t really win that argument can you? If there were a God and he could do anything, than any argument that arises would eventually lead to the use of God as a means of victory. It’s sort of like a game of rock, paper, scissors, except anytime you like; God can be tossed in to win.

A concept most people may never get their heads around is the idea that something can come from nothing. The reason why such a concept is so hard for the average person to understand is that you can see something, and you can’t see nothing.

Nothing is nothing after all or is it?

There is an entire scientific field dedicated to the study of nothing called quantum mechanics. But this is a very subjective term, nothing. Nothing implies that when you observe something, it is not there, and in quantum mechanics this is true. However, it is also true that in quantum mechanics that it can be there and not there simultaneously. In fact, in quantum mechanics, it can be there, not there, or somewhere else entirely, simultaneously. Now this kind of thinking would seem to contradict reality, after all, it’s hard to imagine anything that can exist in many places simultaneously. However, when we shrink things down to the scale of the quantum universe that’s precisely how things work.

It’s hard to look at our universe as grandiose as it is, and believe that it could have ever been infinitely smaller than the smallest particles we can see, but it once was. Even someone who doesn’t understand how chemistry works can understand how chemicals change state from solids to liquids to gas and back again. Most people for instance know that heat when applied to a liquid like water causes it to change its state from a liquid to gas when it becomes steam. But understanding how and why this happens is really the most important part.

When things are cold, I mean real cold, they tend to be solid. Freezing points and boiling points can be different for different things, but for everything there does seem to be an absolute zero, the temperature at which atoms no longer move. It is at this point, that entropy is at its lowest point, nothing moves forward, it is cold and dark. That is our ultimate end, but to understand that, we have to take things into reverse. If something can reach a state at which point all matter ceases to function, atoms cease to move, they become solid, they become super cold, then there must be an exact opposite at which all matter becomes super hot, and its state changes into a form that contradicts the nature of something solid.

We know that if we take an ice cube from the freezer and apply heat to it, the atoms in the water begin to heat up and move. As they get excited the state of the water changes form into a liquid, and if we continue to heat it up, the matter changes form again into a gas. But what happens if we continue to heat things up? What will it become then? When you continue to heat a gas up, some of it begins to ionize, the particles become electrically charged, and the gas is converted into plasma.

As things heat up, something interesting happens; matter starts to break down into simpler forms. First it breaks into simple molecules, and then into atoms. And if we continue to turn up the heat, even the atoms break down into neutrons and protons. But we are not finished yet, we continue to turn things up and suddenly around 1027oC things get really strange and the neutrons and protons break down. What we are left with is a field of electrically charged quarks and other sub-atomic particles.

So now imagine that the entire universe has been super heated to this point, well you’ve just imagined what it was like a fraction of a second after the big bang. In terms of how simplicity becomes complexity, it’s as easy as understanding how things go from hot to cold. Because in a super hot universe, complexity isn’t possible, and only in a cold universe can complexity happen. How cold, you ask?

Well understanding that absolute zero is around 273oC and space is around 270oC you begin to understand just what kind of temperatures I am talking about. Now of course, Earth isn’t nearly as cold, in fact if it were life would never have formed, the objects conform to the space around them, and as the universe cools, it allows the objects to form at the temperatures they need. A universe that isn’t as cool, is a universe where other things do not form, so the temperature of everything is precisely where it needs to be, much like the porridge in the story of Goldilocks and the three bears.

So now we are left with this super heated electrically charged plasma of quarks that has inflated into our universe, but it begs the question still what was the catalyst for the bang, the expansion of the universe?

For thousands of years humans have been measuring time, first by the use of the rotation of our Earth on its daily axis, to the rotation of the Earth during its yearly orbit around our Sun, and later by the use of clocks. Time has always been measured by the predictable repetition of things to measure something in a quantitative way. Measuring the rotation of the Earth on a sundial humans were able to divide the day into hours, and discover that there are 24 hours in each day. Time is something that moves forward with us, it has always been like a free flowing river that cannot be stopped, or turned back on itself.

For a long time, space and time were believed to be separate of each other, that is, until a young patent clerk working in a Swiss patent office, maybe inspired by the patents he saw for clocks, realized a new radical understanding of time. For hundreds of years, time had always thought to be this thing that consistently moved forward and that time for everything was the same everywhere you go.

Established by Isaac Newton himself, no matter where you are, time would move forward at the same speed. But Einstein realized Newton was wrong. Einstein realized that space and time was the same thing, something he called spacetime, and that velocity through space ultimately determined the passage of time. Einstein believed that objects at rest passed time normally, but objects in motion moved slower, because an object that shares space and time can only increase one, if the other is decreased.

In 1971, scientists flew an atomic clock around the world and when they landed, compared it to one stationary on the ground; to their astonishment as Einstein predicted the clocks were no longer in sync. Something else Einstein considered was what he could see of the effect that gravity had on space, and he knew that if space and time were the same, than by definition gravity would also have an effect on time as well.

Although it’s almost impossibly hard to imagine if you ascended to the top of the tallest building in the world with an atomic clock, and compared it to a clock at ground level, it would most certainly not be in sync, because gravity is stronger toward the center of the Earth. It is routinely found that astronauts who spend a lot of time on the space station orbiting the Earth who bring time pieces with them find they are completely out of sync when they return.

So what does this lesson on time have to do with the big bang?

I’m getting to that.

Black holes are the best example we have of an ultimate gravitational field. So strong is the force of gravity from a black hole that nothing can escape its grasp, including light. Black holes are created when massive stars die in large explosions called supernova. Throughout its life a star’s fusion process creates helium atoms by fusing two hydrogen atoms together; there is no other process in the universe that can achieve this. This process creates the light and heat that a star gives off.

Stars are massive, even the small ones like our Sun, and because of this mass, they have gravitational fields. That gravitational field is constantly pulling the star toward its center, but the fusion process that stars create is in direct contradiction with that gravity, a kind of teeter-totter effect. As long as the star burns, the gravity pulling itself inward is counteracted. But fusion has its cost, all the hydrogen that was used to form the star is slowly converted into helium over time, leaving less and less hydrogen to fuse.

Eventually when enough hydrogen is gone, the star begins converting into heavier elements, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen. As the star begins its death throes, it begins to create even heavier elements, but it’s when it begins to fuse into iron that the end is near. Shortly this star will collapse, because the process of fusion is more costly than the production of the fuel needed to keep the gravity of the star at bay. The star’s core shrinks and continues to shrink until it turns in on itself, exploding in a massive blast. The massive core continues to shrink until it reaches an infinitely dense point in space, a black hole.

These black holes are the only place we know of where space and time no longer matter, at its center, the singularity. Now although singularities are massively dense amounts of matter and energy, that would prevent the normal interaction of anything in reality as we know it, they have no impact on the quantum world. When we shrink down to the smallest particles we expect that inside that singularity those particles have no idea they are there.

If we go back to the beginnings of the universe, left with that hot mess of particles floating about in an electrically charged plasma field, and begin to shrink that to a single point, the big bang, we find we have a singularity. That suggests the conditions of the big bang prior to the actual explosion are similar to the conditions inside a black hole.

Now remember, the massive stars that create these black holes are tiny compared to the galaxies around them, and even the galaxies are tiny compared to the universe. So that tiny star in that tiny galaxy amongst billions of tiny stars and billions of tiny galaxies, is found inside that massively large universe, all of which came from inside that big bang. So you can imagine the amount of energy that is created when the big bang first explodes.

As Einstein predicted gravity has an effect on spacetime, so imagine you decide to get into a space ship and fly close to the event horizon of a black hole. The closer you get to it, the slower time moves. The effect of time dilation is a relative process, meaning that if two clocks synchronized were placed in different locations, one aboard the ship getting close to the black hole and one aboard space station orbiting a planet far away from the black hole, to the observer of each clock, the speed at which the clock moves never changes.

However, to the observer farthest from the black hole where gravity is not an issue, the ship approaching the black hole would appear to be moving in slow motion, getting ever so slower the closer it got it. To the observer on the ship approaching the black hole, time would pass unchanged, however if he could observe the station far away from the black hole, things would appear to be moving in fast-forward. To the observer on the ship closest to the black hole, looking at his clock, he may see that an uneventful few hours of travel around the black hole, and another few hours home to the station may have passed on his clock. However, when the observer aboard his ship reaches the station he may be shocked to find out a hundred years, maybe a thousand years have passed and the observer on the station has long since been dead, maybe replaced by his great-great-great grandchild.

So we see that time is a relative measurement determined by space, and can be greatly affected by gravity. But if getting close to the center of a black hole slows time down, what happens if you enter it?

If you manage to survive falling into the event horizon of a black hole, you would find that time itself stops. Under gravity so intense that a singularity has formed, space and time are meaningless, they do not exist. Remember that time can only be measured by the motion of space, since there is no motion inside a singularity, there is no time and since those effects work hand in hand, since time does not flow, space has no motion.

So all the way back to the big bang we go, all that matter and energy that would create the universe compressed into an infinitely dense, infinitely small point. So it is at this point that a discussion on the premise of a creation-level God can be talked about, however spacetime does not yet exist, and it is because of this that God cannot exist at least not in any sense that any religious person would imagine. You see there is no time, there is no space, and so the only thing as you know that can exist are quantum fluctuations, particles that pop in and out of existence, so small that such things have no effect on them.

At this point spacetime does not exist, and so there is no time for a God to create the universe. Remember when I talked about the changing of states of matter from plasma to gas, gas to liquid, and liquid to solid. The universe works in the same way, as spacetime expands and moves forward, as things cool, the simplicity that exists, begins to gain complexity. It is the nature of things to go from simple to complex, and it is a pattern that started with big bang and continued with the formation of quarks, atoms, stars, galaxies, planets, even all the way down to life. Things go from the simple to the complex, and scientists believe that one law of physics that has an effect on it is entropy. Entropy is the nature of injecting chaos into order. When things are simple, nothing happens, but when entropy takes over, complexity forms, a process that continues today and will continue until the universe goes black.

So you see once again, inside the singularity of the big bang, where only very simple quantum fluctuations exist, no sense of time or space, there is no complexity. Entropy begins with the introduction of time, as time passes, things break, they die, but before then nothing exists.

So the religious are faced with a problem, because God was either created after the big bang at least when it was possible to do so, or God is as simple as a quantum particle, incapable of the kind of complexity responsible for making life. If God is a quantum particle, he does not do things like write books, or generate floods, or create DNA, or cause the rain to fall, or cause your team to win the superbowl.

If God is a quantum particle that existed prior to the big bang, than like other particles he popped into existence and out of existence some 13.7 billion years ago, never amounting to very much. But if God was created after the big bang, than he must follow the laws of physics, meaning if we want him to be somewhat complex, he would have needed to wait at least a few billion years to form into some kind of complex life form.  To have the kind of intelligence and complexity that humans have to start with he would need to have formed on a planet with lots of other life forms, and advanced to a form that could travel to us.

Assuming that he has mastered light speed travel, something he must conform to since he existed after the big bang, when the laws of physics formed, he would have to travel a long time to find a suitable planet with which he could seed with life. This is sounding a lot more complicated than the genesis story told in the bible, but I guess I’ll continue. Since we have a fossil record that dates back billions of years, we know that this God would have had to leave the building blocks of life on a primordial Earth, and wait an awful long time to see what happens. So I guess that’s possible right?

OH SHIT. I forgot about entropy. That’s right, this God has a problem, the more time that passes the more entropy that occurs and the less likely that such a God could exist or even live long enough to do all of that.

If I take a deck of cards that are all in order and toss them into the air scattering the cards about as they fall, entropy dictates that there are more possible incorrect stacking outcomes, than correct ones. That means any time I toss the deck of cards in the air, I’m more likely to have cards fall out of order than in order again. And that is the problem. No matter how much we try, the more random and harder things get. It is if the universe is bent on destroying itself, and sadly it is. It is the nature of everything. Everything exists for a short time and then it dies, nothing can escape its fate, not even the universe, and certainly not some fictional God that would have been created in this universe.

I said earlier that it would be far more likely that any God would have been created post big bang, and that is true, the first accounts of any such deity likely came with the first written languages of the Sumerians.  In effect, God was created when man could write about him, and spread the belief to others.

So what does any of this mean to the Higgs boson?

The Higgs boson is a quantum particle responsible for giving all other particles their mass, but to describe it as The God particle is almost an insult to people who believe in God. The Higgs boson is important, but it’s not the only important thing. Like all other simple particles, if any one of them did not exist, maybe nothing would be here today, maybe just empty space. Every particle that formed into a more complex form and continued for billions of years played its part in getting the universe to where it is today. But some might think that this order of things suggests a creator, and it’s actually not that ordered. Remember entropy? Well complexity is a result of chaos; complex life like humans is a result of replication, mutation, and adaptation.

So where does it all go?

Everything lives for a short time, and then it dies. The universe is no different, and although it may seem like the universe is old, time is only meaningful to those who measure it. When the universe began, its giant explosion tossed everything into existence with great speed expanding over time. If the universe is like a car, you press the gas and the universe expands after it explodes. You hold it until it clears its inflation period, and then you release the gas pedal, and suddenly the car begins to slowly decelerate over time, until finally it stops.

When scientists went looking out into the universe that’s pretty much what they expected to find, some evidence for the slowing down of the expansion of the universe. To their surprise, the universe wasn’t decelerating, it was accelerating instead. The more the universe expanded, the faster its expansion. Scientists have dubbed this mysterious phenomena as Dark Energy.

When we look through telescopes and peer deep into space at distant objects, we are not looking at the objects as they are but as they were when the light began its long journey to reach us. We see the light of objects in our galaxy close to us as they might have been say a hundred thousand years before, or objects farther away in galaxies millions, maybe billions of light-years away that may have long since disappeared.

This is true of anyone living in any galaxy on any planet orbiting any star in our universe. The light needs to travel a long distance to reach anyone, and there lies the problem. In a hundred billion years, the accelerated expansion of the universe will have pushed all galaxies so far away from each other that the light from other galaxies will never reach each other, and anyone anywhere in the universe looking up into the sky will form an incorrect opinion of the universe that it’s the size of the galaxy of stars that surrounds them. They will search for all the questions of the universe they live in, and derive all the wrong answers. It would be like trying to put together a puzzle with 99% of the pieces missing.

As the stars in those galaxies burn out and the supply of hydrogen available runs out, no new stars are formed until one day the last star dies, and all the light in the universe is gone forever.

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