Tuesday, 3 July 2012

God's Particles

Right. Let's do some science.

In my three or so years writing this blog I've covered most topics, from politics to parenting, to music, model-making and writing.

But not science; never science. Not until now. But today, according to reports, there's something big happening. (Well, actually it's something very very small.) Soon there's going to be an announcement. Oh yes. Deep beneath the earth in a place where scientists send tiny bits of stuff around an enormous underground race track until they collide with each other at the speed of light (think stock-car racing, only faster) they've found a bit of something interesting in the wreckage. They've found a Higgs Boson. Yes, that - the famous 'God particle'.

Except they haven't, quite. Not yet.

For those of you without much of an interest in quantum mechanics, allow me to explain. Basically, physicists think the universe is made of stuff - very, very small stuff. But they can't see (or even measure or detect) some of it. They absolutely definitely know it must exist because if it doesn't then their sums don't add up. And the sums are just too beautiful to be wrong. Here's one of them:

See what I mean?

Oh well.

Basically scientists tell us that a whole load of stuff - the universe, no less - works in a particular fashion and was made a certain way without quite knowing how. They know how it ought to work; they know how it should have been made. So they invent missing bits of the theory and then go looking for them.  Like dark matter, for example. There's an awful lot more stuff in the universe than anyone can see. (The maths tells us that there must be.) So scientists just make up the missing bits to make the sums work. Hot dark matter, cold dark matter, would-you-like-fries-with-that matter; it's all the same. Like the Higgs Boson. It's theory.

And while we're on the subject of incredible scientific claims, did you know - really know - what the universe is actually made of? No?

It's string.

Yes, string.

But not the ordinary common-or-garden stuff you can buy at the Post Office. Oh no. Super string. Want to see some? Tough. You can't. Because it's too small ever to be seen by anyone with anything no matter how powerful or how many times you magnify it - so there. Yes, there. Everywhere, in fact. And everything. We're all made of the same thing: string.

Isn't that a pleasant thought for a rainy Tuesday morning?

I don't have a problems with undiscovered things and things we'll never see or hear or measure. In fact, I like the idea that's there's more in heaven and earth than we will ever know (Horatio). Keeps us - as a species - in our place, for one thing.

No. What I do get a little puzzled about is the way it's assumed that all this fantastical theorising is 'Gospel' truth without ever having anything by way of empirical proof to justify it. And that all attempts to justify it are just that - positive attempts to prove the facts rather than attempts to find flaws in the theory.

For a start that ain't the way science - as defined by generations since the Enlightenment - is supposed to work. Basically, as far as I understand it, you're meant to be trying hell-for-leather to disprove your theories, rather than build multi-billion pound particle playgrounds for them. Think double-blind trials for new medicines; deliberately keeping people in the dark about what you've after is part of the process of proving you've got it. If, indeed, you have.

Secondly, at a time when some scientists are ever more militantly anti-religion it seems not a little disingenuous to come up with your own ever-more-fantastical ideas with which to replace the creation myths of established faiths.

I mean, come on, what's harder to believe? That the whole shebang was made by the Big Man upstairs or that we're all - from stars and planets, to people - made of tiny bits of vibrating string? I know which one my money's on.

Or perhaps the news from CERN will show that God - if he exists - is actually a mathematician?
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