Higgs Boson, the Nobel Physics Prize and Lakota Astronomy
The physicists who first theorized the existence of the so-called God particle, the Higgs boson, have been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.
The particle, theorized independently by physicists Francois Englert and Peter Higgs in 1964, is what gives objects their mass. That includes everything from stars to planets to … us.
“The Higgs boson is the particle associated with the Higgs field, an energy field that transmits mass to the things that travel through it,” the Los Angeles Times explained earlier this week.
It is born of the Brout-Englert-Higgs field, the Christian Science Monitor explained. It's the field of energy that formed almost immediately after the Big Bang—a trillionth of a second later, the Times noted. The particle itself was seen in July 2012 at the Large Hadron Collider at the headquarters of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva.
“Without this mechanism, physicists say, subatomic particles would ping around the universe at the speed of light without interacting and forming atoms and molecules, the building-blocks of matter,” the Christian Science Monitor said.
"I am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Academy," Higgs said in a statement from the University of Edinburgh after the prize was announced on October 8 in Stockholm. The 80-year-old physicist is a professor emeritus at the university.
But just as with the so-called New World, which Christopher Columbus was thought to have “discovered,” such a discovery may be simply another way of seeing and describing something that Indigenous Peoples have understood for millennia, though through different means.
The difference is that physicists have now found a particle to describe it. In western parlance that means it can be seen, and quantified.
Ancient inhabitants of Turtle Island and beyond read and observed the environment for millennia with the same level of concentration and scrutiny that modern scientists bring to bear when peering through microscopes or telescopes. Is the newer version more valid simply because it is done with complex instruments invented by humans? Are the findings of the ancients less “real”?
As Ruth Hopkins noted in a column when the Higgs boson was first isolated back in July 2012, “indigenous scientists realize the difference is only a matter of syntax and perspective.”
“What sets indigenous ‘ethnoastronomy’ apart from mainstream western astronomy is native peoples didn’t feel the need to separate their spiritual beliefs from other areas of their lives,” Hopkins wrote. “The Lakota truly believed everything was interconnected. As a result, hard science observations and discoveries deciphered by Lakota over millennia are always intermingled with their spiritual beliefs, practices and ceremonies.”
After all, as the paleontologist and Jesuit mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin famously put it centuries later, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
We are all made of light, and stardust, and subject to the forces of gravity. And, as both physicists and mystics point out, the spaces between each particle are empty.
So as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking—who has “lived with the prospect of an early death” from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis for about the same amount of time as it took to isolate the God particle—told The Guardian in 2011, let’s just make the most of it before the circuits of the computers that we know as our brains give out. As far as we know, that’s all there is.
Below, a comic illustrates the Higgs boson. And the Guardian showcases another video demo of the elusive particle here.