Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Half an ultimate particle anyone?


Big news these days: think they have found the Higgs boson, the "ultimate particle", also imaginatively nicknamed the God particle. 

I take the opportunity to post an excerpt from Man's Last Song - "The Ultimate Particle" again for you to share Ma Yili's puzzle. He'd no doubt wonder what half an ultimate particle looks like . . . .


Ma decides trying to find the ultimate particle by banging is like measuring infinity with longer tapes, and quits.

After his Master’s programme, all was set for Ma to continue with his doctorate. He would soon leave his fingerprints on the LHC -  Large Hadron Collider - a twenty-five kilometre accelerator underneath the boarder of France and Switzerland. 
It was the longest accelerator in the world, a breakthrough, but unfortunately complex. When it was not down for repair and maintenance, scientists would use the rare opportunity to bang subatomic particles head-on at fantastic speed, using a prodigious amount of energy. Bang. Puff. Ziiiipp . . . Yes!  It was an exciting and privileged prospect. 
The highly sophisticated approach might have seemed brutal and barbaric to some. But the underlying principle was simple and appealing: If particles collide hard enough, they would break down into ultimate particles scientists called Higgs bosons; as good a name as any. To help the common mind, journalists nicknamed it God particle. God was still used to make things comprehensible to those who can’t understand.
Ma was deemed good enough to manage some of these banging. A renewable grant was in place. Everything was moving in his direction, perhaps except his subconscious. 
One Sunday, after playing with some energy calculations in his den, he lied down sideways on his bed. The morning sun was dribbling in through the window. He stared at the uneven wall, a few inches from his nose, creating a humid spot with his breathing. That same spot must have been plastered and painted over numerous times in past centuries, by people who were now dead. He wondered what its original stoney texture looked, and how it was built without machines and electricity. How was anything done without machines and electricity?
The wall seemed solid and terminal. It gave him a defined space, shielding him from the outside. But lying beyond it were more, much more. He was lulled into a reverie. 
A hundred metres away lied a matrix of dilapidated coffins at about the same level as his. Once upon a time, the last dribbles of the interred had leached out of them, percolated through soil particles, and mixed with the ground water, seeping towards this house. They flowed around and underneath, heading for the river. He followed the flow of diluted carrion juice, from the graves to the house, from the house to the river, to the sea. Along the way, some of it rose to the clouds, and drifted off to faraway lands. We only see what’s in front, he heard his own voice talking, but beyond is much more. We’re connected to everything else. Just look.
He got up, went out to the garden, feeling drowsy, stumbling a little. Spring’s in the air but the sweetness of the season was scrubbed by an interminable drizzle. He had no idea how long he meditated; he experienced deep level Ru Ding - the trance-like state Mary Scott had told him about, for the first time. A bird gliding, through timeless space . . . “It must feel awfully lonely,” he commented. “You might find out one day,” she had said.  
Mary Scott watched him from her window.
He emerged from his gliding trip drenched, and went straight to his notebook as if trying to put a caught fish into the bucket before it flips away.
He jotted down quickly: 

“To find the ultimate particle by banging things harder is like trying to measure out infinity with longer tapes. What’s 25 km to nature? We’re like ambitious ants carrying a “giant” ten-inch branch to survey the Great Wall. Impressive, remarkable undertaking, but only to themselves. 

We won’t catch the Higgs boson. Zhuangzi said “the universe is no bigger than the tip of a down hair.” That’s science, modern science. The ultimate particle exists - yes AND no - everywhere, in everything, by the trillions and trillions, right at the tip of a down hair, forming a continuum through time and space.

To pursue the infinite with a finite life and limited intellect is futile, mad. That’s it!” 
He underlined “That’s it!” twice; now it looked decided. No, he’d not spend the rest of his life arranging tiny particles to crash. He sensed nosey medieval ghosts jostling around him, trying to take a better look at what he had just written.
Posted 12 Feb 2011 on Guo Du Blog
Excerpt reposted 4 July 2012

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