Higgs Field and a View of the Material World that Makes Sense
Michael D'AleoAugust 6, 2012
Perhaps no concept in the past few centuries is as misunderstood, or the subject of as much speculation and investigation, as that of the nature of matter. Originally, mankind accepted traditional religious views of the nature of matter from ancient texts or oral traditions be they indigenous, eastern or western in origin. At the dawn of each society's scientific era, new theories, speculations and occasional investigations began to probe the nature of the material world. These views often gained so much credence that it eventually became common for many parts of humanity to conceptualize all existence as the result of material interactions.
In the west, this scientific era began at the time of the ancient Greeks but gained momentum with the dawn of Mechanics, the science of Galileo, and again in the early 19th century with the ideas of John Dalton, the father of the concept of the atom many of us learned in high school science and refined by a host of other scientists resulting in the view of the early 20th century. . Finally, we arrive at our modern era where the Higgs Field and Boson have made their debut in the popular press for the past decade. While many people are enamored with the idea of the "smallest particle" sometimes even referred to as "the God- particle", others read these descriptions and describe them as nonsensical. Often a debate then emerges between those scientists in the know and those nonscientists who are either ignorant in the eyes of some scientists or the speakers of truth by those who see present science as only theoretical.
Earlier this year I was finishing my work on a book entitled, Embracing Materialism and Letting It Go: An Experiential Guide to Overcoming an Object Based World Conception. While much of the book works in a broader way to help develop a deeper understanding of the basis of our everyday experience, the two central chapters take on the question of the concept of the atom and suggest a framework for thinking about the Higgs Filed in a much more powerful manner than is often suggested. A significant portion of these chapters is found below. For those who are interested in reading the entire book, it is available as a free download in pdf files at www.sensri.org
We will pick up the historical evolution of the conceot of the atom with William Crookes, the first scientist who actually observed experimental evidence that suggested the world might be other than simply "stuff".
Text from Chapter 6 follows:
William Crookes was an Englishman and one of real means. Crookes was born into an aristocratic family in 1832. When he was older, and, recognizing his good fortune, Crookes decided to dedicate himself to the pursuit of science. As Crookes was also a part of the growing "Spiritualist" movement of his time, he took a great interest in electrical phenomena, the mysterious and somewhat new emanation that had only recently begun to be harnessed by the early to mid 1800s. It had been found that electrical effects could instill movement on animals and humans, even those that were lifeless. Mary Shelly's Frankenstein had been recently published, in 1818, and was based on the fascination that people had with electrical phenomena at that time. If electrical effects could bring movement into lifeless beings, then perhaps the nature of all life resided hidden in the depths of electricity's secrets. Crookes' interest in science and the spirit had found a worthy subject of investigation.
In time, Crookes performed a number of different experiments. The key one we will focus on involves a glass tube, in which an electric current is placed across the ends of the tube in order to electrify the air or gas contained inside. This was developed in the late 1860's and early 1870's. When Crookes began these experiments, he noted a faint glow from the tube when an electrical potential was placed across it. He experimented by evacuating the tube so that less gas was present than would normally fill the space. To his surprise, the more gas he evacuated from the tube, the more brilliant the glow became. In fact, Crookes began to notice that the emanations were not simply confined to the tube, but actually appeared outside of the tube, as if they were leaving it . The behavior of the gas surprised Crookes greatly. How could any material escape an enclosed glass tube? No solid, liquid or even gas was capable of escaping such a space. Crookes felt that he had discovered a new type of matter. Given that the emanation appeared to radiate out of the tube, Crookes called his discovery "radiant matter." Crookes had made a discovery that was the first to challenge the so-called corpuscular theory of matter. Even more interesting, he had done so with actual experimental evidence and not simply stated a new thought or conjectured idea. While few recognized at the time the depth of the implications of his discovery, it was clear that the nature of the material world was far subtler than had previously been thought. Scientists were going to have to come to terms with Crookes' new observations. In time, looking for electrical effects and their manifestation in the material world would become a standard means for investigating the essence of the material world.
The late 1800's were full of scientists probing more deeply into the nature of matter, trying hard to find the subtle basis of matter. While many steps were taken in this exploration, we will look at the work of the next Englishman in the series, J. J. Thomson. Thomson, like Crookes, performed much of his investigations and experiments using electrical apparatus. In time, Thomson was able to find that Crookes' "radiant matter" was not only electrical in production, but that its direction of streaming could be influenced by other electrical effects. The "radiant matter" was either deflected in a different direction as the result of external magnetic effects, or simply left in its original emanating directions if kept from any external effects. Between 1897 and 1904, Thomson was able to deduce that the electrical effects happening on a very small scale suggested that the electrical polarity of the field was not uniform. Thomson described the periphery of the fields as generally having negative polarity, while the center contained concentrated bits of positive polarity. Thomson likened his discovery to that of a plum pudding with a gelatinous outer layer with hard bits (plums) in the center.
Thomson's discovery was a huge breakthrough in the evolution of the concept of the atom. "That which can not be cut," the atom, appeared to have qualities that were more subtle than the discrete ultimate entity that had been postulated by most scientists and philosophers. This was not to be the last time that "the atom" was to be cut, but given that it was the first, the concept of the atom as the ultimate nature of matter, as a fixed entity, was beginning to be challenged.
The research of Thomson was carried on by other individuals, most notably another citizen of the English Empire, Ernest Rutherford. Rutherford was born in New Zealand and as a youngster was recognized early in his schooling as a boy of talent. He quickly made his way through advanced schooling, and ultimately began doing research at the Cavendish Labs in Cambridge, England under J.J. Thomson.
Rutherford's key contribution to our study is what is referred to as the Gold Foil Experiment, which he developed with some students in 1911. In this experiment, Rutherford took a piece of gold foil that had been hammered into an incredibly thin surface. The surface was so thin that that it was essentially translucent. Gold has a unique ability to be worked in such a malleable way that a one ounce piece, approximately the size of a half dollar, can be hammered such that it covers an area of 100 square feet. Once the gold foil had been prepared, Rutherford took a device that produced "radiant matter" (the present name for the type of emission that Rutherford was working with is 'alpha rays'), and placed the gold foil between the electrical device and a piece of special prepared film that would change color when exposed to the "radiant matter." Rutherford further narrowed the scope of the area where the "radiant matter" could be produced, and did so in very tiny amounts. The result was that individual spots could be observed on the film, even though the gold foil was placed inbetween the film and the electrical device. However, in a few cases, the spot found on the film was at a noticeable angle from the scope of the area created by the electrical device. Furthermore, in a few cases, one in 8,ooo, no spot was registered on the film at all.
Eventually, Rutherford, with his graduate assistant, placed a piece of film behind the electrical device. It was then that he was able to record the missing signature of the "radiant matter," though it appeared in the opposite direction from where it began. In Rutherford's own words, "It was as if we had shot a bullet at a piece of tissue paper and it bounced back!" It appeared that in these rare cases, the "radiant matter" must have left the electrical device and come into close proximity with such a strong electrical interaction that it had been repelled backwards and was therefore picked up by the film behind the device. This was truly astounding. Most of the time the radiant matter simply passed through the gold foil but occasionally it was deflected or simply bounced back. Rutherford deduced from these experiments that most of matter must be empty space with small, localized areas of negative (deflected) or positive (repulsed) spatial qualities. They key here was that most of matter now consisted of "nothing." The concept of matter was quickly losing its "thingness" quality and was now open to being replaced with a new concept.
Perhaps the best description of the excitement that existed at the leading edge of science at that time was given by Arthur James Balfour in an address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Cambridge on August 17, 1904. A short excerpt is given below:
But today there are those who regard gross matter, the matter of everyday experience, as the mere appearance of which electricity is the physical basis: who think that the elementary atom of the chemist, itself far beyond the limits of direct perception, is but a connected system of monads or sub-atoms which are not electrified matter, but are electricity itself ...
It is hard to overlook the work of Bohr, Chadwick, Einstein and Born, but in the interest of keeping to the essential elements of our theme we will press on. In 1925, physics was to begin a tremendously new attempt at defining the nature of matter. Spurred on by the many great minds of the time, only a few of which are mentioned above, three new approaches arrived on the scene.
First, a French physicist named Louis DeBroglie suggested that rather than focusing on a corpuscular model for matter, one could develop a model based on a harmonic wave form, similar to the notes in a musical composition, to distinguish the different qualities of matter. He developed a series of mathematical relationships and termed the resulting waves DeBroglie waves.
The second breakthrough came form a German physicist named Werner Heisenberg, who put forth his famous Uncertainty Principle. Heisenberg stated that, in short, whenever we try to know any particular aspect of a given experiment, simply the act of setting up the experiment or apparatus to observe that particular quality changes the context of the situation you are observing. This principle can be transposed into any aspect of our daily life. In the act of observing, it is impossible to remove the observer from the experiment. Much more will be said on this in later chapters.
Finally, the third big breakthrough came from an Austrian physicist Edwin Schrödinger. Schrödinger took a very pragmatic approach to what had resulted from the physics of the past twenty years. In short, Schrödinger became less interested in knowing exactly what matter is, and instead shifted the emphasis to predicting the likelihood (or probability) of a specific event or series of events happening. He, along with a number of other scientists, developed what has come to be known as Quantum Mechanics.
The year 1925 was a very productive year, so much so that all three of these physicists were eventually to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics (DeBroglie in 1929, Heisenberg in 1930, and Schrödinger in 1932). It took a few years for each of the ideas to be developed, accepted, and recognized (and we can assume each had to take a turn).
What is most important here is that in the mind of the leading physicists of their time, the concept of a material basis for the world had been totally overcome, and was no longer in contention as a worldview. This was to last only for a few years, until the mid 1930's. Once the threat of another war loomed on the horizon, most of the leading physicists were put on fast-track research projects to develop something other than an understanding of the nature of the physical world. The race to develop the atomic bomb, the ultimate form of destruction, was on, and each country was concerned that the other might achieve this goal first. This focus on "splitting the atom" was to dominate physics and continue through the Second World War and into the beginning of the Cold War. It wasn't until the 1960's that significant amounts of new research were begun, much of which centered around a whole new group of "subatomic particles." The atom, "that which can not be cut," had already been cut into a nucleus, further cut into positively charged areas of space (protons) and neutrally charged areas of space (neutrons), and was surrounded by a negatively charged area of space-electrons. Now, each of these "particles," was formed from other entities. Other entities were postulated to exist and research was funded to find them. Positrons, hadrons, quarks and other entities were described and searched for. For a while, it appeared that the possibility for a new concept of matter was to be hopelessly caught up in a search for smaller and smaller "particles." To be sure, the leading scientists doing the research would often be able to describe their work as non-materially based, but the shift to a new worldview seemed to be present in very few, if any, of their daily lives. What was done in the lab was one 'thing,' what happened in their daily life was 'a different matter.'
Finally, toward the very end of the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st century, a new view of the material world is beginning to rise again. One of these new views is based on the work of Higgs. The Higgs view contains both particles and what is called the Higgs Field. In the case of the latter, we once again stand at the edge of the possibility for a new conception of the material world. In the view of Higgs, there are a number of fields of activity. When the word "field" is used, do not think of a "thing" but rather conceptualize a spatial area in which one type of phenomena may arise. The Higgs Field way of looking at the world postulates that when the Higgs Field comes into the same spatial area as certain other types of fields, the quality of mass arises in matter. The key to this type of thinking is not to think of a 'thing,' but instead to imagine a new property or quality arising in a place where no quality existed before.
Thus, matter is ultimately not made of objects; instead, when the qualities of visual opacity and tangibility arise in the same spatial area, we describe the correspondence of qualities as matter. Other sensational qualities may also arise in the same spatial area such as sounds, smells, tastes, etc. Matter is not the cause of the sensations but rather the concept that unites the correspondence of sensational qualities.
Chapter 7 Follows:
The following demonstration is often done when I teach courses involving scientific or conceptual themes. While the necessary materials are simple, I have found that the demonstration is both effective and surprising. It is impossible for you to experience this without first providing you with the whole picture, unless someone familiar with the experience is present to walk you through it. The description that follows provides you with the opportunity to 'live into' the described experience of the assistant.
When I conduct this demonstration as part of a course that I am teaching, I invite one of the participants to come up and be the assistant. After assuring her that nothing unsafe will happen, I continue with the following instructions. First, I have the assistant close her eyes and hold her open hand out in front of her. I then warn her that I will place something into her hand, at which point she is asked to grasp the object tightly. The assistant is then asked to hold her hand completely still while holding the object.
The rest of the participants have been instructed to remain silent. While they do not have an object in their hands, they are able to observe what is going on. The rest of the participants are able to see what is happening, while the assistant is only able to feel what is happening. No one has both experiences. What the rest of the participants see is that I pull out a long metal bolt about four inches in length. Attached to the end of the metal bolt is a series of five disks approximately 3/8" in diameter (just a bit bigger than the bolt) and each disk is about ¼" high. These are stacked one on top of the other and point away from the end of the bolt. The object is placed in the assistant's hand, with the bolt end in her hand and the series of stacked disks facing me.
At this point I pull out five additional stacked concentric cylinders and begin to move them toward the assistant's stack on the end of the bolt she is holding in her hand. When the stack I am holding in my hand is pushed within about one inch of her stack (they are not yet in physical contact), the rest of the participants see that the assistant's hand moves even though the objects do not touch. With a reminder to the assistant to keep her hand still, this process is repeated to the delight of the observers, and often to the mild frustration of the assistant. At no time do the two stacks of disks ever come into physical contact. At this point, the rest of the participants have a fairly good idea what is happening. I continue to move the assistant's hand in this way, and then ask her to open her eyes while the movement is occurring. Upon the assistant opening her eyes, there is usually a moment of 'oh' as they understand what had been happening.
Commentary on Demonstration #1
As we review the experience, the assistant usually states that with her eyes closed she believed that the movement of her hand was caused by me grasping the end of the bolt and moving it around. When the assistant opens her eyes and sees that this is not the case, there is an initial surprise as she sees that there is no physical contact between what is in her and anything in my hand. An invisible relationship has been established between the cylinders in her hand and the ones in mine. Almost immediately, the concept of 'magnets' comes into the observers thinking and the mystery is solved. Or is it?
Now we begin a careful analysis of the demonstration, remembering that one group could see while another individual could only feel. In the first case, the participants can see that the 'objects' are moving, but that they are not touching. Upon closer examination, we realize that the observers are not 'seeing objects' but, instead, see images that they then conceptualize as being separate objects. They see an image and habitually associate it with the tactile, tangible quality of an object. In this circumstance, we expect that no movement will occur between the objects until we see the images touch. When the image of the objects in close proximity results in the untouched object and the hand grasping it moving, we are met with an unexpected observation. Some observers quickly deduce that the metal disks are magnets. Had we begun with an object whose image is red and u-shaped, most people would have immediately seen that image as a magnet. It is only because the form of the image and its color is more common that people mistakenly think that the objects won't move until their images are touching.
The assistant has a different experience. The assistant feels the tangible sensation in her hand and assumes that any motion of her hand is due to the object in her hand being moved. The assistant likely assumes that the tangible quality in her hand is solely the quality of an object. While she is correct in thinking of the initial tangible quality in her hand as being the result of an interaction of objects, the assumption becomes problematic when she assumes that the second tangible experience in her hand is also due to an object interaction. Upon opening her eyes, the assistant finds that the second tangible experience is due to an invisible interaction. The name we give to this invisible interaction is a magnetic interaction. In this second case, we have a tangible experience with no directly associated image; the space in between is filled with nothing or no-thing.
The distinction between the various types of visual and tangible interactions can be grouped together in the following manner.
Case 1- Images by themselves are real experiences
In our everyday world do we have 'real' visual experiences (as opposed to hallucinations, dreams etc) that have no tangible counterpart? Do we ascribe reality to images that can be seen but not touched? Usually with some prodding we arrive at such examples as rainbows and holograms. In both cases, an image is seen but with no tangible counterpart. If you have never seen a good quality hologram, you are encouraged to locate some, see them in person and have the experience directly. It is a fascinating experience to see an image that has all of the visual attributes of a three dimensional appearance, but is lacking in any tangible experience at all. The key here is to recognize that no one will ascribe object-like status to the hologram, but people will agree that a hologram does indeed have a reality from the perspective of vision. Is a hologram a real experience? Yes, the hologram has a visual quality that can be repeatedly experienced! What makes the hologram a bit spooky is that the image has no tangible counterpart.
Case 2- Tangible experiences by themselves are real experiences
In our everyday life, are there tangible experiences (for example, experiences of pressure on the surface of our skin) that we have with no visible counterpart? Again, with a bit of questioning, people begin to give examples of magnetic interactions, some electrical interactions, and even experiences in nature such as wind. With further discussion, it becomes clear that almost every person has had the experience of 'feeling eyes on them' as they are being watched, often while walking down a road. Here we have a tangible experience (pressure), or the very subtle sensation of someone watching, with no visible image to support the idea that something has come into contact with us. We may be more at ease accepting the idea that the earth is one pole of a magnetic interaction with our handheld compass being the opposite pole. This experience is similar to the one described in the opening of the chapter. However, few of us consider the implications of such a way of thinking through to the end.
Case 3- Nothing - no tangible or visual sensation
In this case the situation is quite clear. While we can hear a sound or recognize a specific scent, without an experience that unifies both a visual image and a tangible counterpart to this image, we have nothing; no-thing.
Case 4- Things - When the visual and tangible sensations are both present!
Now we have arrived at a central point in our investigation. It has become apparent that we can only form the concept of matter, an object or a thing, when two or more of our senses are engaged in sensations. The two key senses for the concept of an object to arise are those of touch (we are aware of pressure) and vision (we experience visual opacity - one image appears incomplete as another image appears to take up the space in the visual field where we would assume the first image would continue). Even with transparent substances, we can observe refraction, a shift in the visual field. We also experience tangible pressure when the image of our hand is brought into intimate proximity with the lack of image of the invisible (transparent) 'object.'
What is important here is that the object does not cause the sensations; in fact, the reverse is the case. We can only form the concept of object if we experience at least the two sensations of vision and touch. The senses of taste, smell, sound, temperature, etc. enrich our experience and will result in our forming a more distinct mental picture of the experience. However, we cannot escape the fact that only through an experience of a relationship, through the senses, can we form a concept of the thing 'out there' and simultaneously become aware of myself as 'in here.' The concepts of self and object arise from the same unity of experience, and ultimately arise out of relationship (recall the exercise in Chapter 1). Even more intriguing is the realization that the sense of self and object both arise from the same unity of relationship. While we can separate them conceptually, their origin in perception is non-existent. The world exists not as a series of objects, but instead we come to the concept of object as a result of relational experiences. Relationship, or betweenness, is the necessary precondition for forming or knowing any aspect of existence. The world-I is an expression of betweens, where we express the poles of the experience as self and world. The idea (and it is an idea) that the world is fundamentally a series of objects interacting suffers from the fallacy that to form the concept of object I must have already (and in many cases unconsciously) passed through the precondition of experiencing. Experiencing is only relationally based and not separate under any set of circumstances.
Relationship is more fundamental than the object.
What is described above is not simply a trick of semantics, but a description of reality. I first began to investigate this type of thinking in 1999 and 2000. Then, in 2002, in the November 2002 issue of MIT's technical publication, Technology Review, an article appeared entitled, Holograms in Motion. In this article the authors describe how they began to do new research with holographic images, a visual image that is created in space but has no tactile counterpart. The researchers created an electromagnetic field around the holographic image such that the spatial area in which the holographic image appeared also had a strong electromagnetic field. If the image was then probed with a stylus that held a small magnet at the tip, the researchers observed a tactile interaction that 'felt like' an object. They could see an image and, when probed with the special stylus, the image had a tactile feel as an object does. The researchers then continued to make further refinements so that one could get a sensation when the surface of the hologram was probed, but also when the space of the hologram was penetrated. In a short time they had managed to create the sensation of tactile feel as when an object is cut with a knife. With a particular set of software, one could have the sensation of cutting through wood, with another butter, and yet another as if cutting though metal.
A related design has been created but, instead of using a pencil-like probe, one uses a special glove that is covered in many fine magnets. One could imagine that with a bit more time and sophistication, one could create 'objects' that work with the subtle bioelectric field of the human body. Or is that the system we already have in the case of the objects of nature? How will we know the difference? The last question here is significant and one that each of us should investigate for ourselves. One key is to look for the presence of other sensations in the same spatial field as the 'object' in question. Are the sense impressions created by human technology as rich as those given in the natural world?
When considering the above question, I tend to use the example of a chocolate chip cookie. Upon approaching an area of space, I first experience a characteristic smell. It is usually accompanied by a distinctive round disk-like image. If I reach out my hand it comes into contact with a firm but not too hard surface. Perhaps it has a hint of being just a bit warmer than my body. The surface is somewhat dry but a bit soft and bends easily when pressure is applied, but does not snap or break (I expect a different quality with a ginger snap). If my tongue is brought into contact with the same spatial area, a new sensation arises that can simply be called wonderful (if the cookie has been prepared with careful attention to each of these sensory impressions!) Note the difference in your being when you read (and hopefully fully imagine) the description above or my simply saying imagine a cookie. In the first case your mouth may have been prepared to actually eat a cookie (change the flavor if you like), while in the second case many people simply imagine the shape of the object. The second case requires only a recollection of the sensations of vision and sometimes the tangible quality as well. The first engages your imagination more. In actually eating a cookie, you and the cookie become an intimate expression of 'cookieness' as experienced by 'humaness.'
What would our lives be like if, instead of simply recalling the form and tactile sensation when we hear the name of an 'object,' we recalled the myriad sense impressions and relationships that we experienced when we first developed the concept? Imagine what our lives would be like if every experience we had was a full host of sensory impressions? This is the beginning of a new way of being. Life could be a series of relational experiences rather than the interaction of a series of objects. This is the New Physics, this is the new way of being on earth, this is a more fully human manner of experiencing existence. The world of objects is simply a set conceptual mind frame. The world of experiences is no less real, and in fact is the basis by which we form the concept of 'object' in the first place. The great error is that once we have had a certain amount of experience, we habitually shift to an object orientation and forget about the experience. At that moment, we stop participating in the world and instead experience the world as 'out there' and our self as 'in here.' At that moment, we lose the immediacy of experience we had when we were younger and begin to live in the abstract world of the grown-up (or is it grown-apart?)
The limitations we place on the world 'out there' are only matched by those that we place on our 'self' when we think only in object-like concepts. The thought of the separate self and the world out there are the direct result of a worldview in which it is believed that material is the causal element of all existence. We now see that this is SIMPLY WRONG. We only form the concept of matter based on a synthesis of experience-based sensations. Even the concept of separate sensations falls into the same problem as being based on a combination of experiences, other sensations and concepts. And so we go round and round looking for a fixed system to begin. Once again, the fixed beginning is also a residue of a materially based conceptual system.
Another means of conceptualization is possible. The experiences themselves, the betweenness we habitually think of as world-I, can lead to WHAT? If we can let go of the what, new possibilities arise. It may be that only then, when we let go of the 'what,' we truly begin to live.