A few weeks ago in one of my homilies I mentioned a NY Times article, “Finding the Higgs Leads to More Puzzles”. In the article the author, Dennis Overbye, explores a few of the theoretical consequences of the discovery of the Higgs Boson (an elementary particle) at CERN. One of these consequences is that the Higgs Field, created by the particle, an “invisible ocean of energy” that “permeates space” may be unstable. Unstable. That did not sound good to me. Reading on I discovered that this meant that at some point the field could fluctuate and in an instant change the parameters of the universe we know… and thus end it and us! Yowzer! It lends credence to some of our biblical readings for Advent that talk about “end times”.
As many of you know I find the dialogue between science and faith fruitful. Reading about the unstable Higgs Field is another part of the conversation. That there is a potential for a real ending, at any moment, is sobering as we reflect on how we invest our lives, our time, our resources. Are we improving the social and physical environment around us during the time allotted?
I’ll share one other observation from the article. The properties of the Higgs Boson don’t fit with a number of theories that combine separate physical observations into one, overarching theory called “supersymmetry”. It’s not necessary to get hold of these theories. It’s enough to recognize that according to Overbye the discovery has opened up the physics world in a disturbing way. One scientist was quoted as saying, “Physical science has… progressed not only by finding … explanations of natural phenomena, but also by discovering what sorts of things can be… explained. These may be fewer than we thought”. In other words the Higgs may be telling us that there are some things we’ll never know because we can’t! Sounds mystical to me. What a reminder that we’re part of a wonderful mysterious universe. But we have good company. The Christmas reality is that the One who’s behind all of it is our Companion who accompanies us into the unknown.