Commentary Magazine


Re: Big Bang Machine Felled by Frenchman from the Future

Anthony, we cannot rule out your theory that some Frenchman from the Future may have been behind the halt to the quixotic quest to find the “God particle” — even if you got the information from CNN. The scientist in the video you cited says $10 billion has been spent so far to find that particle, before the Large Hadron Collider up and (to use your quasi-scientific terminology) “went phfffff.”

My own theory is there may be an invisible soccer ball and an invisible ref, who may have called “time” on this particular game (although not the entire season).

The invisible soccer ball (although not necessarily the invisible ref) is the metaphor used by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi in their 1993 book The God Particle, which sought to explain particle physics’ search for the ultimate explanation. They asked readers to imagine superintelligent visitors from another planet, able to see everything except black and white — and for whom zebras, NFL refs, and soccer balls are all invisible. They watch a soccer game and cannot understand it. People run back and forth and in circles, kicking the air every so often and falling down, and once in a while the person at one end or another of the field dives, the crowd cheers, and a point goes up on the board.

Totally inexplicable, completely meaningless — until one of them comes up with a theory: assume a ball. By positing a ball, all of a sudden everything works, the game makes sense, and it can be appreciated by the human mind — although another lesson may be that we should be respectful of what we don’t know, and may never know, even as we continue to seek it.

That ball is the equal possession of both religion and science: both posit a set of laws that govern the universe, even though the critical part of the game is invisible and not totally explicable. Both share a faith (since there is no actual proof) that the sun will come up tomorrow.

The book ends with a scene from an imagined movie. A scientist is standing on the beach at night, shouting at the universe that is the product of his mind: “It is I who provide you with reason, with purpose, with beauty. Of what use are you but for my consciousness and my constructions, which have revealed you?”  At that point:

A fuzzy swirling light appears in the sky, and a beam of radiance illuminates our man-on-the-beach. To the solemn and climactic chords of the Bach B Minor Mass, or perhaps the piccolo solo of Stravinsky’s “Rites,” the light in the sky slowly configures itself into Her Face, smiling, but with an expression of infinite sweet sadness.

It is unfortunate that so many years, and so much money, have been spent chasing a particle that has now apparently hidden itself (if CNN and a scientist we can barely understand are correct). But perhaps we should have mixed, even contradictory, emotions about this.  The proper response to this news may be a feeling of infinite sweet sadness.