Cutting-edge Science

When Particles Become Sparticles

A new particle accelerator, known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), opened at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland on Sept. 10th, 2008. A massive underground tunnel,  27 km (17m) long, and estimated to have cost more than eight billion US dollars. In conditions as hot as the sun, and with beams of protons travelling at near the speed of light, scientists hope to discover new subatomic particles, many with sparkling new names. For more extensive information on the new collider, see Scientific American, 298, 2 (February 2008).

Engineers threw the switch to start up the LHC in September 2008 to global fanfare. All went well until it had to be shut down again 36 hours later. The incident – which led to a helium leak into the tunnel housing the superconductor ring – is thought to have been caused when a faulty electrical wire between two magnets was melted by the high current passing through it. Repairs and a new safety system cost an estimated £24m. The LHC was restarted in November 2009

With the development of the new particle accelerator, we note that a new scientific vocabulary is also coming to birth. The name sparticle is a merging of two words supersymmetric and particle. In these new experimental conditions, scientists hope to detect supercharged sub-atomic particles that are believed to have existed at less than a billionth of second after the Big Bang. (Don’t try to make rational sense of that or you’ll drive yourself crazy). At this infinitesimal moment, electrons were selectrons, quarks were squarks. These ‘sister particles’ are hugely unstable, and since they decay almost instantly, it will be a case of detecting their existence through indirect effect, rather than through direct observation. 

 What comes after the discovery of the Higgs Particle? 

On 14 March 2013, the scientific community was in exuberant mood, as news media all over the world carried headlines of the nailing of the Higgs Boson at CERN. It was also deemed to be huge justification for the investment that had been made in the Large Hadron Collidor (LHC) itself. Originally postulated by Scottish scientist, Peter Higgs, the particle helps to explain  why some fundamental particles have mass when the symmetries controlling their interactions should require them to be massless, and—linked to this—why the weak force has a much shorter range than the electromagnetic force. Thus physicists can now validate the last untested area of the Standard Model's approach to fundamental particles and forces, and feel more confident in their attempts to resolve other tantalizing questions such as the existence of dark matter.

What can be achieved through the new collider is precisely the fruit of the interface of classical and quantum science. We have very accurate measurements and finely-tuned monitors to exert maximum control, but the possible outcomes defy all rationality and point us to several incomprehensible marvels of the universe to which we belong and the planet that we inhabit. Sparticles, selectrons and squarks are not just precise objects, but more complex, wave-like dimensions of the energy-flow that constitutes the basic stuff from which everything is created. We can detect their existence and I suspect, as happened with the quarks and leptons, we will never nail them into an objective isolated identity. In other words, they don’t make sense in their individual separation. Relationship, and not separation, defines the true essence of all reality.

And this is where the euphoria around the Higgs particle may be misleading. Firstly, the so-called discovery relates to new traces detected in the debris of the collisions set up in the CERN collider, which physicists argue must be the Higgs. It is an assumption rather than a discovery. That it is actually the Higgs' boson has yet to be proved.

Secondly, establishing what gives particles mass feeds into the mechanistic understanding of life (and the universe) but contributes little to the more quantum understanding of reality which is much more about the wave and flow of the creative vacuum. Over 90% of the atom - and of subatomic particles - is empty space. Surely the critical questions of understanding belong to making sense of the 90% emptiness rather than the less-than 10% mass! Might it be that the "discovery" of the Higgs is an actual distraction from the search for deeper scientific truth? And of course it begs other questions, particularly: what is driving the search today?

Power and Money

Science is heavily wedded to objective control of the data, and there is a daily demand for scientists to develop outcomes that will help us to control the waywardness of the world we inhabit: disease, violence, poverty, ignorance, etc. But we are not controlling them; we are failing dismally in doing so, yet the scientists apparently cannot acknowledge the dismal failure rates of the scientific dream.

Which brings me to the second major factor, money! Science is driven by money, and will tend to favor research and outcomes that attract the highest bidders. Sources of funding will support a project like LHC because in the long-term it hopes it will empower the world of science to gain greater control over the destiny of mankind and the planet. In other words, those who provide the money have little time for the spiritual and even the cultural implications of what is transpiring in the larger arena of contemporary scientific research.

At one level, the psychic battle between control and trust  is as old as humanity itself. One hopes that as access to information becomes more widespread and diffuse, and as more rank-and-file humans trust their intuition and alternative ways of understanding, we might see the imperial wisdom become more humble and spiritually embracing. The rigor of science won’t suffer because of this; paradoxically, I suspect, science will acquire a new power – a richer and more empowering synthesis arising from the integration of the rational and the spiritual, the measurable and the mystical. In that new landscape, trust and not control will have the final word.


Wallace, Alan B. (2007), Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness,
Scientific American
, February 2008.

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