This discovery could answer the question, "Where does mass come from?" That is, why is there something we can point to and say there!, rather than everything being formless pure energy?
According to the Standard Model, the Higgs boson is the only manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic molasses that permeates space and imbues elementary particles with mass. Particles wading through the field gain heft the way a bill going through Congress attracts riders and amendments, becoming ever more ponderous.
Without the Higgs field, as it is known, or something like it, all elementary forms of matter would zoom around at the speed of light, flowing through our hands like moonlight. There would be neither atoms nor life.
Apparently Peter Higgs, who theorized the particle/field existed, didn't like the nickname given to it. "God particle" is an attention-getter, for sure. However, now that the Higgs boson seems to have been found, we're no closer to understanding what God is, or isn't.
Scientists were the ones who extended our understanding of the universe, not God. The Higgs boson likely is the reason stuff with mass exists, but we don't know why/how the Higgs boson exists (assuming why/how has any meaning when we're getting down to the root of material existence itself).
Perhaps most importantly, the meaning of it all has little or nothing to do with knowing that the Higgs boson is more than just a theory that sprang from the mind of Peter Higgs.
LIkely even the physicists who were so excited to learn that traces of the HIggs boson have been found consider that their personal view of the cosmos is much different post-discovery. Yes, knowing the nature of reality as understood by science provides a good foundation for a meaningful philosophy of life.
But as David Horsey says, "Higgs boson binds the universe, but humans give it meaning."
The news about the "God particle" is one of those challenging bits of information that can make everything else feel terrifyingly insignificant. It is a reminder that each of us is merely a tiny, carbon-based organism existing for a brief moment on a small planet that, by the scale of the universe, is no more singular than a grain of sand on a beach. We are dust in the wind, utterly inconsequential in the dark expanse of time and space.
At least that's one way to look at it. Another way to see it is that, in all that vastness, only we are aware of the awesome complexity. Only we strive to know and understand. All the rest is mere physical phenomena. What we do in our brief lives on this small planet may be the only thing that matters.
Thus, it behooves us to use our sliver of time well. We can waste it watching "Dancing With The Stars" or we can reach for the stars. We can squander it being petty, cruel, selfish or destructive, or we can be creative, compassionate, kind and just. The Higgs boson may glue this universe together, but we are the ones who give it meaning.
The "God particle" has a big job to do in the infinity of the universe, but on Earth, as John F. Kennedy said, "God’s work must truly be our own."
I agree with them, except for the notion that watching "Dancing With the Stars" is a waste of time. I've spent quite a few hours watching this show. They don't seem wasted to me. Anyway, if meaning is made by each person, each of us has to decide for him- or herself what is meaningful, and what isn't.
And this likely will change. Growth, evolution, learning, wisdom, maturity -- these aren't things, but processes. They're works in progress, not finished pieces.
I liked how the New York Times story ends.
“This could be the first in a ring of discoveries,” said Guido Tonelli of CERN.
In an e-mail, Maria Spiropulu, a professor at the California Institute of Technology who works with the CMS team of physicists, said: “I personally do not want it to be standard model anything — I don’t want it to be simple or symmetric or as predicted. I want us all to have been dealt a complex hand that will send me (and all of us) in a (good) loop for a long time.”
Nima Arkani-Hamed, a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, said: “It’s a triumphant day for fundamental physics. Now some fun begins.”
This is a big difference between science and religion: open-mindedness versus know-it-all-ness. Truthfully feeling like you're on a never-ending voyage of discovery versus falsely believing that ultimate truth is within one's grasp.