Higgs blossoms and cherry bosons

‘So what’s up Eddy?’

On this first hot day at CERN, birthplace of the World Wide Web, Higgs bosons and other amazing things, we are having lunch at the tennis club just opposite the laboratory. Lots of happy physicists, engineers and even a few tennis players are enjoying Italian food or local fare on a sunny terrace, surrounded by trees that have only just sprung into bloom. Even the new green leaves are so fragile that they look like flower petals.

‘You heard about Elena?’, he asks. I shake my head.

ELENA is a tiny particle accelerator, or decelerator more precisely, that will sit within the existing Antiproton Decelerator that Eddy and me co-designed and commissioned in 2000. Its purpose was to create large numbers of anti-hydrogen atoms to measure the properties of that rarest of all materials on earth: antimatter. And it only exists at CERN, at ‘our’ accelerator.

‘We got the funding and once constructed, we will finally measure whether anti-hydrogen will fall up or down under the force of gravity’. Eddy has a big smile on his face. As do I. In physics this is highly exciting stuff!

‘So how about Higgs? Any updates?’, I ask. At CERN, this is just polite conversation, like asking your Mum how her Geraniums are doing.

He laughs. The Higgs particle is big physics that keeps 99% of CERN on their toes. Any updates are very carefully worded, even within CERN. There are no yes or no answers for Higgs. Only cagey phrases like, ‘we confirm that the Higgs particle either exists, or it is part of a new family of Higgs bosons.’ This, at least is an improvement to the previous statement that ‘CERN had seen a particle that looked very much like a Higgs’.

Fundamental science doesn’t deal in truth. There is no true or false. At this level of science, we can only say that something is likely to a precision of 97%, for example. That leaves 3% of doubt.

My friend Eddy, and the community of physicists around him, are the 3% people. They dedicate their careers to prove that today’s physics is wrong. Not out of spite, but out of passion. If anti-hydrogen falls up, that would put a serious dent in the so called Standard Model. That is worth at least 100 bottles of Champagne in the Antiproton Decelerator control room. I’ll try and get an invitation to that party!

For me this absence of absolute truth is important. Physicists are dealing in the realest of real reality and they have learned the hard way that there is no absolute truth. Ask Newton about his laws of motion. Ask Einstein about quantum mechanics.

In the real world, there is no absolute truth.

Eddy and myself go back a long way. We started at CERN more or less at the same time, early 80’s. Although CERN is the heart of the scientific universe, for us, it was just a job. A good and interesting job, but its purpose was to allow us earn money to go skiing in the weekends and clubbing in between. In time we got more serious (read: lost the spirit of youth and life itself), and began contributing bricks to the cathedral of science in earnest. Once we finished our work on the Antiproton Decelerator in 2000, I left science for the world of business and he went on to genuinely advance our knowledge of the universe. But even from my pleasant perspective of smart corner offices, I continued to love that same science and retained my curiosity for the fundamentals of reality.

In the real world, there is no absolute truth. I had come to the same conclusion. Even truth is relative (to the framework in which it was hatched).

The philosopher Alan Watts found many answers in Zen and Buddhism and he didn’t need CERN to come to such a conclusion. He often said man’s invention of language and words turned the real world into a conceptual world. A word is a concept. Man then uses these words in his conceptual world and tries to extract truth from it. In the process he gets stuck in a web of dualities of his own invention.

Take the Big Bang for example. This ‘theory’ states that the universe was created nearly 14 billion years ago during a massive explosion in which matter, time and everything we think of as real, was somehow created out of nothing.

The question many people ask, once they hear of this Big Bang is: So what was there before?

Well, say the cosmologists, time itself was created during the Big Bang and therefore, the notion of before doesn’t apply. No time thus no before. They’ll give a similar answer to what is outside our universe: reality – our dimensions, time etc – as we know it stops at the edge of the universe and therefore there is no outside. No dimensions thus no outside.

But, Alan Watts might have said, inside and outside, before and after are language concepts invented by man. In the same way that a snake has a head and a tail but in reality is just a snake, he said that the universe is a continuum beyond our language and conceptually limited world. The universe is … . At this point he would sound a gong to take us away from language to the reality of sound.

I agree with Alan. Although science can and will go on studying our cosmos and its nuclear structure, forever, the fact that it uses language, including mathematics, tells me that they will never bridge that last gap that is predicated by the dualities that are the foundation of language. There will always be a ‘what happened before, what is outside’ question. I suspect that the final answer will be circular because only a circular line has no end. But we will still ask what happens inside that circular argument and so on.

Language and mathematics have their own biggest flaws built in.

But, like those scientists, I am curious and want to find the answer to those very questions. I have thought about this a lot. I have even attempted to create new mathematics to capture those limitations of our dualistic world. All that led to were equations without equation signs which negates the whole notion of an equation!

Fortunately, reality itself comes to the rescue of my tortured mind.

Where I live it is spring. At the end of the terrace at the tennis club opposite CERN, not far from our table, there is a cherry tree in blossom. Beautiful delicate pink petals appear to explode from the tree, like lots of little Big Bangs. Where were those blossoms last week?

Were they curled up inside a bud? No, the buds were way too small.

Were they an idea inside the trees mind? No, trees have no minds.

Were they a coded program inside the DNA of the tree? Sure, but information is a non-real concept itself.

Where was the cherry blossom last week?

The only frustrating answer I have come up with is the one all philosophers end up with. The cherry blossom wasn’t anywhere. It wasn’t. Now it is, then it wasn’t. To be or not to be. ‘Ha!”, I hear you say, ‘another duality’. Of course, how could it be otherwise if you use words?

There is only one thing left for me to do.

‘Eddy, have you seen that gorgeous cherry tree there?’

Eddy nods. He closes his eyes and takes a long slow breath. I do the same. The sweet and loving scent of the cherry tree floods my experience. The pink flavour takes me back to all the springs of my life. The experience of life to the fullest, nature at its happiest and me falling in love, experiencing life as a dream but being wide awake.

No thoughts are left in my mind. The answer to the deepest question of existence is in its very absence.

Eddy has to go back to work, he has a meeting. They are finishing the design specs for the electrostatic deflectors for the ELENA transfer line. Eddy goes back to antimatter and Higgs.

I stay on at the terrace and close my eyes again. Revelling in the only truth that I have found, I breathe that truth. And just for a moment: I am.

Eddy’s truth. My truth.

We’re just friends.


12 thoughts on “Higgs blossoms and cherry bosons

  1. Another very interesting article, genetic fractals! I’d like to know a bit more about how you look at Alan Watts. After all, he was an enfant terrible in the zen community. And I think he struggled very much when practicing what he preached, if I may be so impolite. 😉

    1. Well, I’m going through an Alan Watts rediscovery phase 🙂 he had a very carefully crafted discourse in which he pulled profound truths from different sides of Buddhism and Zen and rendered them extremely relevant to our contemporary world, ehh, 50 years ago. For me he has answered many questions that I had without a trace of the make belief that New Age gurus are so fond off nor the prescription or cult of traditional buddhist, hindu or confucianist philosophy. I don’t know what he lived by. Certainly he seemed to embrace ‘bad’ lifestyles. His philosophy did not exclude that but I doubt he was really in control. A little sad. Still, I’m surprised how little we hear of him these days.

      1. An Alan Watts rediscovery phase! I’m impressed.
        I think I have missed him first time around. I like to think I’m too young, because I actually discovered him on youtube. It’s a bonus to hear him talk. And he certainly knew an awful lot about guru’s. 🙂
        Did you ever practice zen yourself or some other kind of meditation?

      2. I only know him from books and youtube 🙂 I have been meditating for 20 years. Although I tried different types and experimented with my own variations, the only thing that really worked for me is box-standard sit down, still the mind etc. I did Tai Chi for a couple of years which have elements of meditation and in the past few years, try to meditate anytime, any place. It’s surprising how many opportunities there are that we can actually do this. How about you? Did you focus on Zen? I must say that it sounds fascinating!

      3. I have focused on zen. Rinzai zen, to be precise. But I’m not doing the koans anymore. I actually took the practice very seriously until one day I heard my zen master say that she made people ‘pass’ koans in the beginning to ‘keep them on the path’. I gave up on them immediately after that. David Yerle (you know him, do you) once asked me if it was possible that zen really is an elaborate joke that is passed on from zen master to zen master and the idea really appealed to me. I think it is a joke, in the right sense of the word. A useful joke. And I think I have a sense of humour. 🙂

      4. Good for you, Zen fascinates me. I heard this reference to Zen being a joke in the right way. I can see why. it has happened to me to have satori and I couldn’t stop laughing. The whole thing is an elaborate joke, like being in Disneyland before it opens to the public. You get in all the rides for free without queuing and all the while you’re laughing. I’m sure that the people around thought I was mad. I was in my car at the time. 🙂 a big good joke!

  2. Wow. Beautifully beautifully written. I wrote once about the “Incessant Articulation” on Life As a Wave…the way language takes falls short to represent the experience of consciousness and often also gets in the way. Those breaths your write of are good…just to know “I am.”

    On a completely different note…have you read and enjoyed (or not) Laszlo and his Akashic Fields? Maybe the cherry blossom always has been?

  3. You really worked at CERN? Wow. I’d love to see those mathematics you attempted. I haven’t tried to build non-dualistic mathematics myself, but I have dabbled in different possibilities for space-times (not continuous, not discrete) and even invented a fractal integral at some stage, which always gave infinite as an answer…
    And yes, the thing with science is it can’t give some answers by definition: it can’t look outside its own scope. I wouldn’t call it a problem: it’s just the way it’s built. For the rest that lies outside science, we have philosophy, contemplation and mediation, which are perfectly reasonable ways of trying to blur the duality on our heads.

    1. CERN is an amazing place, I was there for 10 years. The complexity, innovation and passion there are unrivalled.

      I know what you mean about the limitations of Mathematics and it wasn’t fair of me to call it flawed. It’s just that I put maths on a pedestal and I bring it my dearest offerings. I can’t allow it to let me down 🙂

      I made several attempts at creating the equation of life, the universe and everything. I mentioned the “non-equative maths”. Although I knew that I had to lose the equation sign, I couldn’t work out how to do that meaningfully.

      I then tried to define the boundary conditions of that first and initial process. Going to infinity, as you mention, is one of them. That it should start with nothing is another. The last one is that at least in its initial state it should be without cause, otherwise it wouldn’t be the initial state. The only process that does that is a process of the “cause that is its own cause”. That in itself has profound philosophical meaning.

      Although I didn’t manage to formulate such a system that met that initial condition, I did find one that comes pretty close. I call this “genetic fractals” – the name of this blog. It combines L-system fractals, genetic instructions that modify the fractals as they grow and the simplest of initial states: a binary state. Still dualistic but one day I’ll add the “cause that is its own cause”, and that should do it 🙂

      I have used these genetic fractals very effectively to grown complex mechanical structures from nothing. I’m trying to use it creatively in art, including writing (…) and I’m hoping to find the time to try to use it to create the system of mathematics from nothing and solve the non-equitive problem. I know that is crackpot. That’s OK, there is safety in madness!

      1. Hahaha well, some people may say it’s crackpot, but I find the line between crackpottery and creativity to be pretty blurred. A lot of my posts are pure crackpottery, to be honest. And I really like the idea of the genetic fractals. What would be really cool is to be able to start from no state or from the final state. That would be the “cause without a cause” you’re looking for…
        So glad to have found a fellow physicist who knows mathematics! This is going to be fun…

      2. Same here David, though technically I’m an electronics/IT engineer who learned accelerator physics on the job and then did a maths degree to make sense of it all. And then I fell in love with maths 🙂 I’ll write something on genetic fractals – they are cool…

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