For their revolutionary prediction of the Higgs boson – the so-called God particle – physicists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert were recently awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Although their discovery lays the groundwork for explaining the nature and essence of pretty much everything we see, there is at least one question that remains to be answered: Where did the thought of the Higgs boson come from?
But first, a little background.
What Higgs and Englert did was to explain how elementary particles gain mass by interacting with other particles within an invisible field of energy – the Higgs field – that spans the entire universe. Just like you might feel if you were swimming through a pool of molasses, the more these particles interact, the heavier and slower they become, allowing other particles to latch on. The particle associated with this field is the Higgs boson.
Well-known futurist and theoretical physicist, Michio Kaku, described this process in more dramatic terms in the Wall Street Journal last year, saying that the Higgs boson is what put the “bang” in the proverbial Big Bang.
“Everything we see around us, including galaxies, stars, planets and us,” said Kaku, “owes its existence to the Higgs boson.”
To characterize this as a significant discovery would be an understatement of cosmic proportions. And yet for all our ability to conceive of such particles and processes, the scientific community has yet to come up with a satisfactory explanation as to the nature of consciousness itself.
“Consciousness cannot be perceived, but without it there is no perception,” said physician-turned-mind-body-guru, Deepak Chopra, in a video produced for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. “It cannot be cognized, but without it there is no thought.”
Even so, there are many these days, including Chopra, who think that consciousness, as imperceptible and inexplicable as it may be, is actually at the root of everything we experience. Not just what we think, but what we see, what we feel – even our health.
Within this context, you have to wonder if the Higgs boson itself would exist without our thinking it existed in the first place. Is it possible that by thinking differently – about ourselves, about others, about our universe – we might begin to see things differently?
Nineteen century religious reformer and medical pioneer, Mary Baker Eddy, thought so. Long before the Higgs boson was even conceived, her own experiments led her to conclude that the divinely inspired consciousness “relinquishes a material, sensual, and mortal theory of the universe, and adopts the spiritual and immortal” – a process that she observed results in both moral and physical transformation.
Years later, Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind-Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, came to essentially the same conclusion.
In 2008 he, along with Dr. Towia Libermann, director of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, co-authored a study showing that what Benson calls the “relaxation response” – a physiologic state of deep rest elicited by meditation, deep breathing and prayer – influences the activation patterns of genes associated with the body’s response to stress. In other words, different thought = different body.
Since then a number of other studies have documented how this relaxation response not only alleviates the symptoms of psychological disorders such as anxiety, but also affects physiologic factors such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and brain activity.
“For hundreds of years Western medicine has looked at mind and body as totally separate entities, to the point where saying something ‘is all in your head’ implied that it was imaginary,” wrote Benson in his report. “Now we’ve found how changing the activity of the mind can alter the way basic genetic instructions are implemented.”
This brings us back to the original and still unanswered question: Where did the thought of the Higgs boson come from? Does this particle exist only in our mind? Can it be manipulated by our thoughts? Is it possible that matter isn’t so much a thing as it is a perspective? If so, could it be that by changing this perspective we might discover that our essential nature isn’t matter-based after all?
Maybe the most important thing we have learned with the discovery of the Higgs boson is that there are a lot more questions to be answered and a lot more discoveries to be made – discoveries of both cosmic proportion and, perhaps more importantly, spiritual dimension.