Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Higgs boson visits Atlantis

Well, the Higgs boson is apparently a reality, a finding that had one CERN researcher stating to reporters, "A lot of bets are going to be settled up today."  The likelihood that the particle observed in two separate experiments, CMS and ATLAS, was the Higgs was placed at 99.9999%, which seems like pretty good odds to me.  (Source)

The finding is a major vindication for the Standard Model, the theory that describes how particles interact, generating fields, forces, and a variety of other phenomena, and will surely be the springboard to launch a whole new set of experiments designed to expand what we know about physics.

Unfortunately, it has already been the springboard for a variety of Non-Standard Models by woo-woos who take the Higgs boson's nickname ("The God Particle") far too literally.  And it didn't help that within the past few weeks we have had announcements from two other fields, Mayan archaeology (the discovery of a text that allegedly confirms the calendar "end date" of December 21, 2012) and paleoclimatology/geology (a seafloor survey that describes the topography of "Doggerland," the land mass that spanned what is now the southern North Sea between Britain and Denmark when the sea level was lower, during the last ice age).

Maybe you'll see where this is going when I tell you that the media has already nicknamed Doggerland "Atlantis."  (Sources here and here)

So.  Yeah.  Higgs boson + Mayans + Atlantis = WHOA.  And if you add the Easter Island statues into the mix, we just have a coalescence of woo-woo-ness that makes you wonder why we don't just have a Celestial Convergence right here in our living rooms, just from reading about it.

Regular readers of Skeptophilia will not be surprised that the assembly of these four unrelated topics together into some kind of Cosmic Hash is the brainchild of frequent flyer Diane Tessman, who has written about it here.  Ms. Tessman starts off with a little bit of self-congratulation:
It’s been a week of exciting, dynamic 2012 events! I made a prediction back in the early 1990s that archeological discoveries in the final phase of the Change Times would be landmark events that would answer long-unanswered questions.
I predicted that not only these landmarks were significant in themselves but they would be a catalyst for UFO disclosure, alien landings, and a change in reality-perception (level of consciousness) for all humankind.
Maybe my predictions expect too much to manifest from these pivotal archeological discoveries but this is not the time to be a skeptic, because after all, I was right about the astounding discoveries. We shall see about the rest of my predictions in the future.
Yup.  That we shall.

She then goes on to describe (1) how the discovery of mammoth bones, human artifacts, and terrestrial features like river beds on the North Sea floor shows that Atlantis is real, (2) the discovery that the Easter Island moai statues have bodies shows that UFOs are real, (3) the discovery of the new Mayan text shows that the whole Mayan prophecy nonsense is real, and (4) the discovery of the Higgs boson shows that God/Celestial Consciousness is real.  Or something like that.  With Diane Tessman, it's hard to tell, sometimes.  Here's what she had to say about the Higgs:
So, science has confirmed what spiritual people knew all along: There is a God Spark, a God particle. Of course many people feel “it” (he/she/it) is within us, not out there in the universe of physics. Truth might be, it is everywhere, just as sub-atomic particles are everywhere and just as consciousness itself is everywhere. The universe is consciousness!
Yup, I'm sure that's what the physicists at CERN are saying today.  "Wow, I'm glad we showed that the Higgs exists.  But after all, I felt it all around me, all the time, because, you know, consciousness.  And god.  And everything.  So we really didn't need to do that experiment, we could have just experienced the Higgs."

I get kind of hot under the collar when people who don't understand science hijack discoveries made by actual trained, working scientists for their own silly purposes.  It misleads, it muddies the water, and (worst) it cheapens the years of work done by the people who are some of the clearest thinkers in the world.  I'll be the first to admit that I understand only the vaguest, shallowest bits of the Standard Model and how the Higgs boson fits into it; but then, I don't go pontificating to my readers about what it all means as if I were a physicist.

Okay.  I should just calm down a little, because (after all) it's not like the scientists at CERN (or the geologists who are studying Doggerland, or any other working researchers) are losing much sleep over Ms. Tessman and her ilk.  So, I guess, let her have her spiritual quantum-physics-powered UFOs from Atlantis, or whatever the hell it is she believes in.  Me, I'm just going to have another cup of coffee and read some more press releases from the physicists, because however you interpret it, you have to admit that this stuff about the Higgs boson is pretty freakin' cool.


  1. One of those scientists who worked on the Higgs thing should write a book about woo interpretations of the particle. Just go wild. Then at the end add a chapter that says, "If you've gotten this far, you should know that everything in here is totally made up. You've let yourself get carried away by a stupid nickname some physicist made up. Thanks for the $8 though."

    Of course, true believers never let something like that stop them. They would claim he was just channeling truths subconsciously, or something along those lines.

  2. I'm just a layman too and not a physicist, but as I understand it, the Higgs field is the closest thing to a magical force that mankind has discovered. Higgs Boson particles exist in every atom, and together they comprise a "sticky" field that permeates the whole universe and gives the universe its mass. If magic were real, we would observe that in the Higgs field. We do not. So it's not.

    If magic had been real, we would have observed it by now via the scientific method. Not just with the Higgs Boson, but everything. The Higgs field is literally everywhere, so that god hiding inside those gaps officially no longer has anywhere to hide.

  3. The reason that the CERN scientists are only 99.999% sure, and not 100% sure that they have found the Higgs Boson (adding the results from both the CMS and ATLAS experiments raised it to the 99.9999% number) is that they haven’t actually seen the particle that they think is the Higgs Boson.

    If I understand the function of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) correctly, what they have actually done is record the energy levels of the multitude of high-energy particles, things, byproducts, etc., produced by demolitions occurring inside the detectors of the LHC. From an article I read on this announcement, by collecting the data from four years of these collisions, and combining the results, a series of statistical spikes began to appear in the data. One such “statistical spike, at around the energy of one predicted variety of Higgs boson, has been growing stronger and more defined over the months.”

    In other words, they have observed the presence of a level of energy that they think should be consistent with that expected amount of energy projected for the Higgs Boson, a set of tracks if you will, that would indicate the existence of the particle they were looking for.

    Ok, so now tell me, how is this any different than inferring the existence of Big Foot from finding a set of tracks out in the wild that appear in a manner that one would expect them to, based upon what one thinks Big Foot would look like?

    Listen, was that the sound of a head slap I just heard? : )

  4. One difference is that you can't create spikes in the LHC statistics with a pair of big rubber feet mounted on stilts.