Why do they call Higgs Boson the “God Particle”?

First, let’s just quickly say what it is. The Higgs boson may or may not exist. If it does exist, it is a boson.

Matter is made up of smaller and smaller things, down to a point. A chair may be made of pieces of wood, which in turn are made up of plant cells, etc. etc., until we get down to the atom. Atoms are made up of “subatomic particles” and at this point it becomes 100% spooky and weird.

Below the level of the atom there are fermions, vector bosons and a scalar boson. These things combine to make up many and varied subatomic particles, some of which the average reasonably well educated person has heard of, many obscure.

Think of it this way: First, imagine a two dimensional world … it’s easier that way … then imagine that any thing that makes sense to you is a collage, like an artists makes. Now, imagine a set of different flat fabrics, cloths, or kinds of paper (the details are not important) that are so flat and boring that if you put any of it on a collage you may not even notice it is there. But, if you wrinkle or crease or otherwise mess up a bit of the surface of one of these flat sheets of stuff, that little bit there becomes visible. Like if you emboss (without ink) a letter on a piece of paper. The letter exists because the paper has been reshaped slightly.

Now, imagine that bits of the cloth or paper sheets exist as part of the collage … the thing that you can experience, the thing that makes sense to you … are always (from your perspective) the parts of the cloth or paper sheets that are scrunched up, creased, folded, embossed, whatever.

The “subatomic particles” I mentioned above are the wrinkled up parts of the different kinds of cloth or paper. That’s how they get to exist: By being a wrinkled or folded up part of this sheet. They can stop existing as described just like a mushed up piece of cloth can be flattened back down again.

Just as you might imagine that the nature of a collage …. what it means to you, what it looks like, what it is … comes from the arrangement of the collection of bits of visible scraps of stuff that you can see on it, the nature of matter and stuff, including energy, and including things like mass and time and everything else you can experience, comes from the flat stuff variously mushed or folded and arranged. Different sheets of cloth/paper provide different aspects of reality to the collage.

The various bosons and such emerge as ripples of what are called fields. Light and other forms of radiation are ripples in the field that gives us photons. Physicists postulate that there is a field that gives us gravity, which if it ever rippled just the right way might appear to us as “gravitons” just like the field that gives us radiation can be “photons.”

One of the bosons is the Higgs boson, which comes from the “Higgs field” and provides our collage with a property we might best describe as “mass.” It would technically be called a “scalar boson,” in case you were wondering.

OK, so some years ago a guy named Leon M. Lederman wrote a book called “The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?,” and that is where the Higgs boson got its nickname.

Leon M. Lederman won the Nobel Prize for Physics for work on neutrino beams and the structure of leptons. In other words, he’s all about these wrinkles in cosmic cloth. According to one source, he originally wanted to name the book “The Goddamn Particle” because, as everyone knows, the Higgs Particle is the most annoying of the subatomic particles. But, his publisher thought this would annoy the American Fundies, so instead they named it the “God Particle” which ever since has annoyed everyone else.

Let’s try to remember to not call this thing the “God Particle” for now. The damn thing may, after all, exist. If later it proves not to, then fine.

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22 thoughts on “Why do they call Higgs Boson the “God Particle”?

  1. And Lederman’s “God Particle” book is a great read for those curious how the standard model of physics was developed over time. It’s laymen-targeted and delves nicely into particle physics and high energy physics.

  2. In my opinion, CERN did physics a disservice in the way they hyberbolized this week’s minor story about a “possible glimpse” of Higgs. There was a lot of anticipation, but no weenie.

    Has there ever been a case where a major (modern) scientific discovery did not leak before the press conference? It’s something like high-profile court cases: all the spectacular evidence is known before the trial begins.


  3. There is much wrong here.
    1) Fundamental particles are not points (size becomes complicated, see Compton wavelength etc, and even in your crumpled paper picture or as strings they cannot be points).
    2) Field description should be distinguished from an aether (your crumpled paper). What you are talking about is almost a crackpot version of aether. More on this here:
    3) Higgs is not what gives mass (=inertia). Most mass is still Einstein’s E=mc^2 applied to binding energies. Higgs allows rest-mass for certain fermions, an overall negligible contribution.

  4. Sasha, you will never like anything I write, so I don’t know why I bother responding but I will… Since this is your area maybe you have something useful to say. Let’s have a look.

    There is much wrong here.
    1) Fundamental particles are not points

    I didn’t say they were. Perhaps you refer to my witty statement “down to a point” which is a play on “up to a point” which is an English phrase that perhaps you do not know.

    2) Field description should be distinguished from an aether (your crumpled paper). What you are talking about is almost a crackpot version of aether.

    The part where I’m talking about aether is in your head. Please stick with what is in my post.

    3) Higgs is not what gives mass (=inertia). Most mass is still Einstein’s E=mc^2 applied to binding energies. Higgs allows rest-mass for certain fermions, an overall negligible contribution.

    Thanks for the clarification. I’m sure everyone understands that now.

    However, you’ve missed the point. If you stayed with my “crackpot” analogy you would understand that the sheets ARE the fields, and a field can have any one of several (unspecified) relationships to other things in the model … it’s called “field theory” and you might find it interesting.

    And thus the Higgs field connection to mass. Not hard. You just have to stop assuming that everything you read that someone else wrote is wrong, and then also, start doing better with your English. You are getting there.

  5. “The first large scale nuclear fission chain reaction” made me think first of Oklo, Gabon..

    I think a modern example might be the Nov 1995- Jan 1996 surprise announcements of the first extrasolar planets around sun-like stars, first by Mayor and a few months later by Marcy and Butler. Maybe Wolszczan’s 1992 Pulsar planets too.

  6. “Let’s try to remember to not call this thing the “God Particle” for now.”

    Unless, of course, you are writing a physics book. A few gratuitous and meaningless references to “God” will do wonders for your sales.

  7. You may remember that journalists kept hounding Einstein in the forties and fifties for his Theory of Everything. The headlines on various occasions read: Einstein to Announce
    His Unified Field Theory”; Einstein to Annouince His Grand New Theory of the Universe, etc, etc. It’s been a long wait. It will continue to be a long wait.

  8. Bee is correct that no one in physics uses the term “god-particle” except perhaps ironically. Sascha is technically correct that most observed mass in everyday objects comes from binding energy, but physicists regularly refer to the Higgs as giving mass to other fundamental particles (not just fermions) since rest mass is what is commonly meant when talking about fundamental particles.

  9. Greg, for somebody who tells others to improve their English you have surprisingly little reading comprehension. Seems just because I did not agree with you once, you have your pants all up in a knot. You also apparently forgot the praise I gave you on some of your articles where you talk about stuff you understand.
    Anyway: What you are describing is an aether theory (even if you do not know the difference to modern field theory) and the relation you make to mass and Higgs is simply wrong and very misleading indeed. Though you won’t want to get into the details, it should perhaps be already enough to consider that practically 100% of your mass is not generated by Higgs! Somebody who is not falling for the usual hype in other fields like nuclear energy of anthropology should perhaps not becoming insulting against somebody else who tries pretty much the same in a different field?

  10. Sascha, I am not describing an aether theory. I am trying out an analogy that could be useful in understanding this concept for the lay person.

    I appreciate your suggestion regarding mass.

    I’ll tell you what. Suggest the end of the following sentence:

    “One of the bosons is the Higgs boson, which comes from the “Higgs field” and provides our collage with … ”

    I’ll be happy to change it to something better.

  11. physicists-blog-comments-cat-fight!

    Schrödinger’s cat-fight. Where the participants are simultaneously winners and losers depending on the observer.

  12. Mr. Laden,

    At the end you write, and I quote: Let’s try to remember to not call this thing the “God Particle” for now. The damn thing may, after all, exist. If later it proves not to, then fine.

    If I understand correctly to not find this particle will pretty much mean that our overall assumptions about how the universe fundamentally works will be incorrect. I dare say there are a number of physicist who would not consider it fine if this happens.

  13. Duane, my understanding is that there are versions of the “standard model” in which the Higgs could be left out. But that is beside the point.

    My remark was a joke, and a rather funny one if I may say so myself.

    If the Higgs Particle does not exist, then it can be called ‘The God Particle” because neither does God. Exist, that is.

  14. To Bee: The “Higgs field” is plural. Its like refering to a deer (single) or many deer (plural). Ive never heard it called a Higg bozon. Whats so great about this search is it is truely “unknown”. The model will fall apart is the higgs cannot be found/detected and its a wonderful waiting game. Personally, I think some quarks (top, bottom) could be broken up as well, but that wont be humanly possible for another couple centuries. I think the “God Particle” is an appropriate title seeing how it seems to have a mind of its own, whatever it is. The further we dig down, the more proof will be discovered that we are of intelligent design. Whoever he is, “God” is truely amazing!

  15. Dear Greg,

    you’re going well with your interesting opinions. Go on like this and do not worry about all those who are always ready to criticize all what you say in all your blogs. I see that you are one of those very few people who can and want to write what he thinks, and not what he must.

    Many theoretical “physicists”, all over the world, have been able to applaud the news on superluminal neutrinos!!!!!!!
    Many others didn’t applaud, but they didn’t keep their distance, either!!!
    Besides, many blogs can prove I didn’t do that, but I immediately attacked that news…

    As you already know, ONE CANNOT PRETEND NOT TO NOTICE that, just yesterday, many researchers and theoreticians told us two and two is nine; I’m talking about the story of superluminal neutrinos, later corrected.
    That news shouldn’t even have been proposed and all those who learnt with passion even just some rudiments of relativity and electromagnetism, should immediately keep far; on the contrary, many eminent scientists didn’t do that, but welcomed.
    It seems that there is, in the air, a great need of private lessons on basic physics (basic electromagnetism and basic relativity) for many official physicists and researchers, all over the world.

    On the basis of that, read my whole opinion, with all the mathematical and physical easy explanations, at the following link:


    And just to put further irons in the fire, what to say about the dying and unjustifiable dark matter?

    Finally, what to say about the recent news on the Higgs boson, now found: first of all, the scientific environment from which that news comes from is the same one, again. Furthermore, this kind of announcements have got a behaviour in common: they all diverge, instead of converging to a point of common deep knowledge of the Universe. In fact, such a boson just apparently brings an answer to us (on what it would do), but, at the same time, it also brings another half a dozen of new questions (on what it really is and on how it would do what they say it does).
    According to the above comments, it’s not so clear, in people’s mind, what mass is exactly given by such a Higgs boson. In my opinion, it’s because the whole environment and the whole subject are not so clear…
    By summing it up a bit, Higgs boson would give a mass to other particles, through the friction among them and the Higgs’ field!
    It’s like if there is a guy, whose name is Anthony (and I don’t know him) and after long researches and investigations I’m told that Anthony has been introduced to Jennifer by Josephine, through Michael. And so, now, I still don’t know Anthony, but not only: from now on, I do not know also Jennifer, Josephine and Michael…
    In fact, the echo of the news on the Higgs’ boson has not yet faded out and there is already who has (re)started to hunt the superhiggs, in environments with 43 dimensions!
    And the story goes on…

    Thank you for your attention.



    Leonardo Rubino.

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