Sunday, December 25, 2011

The G*d*mn Particle

Another fabulous anecdote from the RJLipton Blog, regarding the Higgs Boson (what's popularly called "The God Particle"):

Higgs himself believes neither the particle nor the mechanism should carry his sole name, and was happy that he, Brout, Englert, and the three authors of another 1964 paper (Gerald Guranik, Carl Hagen, and Tom Kibble) were all awarded the 2010 J.J. Sakurai Prize for this work. He may have gotten his wish, as the popular name “The God Particle” has stuck to the boson. This is the title of a 1993 book by Nobel prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman and science writer Dick Teresi.

According to Higgs, Lederman had wanted to title the book The G*d*mm Particle to emphasize how elusive the boson was. His publisher declined to have a swear word in the title, but thought it fine to use just “God.” However, they could have settled on the Orthodox Jewish practice of writing “G-d” to avoid situations where the fully-written name might be erased or discarded. The title The G-d Particle could then be read with Lederman’s original meaning or not. Higgs is said to join many scientists regretting the “God Particle” name, more from concern over hype than irreverence.

I love this story so much. First, it finally makes sense of that stupid name in a way that eluded me until now. Secondly, it again shows that the "real" existential experience of scientific problem-solving is more generally one of a desperate, teeth-grinding, curse-filled battle (and not so much a dainty and refined observation of museum-like beauty).

Divine grace is a marketing pitch you use to sell something to the public. It's not something seen in the real world, or actual live math work, very much.

On that note, happy holidays from MadMath! :-)

1 comment:

  1. Publishers are idiots :( It takes a rather severe case of an idiot not to see that the book's most fitting title was, in fact, "The G*d**mn Particle". Way to mess up something as important as the title. Sigh.