The invisible fields

In the storyline, Alice Liddell has the ability to manipulate events according to her will. She could make people and the Universe to what she bids. New Age calls this manipulation “manifesting you intention”.    You can read about it here. In Catching Infinity, this is supposedly possible  because of the Higgs Field.  So the big question: what is it in simple language?

The Higgs Field is a hypothetical invisible force field that pervades the whole Universe, that gives mass – and hence ‘realness’ – to elementary particles (basic building blocks) that interact with it. Without the Higgs Field, there would be no mass.  There would be no planets, no stars, no Universe, no life.

Though all particles are merely excitation of fields, people often find it difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend fields conceptually. Here are a series of images that designer Luis Hernan produced of invisible WIFI signals using a creative combination of long exposure photography and an Android app. Please click here for more stunning photographs.

With some artistic licence, this is what a field looks like.

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 12.26.37

If the Higgs Field is so pervasive and important, how come we can’t see it? We can’t see the Higgs Field anymore than we can see the sea of air that we live in, but it is there all the same. PW wants to  build ‘an accelerator so large that it can be seen from the skies’  to find the Higgs boson so that he proves the Higgs Field exists. Finding the Higgs boson remains one of the last holy grails of physics.

Note: Our thoughts is a type of field too, and if we can this field to the one we live in, the potential is limitless.




The unseen universe within

It is said that youth is wasted on the young, and it is absolutely true. I went up to Oxford on scholarship when I was in my twenties, and I don’t think I pushed the envelope as far as I could. I wish it had been now. I would have made so much more of the same opportunities if they came my way today.

In my twenties, I had lots of small babies hanging off me, I had a part-time job to pay for what the scholarship could not cover, and I had a lot of practical things on my mind (like getting a well-paid job). But saying that, I was excited to be working at the Scanning Proton Microprobe Unit, which is based at the Nuclear Physics Department on Keble Road. After edgy Manchester, Oxford with its dreaming spires was like walking into a surreal filmset of a movie like Shadowlands. I loved the little church opposite my window, I loved the wide boulevards of St Giles, I loved the higgledy-piggledy bookshop, the Eagle & Child pub beloved of Lewis Carroll, I loved the Brown Cow, I loved my college, which was St. John’s. They all opened my eyes to something beautiful, that inspired me to write, in particular, this very Oxford book.

And in some strange way, I enjoyed being in the ‘dungeon’, where the accelerator and detector lived. Day in, day out, we would fire protons at a wide gamut of targets, and spend many more days processing the results in the hope of seeing ‘something’.

That is the exciting thing that I did not realise until much later on: there is such a rich universe that exists within ours. We could only see them indirectly through detectors which translate into data. But boy, what data! I wish I knew more, appreciated more.

Catching Infinity is about a theoretical physics Professor who was trying to solve the last remaining scientific conundrum: why Einstein’s General Relativity and the newer theories of Quantum Mechanics don’t fit in with each other to make the perfect picture? They should, as they both have been rigorously tested over many decades by countless high-calibre scientists spending billions of taxpayers’ money – yet these two vastly opposing world-views remain standing squaring each other off. The Professor goes on a merry dance to find the solution. Is there one?

His journey actually started when he was eight years old, when he was still an awkward, gawky kid from the veld.  He was the type of kid who asked a lot of questions (that was what I was like!) and his Oupa built him a particle accelerator deep in the Eastern Transvaal. Yes, it can be done! You can build one in your backyard for U$1,000. (*I am trying to persuade Thomas to let me build one in our small garden).

And to me, that is the excitement and passion I feel for this book, the journey of discovery and self-realisation that involves every single human being. The story takes readers through this eight year old farm boy’s beginnings (when he was wearing over-sized tackies inherited from his older brother, peering through his Oupa’s old binoculars at the stars over South Africa) to the man who built ‘an accelerator so large that it can be seen from the skies’. In that journey, he saw stars and galaxies so large that they were unreal in our physical reality. He also saw unreal particles (the quarks and leptons) that our material reality is made up of.

Please come with me, through the pages of Catching Infinity, on my belated walk through this magical realm that IS our reality.

The Hunting of The Snark

Meyrin was a town that existed merely as a service station for CERN and its large legion of scientists from all over the world, each pursuing his or her own science fiction in this industrial town. Here, in this clinical environment necessary for space-age research, science was as detached from the real world as can be. From his Oupa’s ancient binoculars and their homemade particle accelerator back in the veld to this.

The further our gaze travels from home or the deeper we look at our material reality, the more we will become reliant on science that is beyond common sense and the average person’s comprehension. Thus, the most difficult thing for a theoretical physicist to do often is to communicate his ideas and findings, because these new rules of reality are increasingly removed from common sense. Science communication then becomes reliant of cleverer abstractions, on metaphors. PW loved metaphors; they were a large part of his success, the way he artfully used them to fire global imagination and interest. And from metaphors, too, we get beauty and meaning.

That blerrie English girl asked him, the night they sat on the Cherwell, why was the fifth quark named Truth?

Will we ever know Truth, PW wondered. Right now, all we have is the compartmentalisation of the things into two varieties of boxes: those for the things we know unequivocally, and another for the things that we do not, or may never, know.  Metaphors, so beloved of PW the consummate storyteller, blur the dichotomous key and confuse the sorting system; we end up thinking that we have more content in the ‘Don’t Know’ box than we actually do.  But like it or not, our experience and memory of exploration within and beyond is becoming more belief-ridden. That is, until we get more cold hard facts from these monster machines that fire particles at each other forty million times per second twenty four hours a day and seven days a week.

Someday, I am going to build an accelerator so large that it can be seen from the skies, the poster  announced boldly in childish scrawl. It was made for him by his eight year old son, Dawie, his precious child whom he told stories of the meteorite that fell to earth, magnetic spheroids, buckminsterfullerenes, and all the magical things to.

He cast his eyes heavenwards. “God, please give me a Higgs Boson,” he said, heartfelt words that he uttered for the ten thousandth time since he began this journey out of the veld.

  • Note: the title of this post was borrowed from Lewis Carroll’s poem (published in 1876) of the same name and the image from the book published by MacMillan.