[Alternative Title: Belated Father's Day Tribute to My Father]
I'm sure many of you, including me, have pondered grand questions such as "What is the origin of the universe?," "What is the meaning of life?," "Why is there something rather than nothing?," and "What happened before the Big Bang?" But, in all likelihood, you only managed to scratch the surface of the surface of such questions. Perhaps you have come to some satisfying nonsecular conclusion along the lines of "God." Or, you were left unsatisfied that you'll never know.
Well, today, we presumably know more. Unless you've been living under a rock without Internet access, you know that scientists at the CERN research center have announced they have evidence of the Higgs boson. Confirmation of the existence of this particle fits in nicely with some current theories on the order of the universe.
As an armchair scientist, this is quite exciting. However, on personal level, I've had mixed emotions. I knew this day was coming. Well, at least I was pretty sure. But, for my entire lifetime, I've been taught differently. That, even with the discovery of the Higgs boson, something was missing -- an accounting for gravity.
During the last months of his life, my Dad sent me a few emails. Including the following:
From: email@example.comMy dad died later that year, never knowing for sure whether the Higgs boson existed or not.
Date: June 25, 2010 1:46:56 PM PDT
Subject: Re: Public Lecture by Bernard Schutz of AEI, Potsdam, Germany
Way back, I was interested in gravity waves. I thought I could generate gravity waves and detect them using some sensor to detect them to prove gravity waves exist. I was going to generate gravity waves by rotating a massive cylinder. I thought this will generate gravity waves but I hadn't figured out what I could use for the sensor and therefore I didn't know how strong a wave I needed to generate so that I could detect it and therefore I didn't know how big a cylinder I needed nor how fast I had to spin it.
I would have been very disappointed if the universe is filled with something like Higgs Boson. Then I think "mass" could be made from gathering Boson particles, not from what I thought is more elegant mechanisms like "Geon" which is a trapped photon within its own gravity field. If "Higgs Boson" or something like it is responsible, all one has to do is find them like all other elemental particles physicists were looking for in accelerators and still are. I personally would have found no fun in that. When I wrote this, I thought about my adviser. (Couldn't remember his name. He had only one ear lobe.) Fun days.
The Theory of Everything
Though I didn't know it growing up, I've realized that my dad was in search of the Theory of Everything. Yes. Everything. That's a pretty big audacious goal. Sure, maybe it's something you think about occasionally. But my Dad "went deep," based on science and math. For a long time, I thought he was only in search of a Grand Unified Theory. Big in its own right but clearly smaller than a Theory of Everything.
In the late 1950's/early 1960's, he was about to take an appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study, when he realized that the University of Washington wasn't quite the right place to study theoretical physics. But alas, he and my mom got married, had a child on the way, and decided that such intellectual pursuits didn't quite fit in. So, he settled on fighting and winning the cold war. But that's another story.
I find it quite tantalizing to think what if my father had gone to IAS to find a Theory of Everything. Would he have figured out how gravity fits in with electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions? Sure, Albert Einstein was all ready dead and he couldn't help. But Kurt Godel was still there. Would he have worked with him to unravel the mysteries of the universe? Or prove that we really can't understand the mysteries of the universe? After all, in 2002, after considering Godel's Theorem on Incompleteness, Stephen Hawking declared a Theory of Everything impossible. I find this all deliciously satisfying because of my personal intrigue with Godel (as many of you know).
Or maybe I'm just a boy proud of his dad.
Would my dad really be disappointed today if were alive to hear the CERN Large Hadron Collider results? I've been pondering this for more than a few months. Would his beliefs for understanding the universe be invalidated?
I think not. In many of the announcements and commentary on the discovery of the Higgs boson, there seems to be an acknowledgement that gravity is "outside of the model." I take that acknowledgement as a "hat tip" to those in search of an explanation of gravity, including my dad.
And despite his potential disappointment that the universe might be less "elegant" with the Higgs boson, I believe he "moved the needle" in our understanding of the universe. That makes me proud.
Rest in Peace, Dad. I know that this is a usually a non-secular wish for those that have passed. And, in the name of science, it doesn't quite make sense. However, ironically, I think I can say this, both figuratively and literally.
Happy Belated Father's Day, Dad.