--2 Lee on Literature: The God Particle and T.S. Eliot
Sept. 24, 2017
The discovers of the Higgs bosson particle were awarded the Nobel Prize

Lee on Literature: The God Particle and T.S. Eliot

At the metaphysical crossroads

November 7, 2013, 4:00 pm
By Lee Miller

Last month, physicists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the “God particle.” Most physicists dislike such reverential terminology for the Higgs boson, yet the word “God” well names this miraculous key to energy-mass transfer, something that T.S. Eliot might describe as “the point of intersection of the timeless with time.” Eliot illustrates such metaphysical principles in his poetic opus Four Quartets, pinpointing crossroads akin to Higgs and Englert’s momentous discovery.

In 1964, particle physicists determined that the universe is diffused with an energy-filled, cosmic molasses (bosons). Particles passing through the molasses gained mass, yet there was a missing piece to this process. Higgs theorized that there was a particle that conferred mass. Without this particle, electrons would not gain mass while passing through an energy field, and therefore not create atoms or eventually form life. The completion of CERN’s $4.5 billion Large Hadron Collider in 2008 allowed physicists to measure the existence of a theoretical “God particle,” the missing link. Thus, a transformation between energy and mass was perceived and explained.

T.S. Eliot also explores this intersection. For the poet, mass and energy are “body” and “spirit” “place” and “time” in Four Quartets. “Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future.” The same is true for places. Eliot describes an open field where, a thousand years ago, humans had gathered for a wedding or mating ritual. Spirit created bodies that created spirit, in cycles that reappeared in the same physical space during multiple eras. This is like Thoreau’s realization at the edge of Walden Pond that generations of Native Americans before him walked along the same shores. 

Mankind focuses on “progress,” yet the present moment is most vital to Eliot. Complete integration of nature, humanity, time and space is achieved only in the present moment, creating powerful clarity. Old men do not possess this wisdom, because their clarity is biased from an increasingly limited set of intersections. Great statesmen, rulers, industrial lords, chairmen of committees, and generous patrons of the arts… “they all go into the dark” in the end. Perspective is only gained at select moments in one’s life, sudden illuminations, glimpses of “God,” where and when “the meaning restores the experience.” To Eliot, therefore, the only wisdom that humans acquire is the “endless wisdom of humility.” Like the seasons, all pass through purifying fires and flow with rivers, but “love itself is unmoving.” At the God moments, the physical and spiritual intersect, like the point where energy becomes mass, where imbalance finds balance.

Discovery of the Higgs boson supported the Standard Model, a suite of equations that rule particle physics. In 1954, Chen Ning Yang and Robert L. Mills of the Brookhaven National Laboratory noticed that all fundamental forces were the result of nature trying to maintain symmetries. Existence of the Higgs boson affirmed the post-WWII belief that almost everything in the cosmos is ordered by physical laws of diamond-like elegance and balance. Therefore, a pencil standing on its point soon falls sideways to a table, releasing energy and restoring harmony.

T.S. Eliot imbues his Four Quartets with a diamond-like structure. His stanzas echo the physical universe. Four poems—“Burnt Norton,” “East Coker,” “The Dry Salvages” and “Little Gidding”—maintain tight form and then suddenly break into a loose, reflective prose. Like standing a pencil on its point, the structural imbalance amplifies the emotional effect of the text. Life and energy exude from distinctly organized textual universe. Eliot builds up a pattern of symbols, images, observations, allusions, and feelings using almost no transitions. Text meaning is only created at the intersection of these elements, just as mass is created from energy at the Higgs boson juncture. 

The “God” of observed physics is the God of Eliot’s words: an elemental crossroad within a divine physical structure.

Lee Miller is the author of the historical novel, Kali Sunset (www.clovercreekpress.com), the story of a traditional Bengali mother, Mrs. Sona Choudhury, raising a family amidst 20th Century India’s great challenges.


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