“Everybody you love and everybody who loves you will eventually die.”
These were the gloomy first words of Professor Eilam Gross to a hall full of people when he spoke at the TEDxTelAvivUniversity talk last month.
Gross, from the Particle Physics Department at Israel’s acclaimed Weizmann Science Institute, was a senior leader in the team that discovered the Boson Higgs particle at the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva.
The particle, also known as “The God Particle,” is associated with the so-called Higgs field that physicists believe permeates all of space-time and helps give other particles their mass and is therefore a critical component of what makes the existence of anything, possible.
But what is the point of it all? Why do we exist? That is the question that Gross attempts to answer when he is not at the CERN laboratory.
“Some answer it with faith, some do not have an answer,” Gross tells the audience in the Tel Aviv University’s Smolarz Auditorium.
He invokes the famous words of George Smoot, the Nobel Prize winner whose work was responsible for the discovery of tiny fluctuations in cosmic microwave background radiation, which helped further the Big Bang Theory and presented evidence for the birth of the universe.
"If you're religious, it's like looking at God,” Smoot said upon presenting his findings to the world.
“Now think of it,” Gross says. “From that moment on, the laws of Physics apply. We know how to calculate everything, since the last 14 billion years.”
“So what place is left for God here?” he asks. “The place that Physics has not solved yet is: who pushed the button that started the Big Bang?”
“This is the God of the physicist,” he adds.
So Gross began to wonder. If this question was the God of the physicist, then how was God perceived by non-scientists?
Presented with this fundamental question, Gross did what every modern human does when overwhelmed by a problem – he asked Google. The answer he received from the search engine’s image search was simple: an old white man with a beard.
“It’s not funny,” Gross replies to the laughter of the audience. “It could be a reflection of man in God as written in the Bible.”
Gross then searched for other depictions of God and was presented with the same result. Stumped by his findings, he began a thought experiment.
“Could it be, that it’s our existence that created God and not vice versa?” he asked. “Could it be that God is not the answer for our existence? Could it be that what we should say is that in the beginning man created God?”
Taking this thought one step further, Gross adds: “Could it be that God is a narrative?”
Illustrating the power of a good narrative, Gross retells an experience he went through after being talked into visiting a Tel Aviv-based woman who claimed to be a medium who can channel Moses.
Years before the actual discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, Gross’ scientific curiosity led him to set aside his doubts and go “to chat with Moses.”
Being rattled by some of the woman’s replies to his questions, Gross decided to test her abilities and asked her about the Higgs Boson. Against all his expectations, he received a reply from the great Jewish prophet.
“I am tantalized. How can Moses know about the Higgs Boson if he died 3000 years ago?”
Left in a state of shock, Gross returned to his laboratory in Geneva, but his encounter does not leave him.
Eventually, he decided to listen to a recording he made of his session with the medium, and is left in even greater shock.
“And you know why?” Gross asks his audience. “Because Moses said nothing about the Higgs Boson. Moses knew nothing about the Higgs Boson.”
“I was telling a story to myself, because I wanted to believe it. I wanted Moses to know. So I built my own narrative with my imagination.”
Stunned by this realization, Gross says: “If I hadn’t listened to this recording again, I would have died believing that Moses knew about the Higgs Boson. And then I would have told it to my children, who would have told it to their children and I would implant it in the genes of my children and in 150 years this entire country would say that Moses knew about the Higgs Boson and this is a proof of God.”
“Could religion be like this?” he asks. “Implanted in the genes of religious people?”
Leaving this question unanswered, Gross comes to another conclusion.
“We, as human beings have more than just the role of reproduction,” he says. “We have the ability to leave a stamp.”
“Humans have the ability to accumulate data, preserve it, write it down and pass it to the next generation and build things with that.”
He then called on his audience, saying: “When you go home tonight, look around you and see where you already left marks and where you can leave marks. Use your intelligence to enhance your character and make stamps out of these marks.”
“Use your faith or your lack of faith, they are both equally valuable, to spread your knowledge and build your own narrative.”
“We live to leave a mark,” he adds, presenting his own take on that age-old question.
David Ruhm is a news editor for the English news desk at i24NEWS