News and Tribune

March 25, 2013

CUMMINS: The search for what matters

Local columnist

— Although you’re made from matter, you may feel you don’t matter. Before social networking, you probably felt insignificant, alone and isolated. Now that you can reach out through cyberspace to the world’s population, it should give you a sense of integration and partial completeness. Man is a social animal and thanks to technology, he can now spread his face and feelings all over creation.  

  Physicists study matter, and you should be pleased they’ve recently found a Higgs boson. An early man named Wagon hypothesized the wheel, but it took eons for man to roll one. Dr. Higgs was an ordinary physicist, who hypothesized that bosons exist. A boson is a particle with zero spin. They’re much different from the particle makeup of many people I know, who spin in oblong circles as they seek information while at the same time sending instant messages keeping friends abreast of the instant latest.   

Now that we know bosons exist, we can proceed from there, and perhaps discover what really matters to us. The Higgs boson is known as the God particle — the key to understanding all matter. As we network ferociously with other people, are we forgetting to network with a higher power? Particles are important to us, because we make plastics, smartphones and other stuff from them. Once we understand why man does this, then we can pursue how to dispose of the junk in our garages, basements, attics, closets and brains. 

The hypothesis that “stuff-will-buildup” also applies to digital data accumulated in your hard drive. Bytes are important to us, and now we can store them in “iclouds” drifting in cyberspace. In the late 1980s, we could store 450 gigabytes. Now we’re storing petabytes (one followed by 17 zeros), which currently is more bytes than we can possibly chew. It seems we’re relying too much on two simple digits, zero and one. Thank God for the numerical “one.” What if He’d left us at zero and almost did, but He created everything we needed. You know how man is, though, it wasn’t good enough for him. 

Man and woman got by on the essentials until man’s wife went on-sale shopping. When man advanced from the cave to a three-car garage attached to a four-bathroom house, he filled it with assorted useless accessories. While he crammed his property to overflow, his mind became preoccupied with material objects, which drained his spiritual dimension. Where to put this latest thing puzzled him, until he put it out on his lawn, which attracted neighbors he hadn’t seen in years. Yard sales are a means of transferring stuff around in a vicious recycling process. There were situations when his wife purchased a thrice pre-owned vase for 50 cents, which helped preserve the family nest egg. Sharp entrepreneurs observed this stuff all over yards on Saturdays and built rental storage units, which quickly filled with stuff you forgot you had. When your storage unit overflowed, you called a junk dealer driving a junky truck, and he disposed of the things you argued with your wife about, as she reminded you, “We might need this someday.” 

Imagine stuffing your family and belongings in a covered wagon, traveling three months to go west young man. Years later, a covered-wagon descendent built Silicon Valley, and that’s why today quality time with your family is when each member is logged on to something other than you. As material objects — machines, devices and gadgets — made from a conglomeration of particles squeezed the inside of your house, you gasped for air. 

In the 1950s, an early artificial-intelligence expert invented a “useless” machine. It was a box with a lid, and when you turned it on, the lid opened, a lever popped out and turned it off. That was it. This machine was the forerunner to the turn on to other complicated gadgets, which are simple to the younger generation, who were born with a pointer and clicker in their hand. When machines and electronic devices went digital and wireless, robots eliminated hard and soft labor. Without a job, you lived on yard sales.

If drone robots can fight wars for us and zap evil doers, why can’t geeks develop a hand-held drone that would zap some of the things my wife says we may need some day. We’d have more time to read a book, walk in the woods and network with the original Particle located in outer, outer space that connects with the restless inner human heart. 


— Contact Terry Cummins at