CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider, asks ‘where is Sarah Connor when we need her?’
Okay, so if you’ve been lurking around here for a while, you know that I don’t think too highly about the Large Hadron Collider, the enormous supercollider built by the geniuses at CERN which only has a small chance of creating a black hole which could destroy the entire world.
At first, we were assured that there was little or no risk of danger in re-creating the environment of the universe only instants after the Big Bang. I didn’t like that, and in early September of last year, I wrote the following:
I may be stubborn, and I know I’m ill-informed, but I don’t like this thing.
I fail to see, for instance, the practical benefits of recreating the universe in the moments following its creation, and I lack any confidence whatsoever in the scientists who have designed the machine, as not even they know what it can or will do.
As far as I understand it, one of the goals of the device is to bridge the intellectual gap between theories about the interrelationships between small objects and those between large ones — apparently, the theories which Albert Einstein developed with regard to making rules for particle physics don’t seem to add up when the rules are applied to much larger objects. In order to answer these questions, so puzzling and frustrating to those much smarter than I, scientists plan to recreate the condition of the universe a millisecond after the Big Bang.
This involves the use of ten dimensions, far beyond the three spatial dimensions known to humankind. It involves the creation of miniature black holes and the search for the elusive Higgs’ Boson, a massive particle only predicted to exist and named after the guy–Higgs, I guess–who did not discover the particle, but rather was the first to float the idea that the particle might possibly exist.
Here’s the thing: While I’d rather Iran, for instance, never be permitted to possess working nuclear weapons, I have little problem with them conducting research regarding such weapons systems. The way I look at it, should one of their scientists have a crappy weekend and mess something up, the disastrous consequences will be somewhat localized. I am comforted that the consequences of any short-sightedness or stupidity will be relatively small. I do have a problem, though, with the possible instantaneous GLOBAL consequences of any short-sightedness or stupidity on the part of CERN and its network of brilliant scientists.
Here are people–mere humans–who, while much, much more intelligent than I, admittedly are only postulating–GUESSING, that is–with regard to much of the role, capabilities and potential of the Large Hadron Collider. Here are people who admitted that the chances of it causing a “global catastrophe” are slim. Here are people who, according to one nuclear physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner quoted in the New York Times, are more “concerned with public relations impact of what they, or others, say and write, than in making sure that the facts are presented with complete scientific objectivity.”
I especially didn’t like what I read from other scientists quoted in that Times piece, specifically the parts about the odds of disaster being tiny but the stakes being cosmically high, or about how probability estimates are often little more than “informed betting odds,” or how even the most basic question–”how improbable does a catastrophe have to be to justify proceeding with the experiment?”–seemed “never to have been seriously examined.”
Even knowing that I was yammering on about stuff obviously far above and beyond my pay grade, I nonetheless continued with the following:
Independent studies, it seems, have placed the chance of a Collider-produced strangelet instantaneously turning the planet into a “dead, dense lump” at perhaps 50 million to one, less than one-half the odds of buying a single, winning Powerball ticket.
If the only thing at stake were, say, the immediate vaporization of the scientists and the facility, I’d give them a hearty “go for it.” However, because the entire planet may or may not be in jeopardy, I’d really like for everyone to be 100 percent certain of the device’s safety, and the odds of a global catastrophe to be absolutely zero.
Think about it — what other experiment, anywhere on Earth and in any field of study, has even a remote possibility of destroying the entire planet?
Some people have dismissed protests of CERN and its Large Hadron Collider as a function of the religious. For me, this has nothing to do with religion. I am a spiritual man, but this is more to do with ego, with negligence, and with potentially dangerous scientific enthusiasm and a “well, they say they’re experts” dismissive attitude gone unchecked in a case when the stakes are far too high.
Scientists are putting the entire planet and its six billion lives at risk so they can search for things which are only thought to exist. At what point does the rest of the world put aside the leave-it-to-the-experts apathy and stand up against unchecked fanaticism in the name of scientific progress? At what point do we leave some questions unanswered? At what point do we question people who are willing to bet everything to confirm a theory about a theory about something which may or may not provide any benefit of consequence?
While it is true that we would not have the Internet had it not been for the efforts of the people at CERN, and while it is true that this machine may very well produce benefits to all of the world’s problems, at this point in time, not even those who laid the groundwork for the Large Hadron Collider know for sure what it will do. What we do know, though, is that there is some risk to the entire planet. I am not anti-progress, but I certainly believe in erring on the side of humanity as we know it when it comes to the cost-benefit tradeoff.
There is so much concern right now as to how carbon emissions or styrofoam cups or oil drilling will slowly harm the Earth over the next 50 or 100 or 1000 years — where’s the same concern for the potentially catastrophic actions of overzealous scientists guided by enthusiasm and conjecture?
Well, a few months after the device was started and subsequently shut down prematurely because of an unforeseen problem (I love unforeseen things, especially when the scientists assure safety based on what they’re able to foresee), a story broke in January that a trio of scientists had recalculated and reassessed the mathematical aspects of the device’s proposed creation of a miniature black hole, and decided that they weren’t so gosh-darned certain that Large Hadron Collider would not, in fact, cause a cataclysmic reaction which would destroy the Earth.
Even though people like me–mere imbeciles when it comes to all things science–can recognize that, gee whiz, perhaps venturing into the unknown and recreating the aftermath of the Big Bang in an underground facility in Europe might not be a good idea, and even though actual scientists later determined the very same thing, the scientists at CERN remained defiant, arguing that the device would create no threat, that any black hole created by the giant supercollider would simply evaporate almost instantaneously.
And we should trust them, because they’re smart scientists and not at all kooks, right?
According to a report last week in the Telegraph of London, more theoretical physicists (what the heck are theoretical physicists, anyway?) are suggesting that the pitfalls and speed bumps which have faced the project are all a result of one cause — Mother Nature going back in time to sabotage what they purport to be needed scientific progress.
In a theory reminiscent of the time travelling film Back to the Future, the theoretical physicists Holger Nielsen, from Denmark, and Masao Ninomiya, from Japan, have concluded that its discoveries could be so “abhorrent to nature” that they are coming back to stop their own creation.
That’s right, the Large Hadron Collider is little teenage John Connor, and Mother Nature and the possibly non-existent Higgs Boson have taken the form of Marty McFly, and have traveled back in time to ensure that the project never gets off the ground.
These people are bat-guano crazy. And yet we trust them when they say: “Trust us, we won’t destroy the world.” Seriously?
If, time-after-time, efforts which at the very least could result in consequences “abhorrent to nature” and at worst could have a remote possibly of destroying all of mankind simply cannot get off the ground, I firmly believe that the darned thing isn’t working for a reason. If it’s not Mother Nature in her Calvin Kleins, dancing to the music of Chuck Berry, then it’s some sort of omniscient presence giving us one more chance to come to our senses and err on the side of existence.
According to the Telegraph piece, the device is set to be switched on again soon. Here’s to hoping that Ms. Nature or Mr. Boson finds the keys to the DeLorean and nips this thing in the bud once again.