LHC Imminent… Total Doom or Knowledge Renaissance?

Tomorrow the Large Hadron Collider (or LHC) goes online at CERN to a mix of excitement and foreboding. The excitement comes from the scientific community, and a section of the public that is interested in expanding the frontiers of our knowledge. The doom comes from a small section of the scientific community, and a larger portion of the public worried that once the machine is turned on the world will end – possibly through the creation of small black holes.

Well for all my physics training (now largely forgotten, and particle physics was a low scoring final exam) I have to say I believe we’ll all be fine. I’m looking forward to finding out something new about the universe, and whether this whole ‘Higgs Boson’ thing is actually true or not – a brief summary, the Higgs Boson is the ‘God Particle’ which many scientists believe explains how everything has mass and hence we exist, and the LHC has been built to test that theory. Personally I find the whole Higgs boson theory over complex and raises more answers than it solves but then physics is littered with examples of where a complex, slightly mis-perceived theory can suddenly be re-conceived as something simple and elegant. Normally this happens where the fields of mathematics and physics combine, developing new techniques in tandem and expanding our understanding. Tensor maths was an example of this, allowing complex quantum mechanics theories to be expressed much more elegantly – when you finally understand it there’s one of those ‘eureka!’ moments as it all comes together. Of course, I’ve forgotten how it all works now.

The other point here is that we don’t really know what will happen in the LHC for sure. Black holes might be the least of our problems. The experiment helps up understand what happened at the beginning of time, the big bang. Current theories on how our universe started need things like the Higgs boson to work. Of course this raises the question, that if the hugely massive Higgs Bosons, which decay infinitely quickly into smaller particles,have not existed in our universe since it was created – then surely, possibly, creating them could precipitate another big bang? A worrying though. But then when you think about it, before the big bang there was literally nothing – not vacuum, but beyond vacuum – an absence of any matter and any rules of physics. There was zip, nada, void. We can’t even recreate those conditions in our universe, simply because the universe exists. Now whether or not kick starting another universe with different rules is possible within this existing framework is surely a question that current scientists are not equipped to answer, given the constraint of being in this universe – so fingers crossed if another reality gets created we end up with super powers of some kind, and really cool ones at that. Statistically that’s about as likely as the end of the world, so let’s be positive about this.

So, either we’ll all be fine come end of day tomorrow*, or we’ll have amazing supe powers to impress our friends with, or we’ll all be wiped out of existence so quickly we’ll never know. Which means Jerry Bruckheimer will have no time to direct another Hollywood blockboster where Bruce Willis saves us from certain doom. It’s not all bad.

* I say ‘tomorrow’ but in fact the LHC is already running, it’s just tomorrow they start smacking very very small bits of matter together at very very fast speeds. Statistically if nothing has happened with three years of them starting this experiment, then we’ll probably be fine.. and since that doesn’t correlate with the predicted date of eschaton according to the Mayans (December 21st, 2012) I’m sure the two facts are unrelated and we haven’t just turned on some kind of reality bomb.

Magic Power Go!

Exciting news from the wonderful world of science – researchers have demonstrated wirelessly transmittable power over a distance of two metres! It’s all relatively straightforward stuff revolving around the relationship between magnetic forces and electricity, and also the concept of resonance – where energy can move between two things moving with the same frequency, in this case at the low value of 10MHz. In related good news, the energy most likely won’t affect people and animals in the way of the tunneling electricity as we don’t vibrate at that frequency. Just watch out if you’re on a trampoline.

The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins (4/5)

Hey, guess what – Richard Dawkins is an atheist. Who’d have thunked it. Actually pretty much everyone these days, since it’s all he really talks about. I remember the old days, when he used to explain Darwin’s theories of evolution, and genetics with such popular appeal that we all started to understand it. Now, all everyone talks about it how Dawkins doesn’t like God, or gods for that matter, which means that many people around the world have now linked teaching evolution to being godless heathens. Such is life.

Dawkins tries to explain his stance in The God Delusion, a book that is now at the ‘you have to read this’ level of popular acceptance. It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not, the book will come up in conversation at some point so best read it now to save later hassle. That said, I don’t think it’s such a ‘must read’ as everyone makes out. Dawkins makes a lot of good points and tackles the defenses that most religious people put up to his arguments with aplomb, as well as re-polarising some mis-used quotes. This is all interesting stuff, but it ends up being a bit too much about Dawkins rather than about religion in general and its social impact. In the last chapter, Dawkins rushes along pointing out key observations of human evolution that might even indicate why we believe in something bigger – but this point is not adequately expounded upon to my mind. Perhaps if Dawkin’s detractors had focussed more on the quality of his writing, rather than kicking up a fuss and drawing more attention to his book they might have had more success. Either way, I leave the last word to XKCD.