Monday, September 29, 2008

The Future Is Now

The news is full of portentous events these days. Financial meltdown on a scale not seen since the 1930s. A presidential election with red and blue distinctions not seen since, well, four years ago. Plenty of activity to keep the TV news anchors checking their profiles and forcing their own particular spin on market shenanigans and political hooplah.

But check out the buzz online and the real news isn’t the markets or the election, it’s over in Europe, where the Large Hadron Collider sits dormant. In case you missed all the hype, the LHC is the world’s largest particular accelerator, a circular track 27 kilometers in circumference that straddles the French and Swiss borders. In this underground tunnel, focused beams of protons or heavy ions will collide at velocities approaching the speed of light, which for those of you not familiar with basic quantum theory, is really fucking fast.

Scientists claim this extraordinary device will lead to the discovery of new particles, new forms of energy, and ultimately unlock the secrets of the universe dating back to the Big Bang. It has also effectively shifted the entire heart of the physics community to Europe, moving with it thousands of jobs. This last point is significant considering the project was originally slated for U.S. soil, but after spending a billion dollars to dig a hole in Texas, our elected representatives in Congress decided to spend another billion dollars - that’s billion with a b - filling up the hole and letting the project move to CERN, the European organization for nuclear research. Your tax dollars at work.

Luddites around the world have been filing lawsuits, protesting and petitioning to have the project stopped altogether, claiming it will lead to the creation of tiny black holes that will devour the Earth. Or, even worse, reactions within the cylindrical track will create a singularity, an unstoppable contraction of time and space that will pull us all into a tiny pinpoint of creation much like ball of energy and matter that preceded the Big Bang. In other words, we’d all get squeezed out of existence and then reborn in a fiery cataclysm of exploding stars and dark matter…or something like that.

And if that occurs, no one will have to worry about the financial markets or the elections.

Me, I’m looking forward to the singularity. I’d rather be devoured by a black hole than run over by one of the many wayward bus drivers here in San Francisco, who might not be as plentiful as protons or neutrinos but move just as fast and far more unpredictably.

Or perhaps we might get sucked into a wormhole and transported into another dimension, where instead of idolizing pop singers and actors, it’s the scientists who are the celebrities. Wonder what Albert Einstein would think of that.

They say the experiments occurring within the LHC might actually enable us to harness antimatter, which as we all know powered the engines of the Starship Enterprise. I’d rather go where no man has gone before than repeat history. I mean, isn’t it better to fall victim to a slight miscalculation by scientists aiming for the stars than brought to our knees by the tawdry madness of a holy war?

But the answer to that question will have to wait, because after a successful test, the LHC had to be shut down for repairs. This is understandable when working with a massive cryogenics cooling system and electromagnets larger than the waistline of a congressman. We’ll see if a brave new frontier awaits after the holidays, but in the meantime we can go back to throwing rocks at each other and pissing in each other’s wells.

And there’s something to be said for a handful of men and women working selflessly for decades to build this thing, scientists trying to push the limits of human knowledge into the future instead of defining their existence around philosophical grudges thousands of years old.

So to all the folks in the white lab coats who might be about to destroy the planet, thanks for trying to save us from ourselves.


Mark Combes said...

I saw a piece on this and they think they might be able to find a few more dimensions than the four we currently accept. We could use a few more dimensions these days....Me, I want the dimension that is on the beach, adult beverage in hand...

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

At least it's shut down until after the holidays ... and the election. Come November, I might not care if we get squeezed out of existence. Might be less painful than being enslaved and annihilated by idiotic decisions we have no control over.

G.M. Malliet said...

I've been following the news of the LHC insofar as I am able. Science is not my strong suit, to say the least, and I can only follow Stephen Hawking's thinking so far (to about page 150 of A Brief History of Time). Even when he thinks he's writing for the average reader, Hawking is on another plane (or planet) altogether.

Congress doesn't seem to get that I, for one, would rather spend money on projects that advance our knowledge than on schemes and projects and tax breaks to enrich the already rich. The golden parachute deals we've witnessed for decades are a crime - that money should all be refunded to the stockholders, every penny.