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The Universe is still here…
I’m not sure if they have started colliding things and re-creating the big bang, but the world passed another doomsday last Wednesday when the Large Hadron Collider switched on at CERN and we didn’t all vanish into a mini black hole or end up in a parallel universe. Sorry, that last link is a very geeky gamers joke.
This project, and many attending factors have fascinated me for a while now. There have been some spectacular photographs from inside the various experiments on the ring of the accelerator. These cavernous spaces, deep underground have, it seems, a sepulchral quality. Just like cathedrals are where we go to talk to God, this is where we talk to the start of the universe, to ponder how and why it all began.
The project involves an astonishing number of scientists and collaborators from a huge list of countries; so large in scope that it could not have been achieved by one nation. It has united a diverse bunch of humans in the pursuit of a common goal in a way I’ve never encountered before. What is even more amazing to me is that this is science for sciences’ sake. There is no profitable final end product, nothing that can be marketed, no projected returns on our collective investment. Just the hope that we can re-create the conditions just after our universe started, and perhaps glimpse some of the most fundamental building blocks of reality.
The reporting of this project has also been very interesting. I watched the switch-on live on 24 hour news channels and was amused by the press, so used to spectacular moments struggle to convey how important the slightly wavering curve on the screen was, how momentous the occasion. They all likened it to the Apollo moon landings, new readers and drafted in experts alike. They also went to some pains to reassure people worried by sensationalist stories about the risks of black holes devouring the planet from within.
The BBC website had an interesting article about how to talk to your kids about these worries (which I now annoyingly can’t find), and I’m really pleased to say that people were talking about it being a great chance to talk to them about science, whilst reassuring them the world wasn’t about to end. I wanted to go off at this point into a long thought about millennialism and humanity and why we seem so curiously prone to the idea of the world ending; how this all links back into ideas about God, prevailing western paragdigms and science-as-faith, but I think I’ll leave that for another day, or someone smarter than me.
Me? I’m just hoping they don’t find the Higgs-Boson. Much like Prof. Hawking I think that would be far more exciting; we’d have to start again on most of our theories about how the universe really operates on the quantum scale.