Tuesday 9 September 2008

Science, And What It Might Do To Us all: Part Deux

So tomorrow is the day and we may or may not live to witness it: the Large Hadron Collider is being switched on (see my previous post on this for full background details) and by this time tomorrow we may all be livin' it up in the greatest black hole the world has seen since the Big Bang.

The LHC has split the world in two: those who believe it will blow the world up, and those who think it won't. No one on either side really has much of an idea why they're on the side they're on, but WhyNotSmile has laid her cards on the table and made plans for the weekend. The reason for this is that WhyNotSmile is less concerned with being right and more concerned with being demonstrably right, which is only possible if she confidently announces that we're all not going to die, and then we all don't. The only scenario in which this cunning plan could be foiled is if we do all get sucked into the black hole of doom and then discover that the Hindus had it right all along and WhyNotSmile has been reincarnated as a snail while the rest of you come back as, like, nice things.

The other reason for such a confident assertion is that if I thought I had 24 hours to live, I'd feel obliged to fill it with activity, and I can't be bothered (although I think I read that Martin Luther once said that if he had 24 hours to live, he'd plant a tree, so maybe I should sort out the garden).

The media, of course, has been making much discussion about the possible outcome of tomorrow's switch on, and some people are getting a bit concerned. I suppose that, on the face of it, trying to recreate the Big Bang is one of those things that sounds like a good idea until you actually think about the implications - it was, after all, an event of fairly impressive activity, and centering the reenactment on Switzerland (a land not known for much else happening) seems a little like recreating the Battle of Hastings in your living room - you invite a few mates round, stock up the fridge, get the camera ready, and settle back on the sofa to watch the action, at which point you get decapitated. It's a worthy project, but has potential to get a little out of hand.

There's also the fact that this entire thing is being overseen by physicists. Now, I have nothing against physicists; I've just been to enough physics conferences to wonder whether they have an air of authority that's not always entirely deserved. For instance, when I was doing my PhD I had a friend (who we'll call Fred, to protect his identity) who coined a concept which we referred to as the 'Fred Factor' (except we used his real name), defined as "the number (or numbers) by which you multiply your actual results in order to get the results you were supposed to get". Einstein himself was no stranger to this: see 'cosmological constant'.

And so I maintain that anything might happen tomorrow, but probably won't, and ask only that if it does all go pear-shaped and then we get reincarnated, that you don't step on any snails.

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