God and the particles of doom

large-hadron-colliderAs we all know, and as numerous stacks of research have shown, only really stupid, illogical, fact-challenged people believe that God played some meaningful role in the creation of heaven and earth. Right? I mean, facts are facts and journalism is all about the facts.

Still, I am happy to report that the New York Times ran an essay the other day that opened the currents of science just a bit and showed us the kind of things that linear, logical scientists think about when things go bump in the dark, or when they go bump in the light. This is especially true when things go a bit screwy inside one of the biggest, strangest, most expensive pieces of scientific machinery on this planet (or any other, as far as we know).

I am talking about the Large Hadron Collider over there near Geneva, that $9 billion-plus racetrack for protons buried deep under the border between France and Switzerland.

Strangely enough, I had a chance to visit that scientific shrine a few months ago (work linked to that "Angels & Demons" movie) and I was struck by the many, many examples of vaguely religious language that were posted all over the place. As several of the top researchers said, the more information they gather, the more they realize how much they don't know. The mysteries keep getting bigger and bigger as they keep hunting for that infamous "God particle" that journalists love to write about.

So what's the news these days? Well, the collider is broken -- again -- and inquiring minds want to know what's up. So here is the top of Dennis Overbye's essay, "The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate."

More than a year after an explosion of sparks, soot and frigid helium shut it down, the world's biggest and most expensive physics experiment, known as the Large Hadron Collider, is poised to start up again. In December, if all goes well, protons will start smashing together in an underground racetrack outside Geneva in a search for forces and particles that reigned during the first trillionth of a second of the Big Bang.

Then it will be time to test one of the most bizarre and revolutionary theories in science. I'm not talking about extra dimensions of space-time, dark matter or even black holes that eat the Earth. No, I'm talking about the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future. A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.

That would be Holger Bech Nielsen, of Copenhagen's Niels Bohr Institute, and Masao Ninomiya of Japan's Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics.

And what's the religion angle? Aliens? Angels? Time travelers?

No, think bigger.

"It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck," Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, "Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God." It is their guess, he went on, "that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them."

This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an "anti-miracle."

Gosh, I thought fundamentalist Christians who hated science and big government, or something like that, shot that one down.

Anyway, the essay takes some interesting twists and turns, because scientists often have to meditate on the disturbing fact that strange theories turn out to be true.

But here is the quote that really haunted me. You think there's a ghost in here?

"For those of us who believe in physics," Einstein once wrote to a friend, "this separation between past, present and future is only an illusion."

Belief? Well, people gotta believe in something when asking questions about creation and eternity.

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