Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

The World Ends Wednesday?

with 26 comments

"Uh-oh"

That’s right, this coming Wednesday the largest most powerful scientific instrument ever built by man (women scientists don’t build stuff like this) is going to be switched on. This device is so powerful that some even say it could destroy the Earth.  No, I’m not making this up, on Wednesday scientists are going to fire up the Large Hadron Collider (LHC.) This giant machine is a 27 kilometre (17 mile) ring buried under the ground on the border between France and Switzerland. The LHC will basically fire elementary atomic particles (aka hadrons) at each other where they will collide at the speed of light. Yes,  it’s a good old fashioned atom smasher. Scientists studying these collisions will be able to learn more about the basic structure of reality. They may even be able to create the elusive Higgs boson particle, the holy grail of particle physics, also known as the “God particle.” That’s the plan at least.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that no one has ever built such a machine before. Some scientists have conjectured that when used at full power, the LHC might create small black holes or even some sort of “strange matter” that will convert all other nearby matter into strange matter. The danger with the black holes is that they would settle to the centre of the Earth and over the ensuing weeks or months would swallow up the Earth entirely, preceded of course by truly biblical earthquakes and such as Earth is consumed from the inside out. With the strange matter fate, it’s a lot more humane, one second we’re here, a twentieth of a second later we’re gone. Poof. Not even enough time for the scientists running the LHC to say “uh-oh.”

How real are these risks? The bottom line is…no one knows. I mean, until we turn the machine on. The potential problems have been studied at great length by scientists who assure us there is no risk. For one thing hadrons collide in nature at similar or greater speeds, and we don’t see any evidence of such disasters occurring. And then there’s all sorts of theoretical reasons why they say the potential disastrous outcomes can’t conceivably occur. I don’t even begin to understand particle physics, I doubt few people do, so I certainly can’t argue with them.

However, and it’s a big however, there are a few flies in the ointment. For one thing, the scientists who are telling us the LHC is safe are the very same scientists who wanted the LHC built in the first place. Even a lay person can see potential problems there. And it seems most of the decisions along the way to build the LHC and vet its safety have been made by committees. Unfortunately, it may seem counter-intuitive, but committees will often make much riskier decisions than individuals will.

Looking at the arguments for safety themselves, they mostly seem based on the idea that since we don’t see these collisions causing problems in nature, there’s no cause for concern. The problem with that is that in nature, these collisions aren’t taking place in artificial constructed machines on the surface of planets. There might be subtle but dangerous differences in the collisions we are artificially creating from those taking place in nature. One of the points made for example is that if nature is creating these dangerous things, they zip through Earth at near light speed and don’t have time to cause trouble whereas we might  manufacture one that would be captured by Earth’s gravity and thus hang around to wreak havoc. Um, it’s also been seriously suggested that maybe we are seeing stars that have been turned into strange matter, we just don’t recognize them.

I am reminded of a scene from Lexx, a Canadian scifi show. An alien remarks to a human companion that planets like modern day Earth usually don’t last much longer. When asked why the alien says “Oh, war, ecological collapse…but usually they are crushed to the size of a pea by scientists trying to determine the mass of the Higgs-Boson particle.” Hmm. The good news is that doomsday likely won’t happen Wednesday…it’s more likely to happen when they run the LHC up to full power sometime in October. Sleep tight everyone.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is central to illustrating the image, is not being used for profit, and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit: Unknown. I’m not really too worried about the LHC, it just fits in nicely with my current “the end is nigh” theme. I do wonder what is so important about an experiment that we are going to conduct it even though the destruction of the Earth is a possible side effect. Is that, really, sane?)

Written by unitedcats

September 8, 2008 at 9:04 am

Posted in Science, World

26 Responses

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  1. I have yet to see an actual scientist write an article saying those things could occur. Its still not as bad as listening to young earth creationists try to explain biology, but its getting really close.

    Blayze Kohime

    September 8, 2008 at 11:53 am

  2. Hey, Doug, you should check out the “oh my god” particle explanations. The point is, quoting them, an electron traveling at 0.9999999999999999999999951 c (which is for just about every calculator any of us has hold of equivalent to c) bonked into our planet, and we turned out okay. In fact, that wasn’t the first time it happens, and it continues to.

    As you said, it happens in nature. Particles collide at very, very high velocities. Saying that we don’t understand exactly what happens at those energy levels is saying we don’t understand degenerate matter and neutron pressure. We have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, but it’s really hard to go check out the inside of a neutron star or Jupiter and see if we’re right.

    The LHC gives us a little glance at what may be going on, much as Hubble and Spitzer give us glimpses into pictures that we can only guess about.

    Of all the people I read regularly, I am kind of surprised to see you even remotely alarmed by this – unless you’re fomenting discussion, argument, comments, or whichever. Have a look at what Oliver Kamm has to say about this. He’s a bright dude, and provides a more-than-reasonably-cogent answer to all the tinfoil hat people.

    As a matter of fact, I’m rather surprised to see that I am even discussing this with people. I thought it was just an isolated group of Kaczynskies (or maybe the Extropian folks) worried about this sort of thing.

    Alex J. Avriette

    September 8, 2008 at 12:32 pm

  3. Er, scuze me. A proton. Even more massive than an electron, even. RTFA and all that. Frown.

    Alex J. Avriette

    September 8, 2008 at 12:34 pm

  4. Wow, somebody besides me knows about Lexx! I’m impressed.

    As for the LHC destroying the earth, well, what the hell, if that’s what it takes to keep McCain and Palin from blowing us up, that’s a fair trade. Let’s hear it for that Higgs boson! Rah!

    Ric

    September 8, 2008 at 2:06 pm

  5. The end of the earth actually already happened over the weekend, American taxpayers are now going to somehow hold up the world of mortgages. It is a mathematical impossibility… unless the value of the dollar goes to less than a penny.

    You have all been Bushwacked.

    ET

    September 8, 2008 at 2:46 pm

  6. There is nothing to worry about. It’s everyone that knows what they’re talking about versus a couple that don’t (at all). I’ve written about the controversy mainly from the standpoint of checking out the history of the two scientists that always get quoted (even though their doomsday scenarios are mutually exclusive, in addition to being totally wrong). Blog post is called “Large Hadron Collider: What’s the Risk?”

    onscrn

    September 8, 2008 at 8:58 pm

  7. On the plus side should things go terribly wrong we won’t have to listen to the accusations, excuses and stupid mistakes.

    Steve

    September 8, 2008 at 9:25 pm

  8. I’m always trying to stimulate thought and discussion, in myself and others. As well I try to assess things from original prinicples or look at them from unusual angles.

    If having wee tiny twinge of concern about the LHC makes me a member of the tinfoil hat brigade, well, send me my club membership and secret decoder ring.

    The only hard point I was trying to make is that “reality” and “what the experts say” have only a statistical relationship, not a real one. And the LHC is a wonderful template for people to contemplate that fact on. The LHC is like Schrödinger’s cat, and this October we’re going to look in the box.

    unitedcats

    September 8, 2008 at 10:03 pm

  9. Personally, I find the whole thing hilarious. As one astute reader pointed out… even if the incredibly improbably comes true (i.e. we create a rift in the time space continuum and the Darth Vader particle emerges) we’re not gonna have time to complain about it anyways!

    Viva the Apocalypse!

    Wait a minute… if the earth is crushed to the size of a pea, would Jesus still be able to return to it? Maybe a really little Jesus.

    I’m pretty sure that I heard someone say that some guy said that some guy edited what this other guy wrote remembering what this other guy said that after mortal death we all wait in limbo until Jesus comes back. At that magical hour, the good guys inherit the earth and the baddies get barbecued.

    So… with no earth, what would Jesus come back to? Stuck in limbo for eternity. Hmm, hope they don’t have student loan payments in purgatory… yeah there’s a lovely thought.

    Andrew

    September 8, 2008 at 10:06 pm

  10. […] to say I told you so… We’re all fucking doomed, […]

  11. If the world is downsized to the size of a pea… will we all be mini-people and not realise we’re all of a sudden veryvery tiny? In that case… bring it on :)

    Steffen M. Boelaars

    September 9, 2008 at 12:32 am

  12. On that note…. will my mortgage be veryvery tiny all of a sudden as well then?

    Steffen M. Boelaars

    September 9, 2008 at 12:32 am

  13. Bloody Democratic spin machine… they’ll be blaming G.I. Palin for this one too!

    Can’t wait for the world to end, personally. I’m going to stay up all night doing heroin to pass the time until then.

    David Levy

    September 9, 2008 at 5:54 am

  14. Oh @David Levy !!!
    Everything turns into politics for you. Anyone with a brain is a Democrat.

    The issue here is no one knows. the thoughts of a nuclear weapon in the hands of people that claim they are doing the work of God is dangerous. Trust me.

    Bayo Ojo

    September 9, 2008 at 7:27 am

  15. Don’t worry everyone, I have inside information. This experiment will be a slam dunk.

    Sincerely,
    George Tenet

    qazse

    September 9, 2008 at 9:20 am

  16. bit sexest dont u think?

    Woman.

    September 9, 2008 at 7:08 pm

  17. Sexist how? Please elaborate.

    unitedcats

    September 9, 2008 at 7:16 pm

  18. This has nothing to do with Schrödinger’s Cat. That’s the entire point. We’re not undoing uncertainty, we’re not undoing quantum fluctuations, we’re not creating rents in space, we’re not letting Species 8472 in to gobble us all up.

    We’re smashing some damn atoms. All kinds of cool stuff comes out. We’ve made antimatter. In fact, we can actually produce antimatter right now(without the LHC), if we were predisposed to spend a lot of money doing so and found a good way to contain it. Nobody’s complaining about antimatter nukes in the hands of the (insert guffaw) Bayo Ojo “workers of god.”

    If only people knew what these sorts of things were really made out of. Defense, Intelligence, Research, and so on. I mean, really. Ignorance is breeding fear, and if I had a decoder ring and special card, I’d send it to you, Doug.

    Alex J. Avriette

    September 9, 2008 at 7:41 pm

  19. Now that I think about it, it could be a plan to shrink the deficit.

    ET

    September 10, 2008 at 5:53 am

  20. […] Space Exploration The World Ends Wednesday? […]

  21. Mea culpa, judging from some of the above, I clearly have not made my points properly. So, I’ll have to do another post on this obviously popular topic! As always, thanks for all the thoughtful and interesting comments.

    unitedcats

    September 10, 2008 at 7:41 am

  22. […] be revisiting the LHC, the giant atom smasher that is being built in Europe. I’ve discussed this before, and sadly was unable to clearly make my existential point that there might be some danger to Earth […]

  23. is there proof of the world ending 2012 is a myth

    jerry

    March 31, 2010 at 7:26 pm

  24. david levy get proof that the worlds going 2 end

    jerry

    March 31, 2010 at 7:29 pm

  25. why would sientist try to kill lives like that if you dont know how things are going to work out then dont do any thing that stupid :(

    deja

    July 13, 2010 at 3:19 pm


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