Thoughts in the atmosphere

Things of the world, and out of it.

Archive for January, 2009

Does reductionist science miss the bigger pattern 4

Posted by desicontrarian on January 27, 2009

Based on the theory of the Big Bang, CERN in Switzerland is now conducting a huge, multi-million dollar experiment. It is called the Large Hadron Collider(LHC). The aim of the experiment is to create the conditions existing “a few milliseconds after the big bang”. As usual in these enterprises, the methodology is continuation of the particle accelerator experiments which have been a staple diet of nuclear physics since the discovery of the chain reaction and the invention of the atom bomb. Its predecessor was the RHIC – Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collider, based in  Brookhaven . You can read all about it on the internets. And as usual, the stated precise goal is to find the Higgs-Boson particle which gives mass to particles.

Ever since Einstein, we have the mental geometry of things like curved space, relative time, worms, black holes, time travel, the slowing down or speeding up of time based on relative speeds etc. We laymen are by now used to the impenetrable terminology of relativistic physics, quantum mechanics, maze of names for fundamental particles – gluons, muons, quarks, up, down, strange etc.( The last 4 are actually not particles, by the way! I just put them there for fun). The conceptual maze is enriched with terms like anti-matter, dark matter, dark energy, cosmic background radiation etc. The first of many impressions we all get is of incomprehensibility, constant and rapid change to theories, new discoveries, extremely difficult mathematics and so on. Which means getting a grip on these things is like joining an elite group.

It’s a particular kind of mind-game, where physicists compete to find something new, establish a new theory as the self-consistent model of phenomena, and thus establish their status in the pecking order. This mind-game was not Einstein’s or Bohr’s or Rutherford’s intention, but they started it. Now I’m not against mind-exercises in pursuit of knowledge. It is hard for us to know the difference between pursuit of truth and mind-games. As human beings, we all have this weakness, and our struggle is to actually develop this discrimination.

Anyway, the ostensible grand goal with LHC is to validate or invalidate The Standard Model of the Universe, which explains interactions among 3 of the 4 fundamental forces – Gravitational, Strong Nuclear, Weak Nuclear & Electro-Magnetic. The search is on to find a common force which unites all these in a Theory Of Everything (TOE) or Grand Unified Theory (GUT).

Black holes are supposed to be proven . As Wikipedia states it – “Despite its invisible interior, a black hole may reveal its presence through interaction with matter orbiting the event horizon. For example, a black hole may be perceived by tracking the movement of a group of stars that orbit its center. Alternatively, one may observe gas (from a nearby star, for instance) that has been drawn into the black hole. The gas spirals inward, heating up to very high temperatures and emitting large amounts of radiation that can be detected from earthbound and earth-orbiting telescopes.[3][4] Such observations have resulted in the general scientific consensus that—barring a breakdown in our understanding of nature—black holes do exist in our universe”.

There are many scientists (and others) who think that black holes don’t exist!

There is apparently an Event Horizon (EH), beyond which even light cannot escape. A heavenly body straying into the field of attraction of a black hole meets its death. Just as we struggle to grasp some ideas regarding such immensely complex matters, along come Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose etc. Hawking “establishes” how virtual particles escape from behind the EH, and become real particles! (Somebody has to count the no. of right and wrong understanding of concepts listed here so far!).

There are concerns now that LHC will create Mini Black Holes (MBH), Strangelets (particles with a spin called Strange) and Magnetic Monopoles (bodies with no opposite magnetic poles)! All this on the Earth. And further, that MBHs will be come stable, which means The Earth quickly turns into a Black Hole! Court Suits were filed in the US to stop the experiments and have been dismissed. CERN has addressed these concerns by publishing and scientifically asserting that MBHs will not be formed. If formed they will decay rapidly by Hawking Radiation and will not threaten The Earth. The Planet has been struck over millennia by cosmic rays with far larger energies and has survived. Initially the probabilities of MBH formation and MBHs becoming stable were said to be infinitesimally low, but non-zero. Now the probabilities are said be zero.

Given the background of ignorance or misunderstanding of this science of particle physics, and the gulf between the Science Elite and a public uneducated to varying degrees in these matters, fears and attempts to block the experiments are inevitable. The enormity of even an imagined death of our planet is too much to contemplate. This fear does not seem to seep into the Science Elite itself. They take pains to clarify that this fear is unfounded, but seldom express sympathy for these fears. Naturally, the opponents feel impotent anger and increased anxiety. You can get a glimpse of this here & here.

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