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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time Travel and Sabotage

Recently, I have been hearing about a curious physics paper written about the new Large Hadron Collider, a massive particle accelerator located in Switzerland. The authors -- Holger Bech Nielsen, from the Niels Bohr Institute, and Masao Ninomiya, from Japan's Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics -- argue that, as the New York Times' Dennis Overbye puts it, "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."

Overbye then writes two of the most astonishing paragraphs I have ever read:

" '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 In an unpublished essay, Dr.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.' "

When I read those paragraphs, I had to pick my jaw off the floor.


Akiko said...

I think I sprained my brain a little trying to fully grasp this. You're going to have to explain this one to me further next time we meet up.

TaylorM said...

I think what's funny or ironic about this is all the people who claim that religion has nothing to do with science, and then you have scientists coming up with "God particles," as well as supposed time travel properties of said particle. It kind of makes you wonder where the difference really is. It would also be a kind of scientific blasphemy, I think, if you were to, let's say, propose that the Higgs Boson doesn't exist. I think you'd get a lot of angry scientists on your case. Scientists who vehemently oppose the existence of a "God." Now, I'm not saying one way or the other, I'm just saying it kind of makes you think...

Raphael Rosen said...

That's true. But, I don't think time travel is a particularly religious notion. (It does not appear in any religion, though it *does* appear in discussions about black holes and worm holes.) And many scientists -- Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, for example -- seem to have had strong religious feelings, of one kind or another. Anyway, one of the more interesting aspects of the article, in my opinion, was the positing of a supernatural element to the LHC mishaps, the notion that the universe might abhor the discovery of the Higgs boson so much that it would prevent its discovery. It is an odd, and fascinating, thought.