This November, the world's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC),
above, will become operational in a tunnel underneath the border between Switzerland and
France. The tunnel is circular and 17 miles in length. It is hoped that this accelerator will reveal the Higgs
Boson, an hypothesized but never detected particle that is part of the
make-up of “empty” space. The theory is (as far as I can
understand it) that what we think of as a perfect vacuum is in fact a
super-conductor, and the Higgs Boson is the medium of conduction.
This particle would help explain how other particles acquire mass and
point the way to a Grand Unified Theory of physics.
said, “Space is not merely a background for events but
possesses an autonomous structure.” The Higgs Boson would help
define that structure. I have always loved Einstein's statement,
since it seems to explain, metaphorically, the function of space in the
plastic arts, like ballet and architecture — and movies. The
illusory space on the other side of the movie screen feels to me like
something solid, which can be molded, carved, shaped by movement within
it — even, in a purely imaginative way, by the potential for movement
within it. It is plastic — in the sense that it can be molded.
The LHC (seen above under construction) could also result in other observable particles and phenomena
— one of which is tiny black holes. Some scientists believe that
it could create a black hole large enough to suck up the
entire earth, resulting in the total annihilation of the
planet. There is a pending lawsuit which is seeking to prevent
the operation of the accelerator on just these grounds. Most
scientists believe that if black holes are
created they will be so small that they will break up of their own
accord. If they don't, we will never know about it, since we will
be instantly consumed by them.
Back in 2000, when some Catholics were fearing that the end of the
world was at hand, based on secret revelations supposedly given by the
Virgin Of Fatima, Pope John Paul II said that if the world was coming
to an end we should face the prospect “with dignity and
courage”. That strikes me as the best policy, all things considered.
One other possibility is that the LHC will reveal nothing, which will
be a signal to physicists that almost all current thinking about the
nature of the universe is heading in the wrong direction. That
would be interesting, too.