I have suggested in previous posts (Who’s Fooling Who? and Knowledge or Certainty) that a degree of mysticism attaches to modern theories in cosmology and particle physics, but these suggestions were thrown into sharp focus by an email that I received today from my son, who provided a link to an article about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which has been fairly described as the largest science experiment ever conducted.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this extremely expensive attempt to recreate the hypothetical conditions in the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, the LHC is a 27-kilometre circular tunnel beneath the Franco-Swiss border along which beams of protons are fired in opposite directions. The protons travel round and round, guided by massive helium-cooled electromagnets, and pick up more and more energy with each circuit, until it is time for them to collide.
If theory is correct (and, remember, this is all based exclusively on mathematics), the resulting collisions will be so powerful that the protons disintegrate, producing among other debris a particle known as the Higgs boson. Finding this particle will be regarded as conclusive proof of the so-called ‘standard model’ of the origin of the universe. Unfortunately, the LHC has been plagued by unanticipated problems since the beginning of the project, resulting in a series of delays to the intended start-up date. However, a short test run was eventually achieved in December, and the LHC is currently scheduled to start running at full power next month, but “two…respected physicists are now claiming that the much hypothesized Higgs boson might have a ‘backward causation’ effect to stop itself being discovered.”
The two scientists referred to in the article have published papers to this effect, and I’ve no doubt that these will be beyond my ability to comprehend, but if the above quote means anything, it is that a subatomic particle that has never been observed because it hasn’t existed since that first trillionth of a second has somehow caused the series of setbacks to the project, including one, last November, where a piece of a baguette had inexplicably become wedged behind high-voltage wiring, which seriously affected the ability of the cooling system to perform according to its job description.
I can’t help wondering whether this is a case of getting the excuses in early when the Higgs boson is not found. And I can’t help wondering why the Big Bang theory should be taken any more seriously than clairvoyance, fung shui, palmistry or a tarot card reading, all of which have the distinct advantage of costing their adherents considerably less than nine billion dollars.