Cosmology Uncommon Descent Contest

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 13: The Large Hadron Collider is back up and running, but why? Winners announced.

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Here’s the contest (excerpt follows)”

This one is for physics buffs. The Large Hadron Collider (called by some the God Machine) has suffered considerable woe recently – most recently when a passing bird dropped a piece of bread on it, though it appears to be back up and running.

Go here for the rest. Basically, two physicists suggested that time travel on the part of the Higgs boson might explain that:

A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that 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.

So the question was,

For a free copy of the Privileged Planet DVD, about the unique position of Earth, provide the clearest answer the following question: Nine billion dollars and 15 years later, what is the Large Hadron Collider likely to tell us that is worth the cost and trouble?

Before I announce the winner, I would like to thank Access Research Network for kindly offering a shelf of books by mathematician David Berlinski – a self-confessed Darwin skeptic and widely enjoyed wit – as prizes for future contests. You can view their catalogue here.

The winners (both of whom must provide me with a valid postal address at, in order to receive their prizes) are

vjtorley for this comment at 4:

The Large Hadron Collider could help answer questions that we would all like to see answered, for instance:

(1) Is the Standard Model of physics actually true? The model predicts the existence of a mysterious particle called the Higgs boson, which gives other particles their mass. If the LHC experiments rule out the existence of the Higgs boson, that will ignite a revolution in physics.

(2) What is dark matter? It seems that only invisible dark matter can account for the movement of clusters of glaxies, including the Bullet Cluster. But what is it? If dark matter consists of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, a.k.a. WIMPs, then the LHC might be able to detect them indirectly.

(3) What is dark energy, if it indeed exists? Recent measurements showing that the universe’s expansion is accelerating suggest that some kind of mysterious energy permeates the cosmos, but according to quantum physics, the vacuum of space should contain a LOT more dark energy – in fact, 10^120 times more – than we actually observe. The LHC might tell us why.

(4) Are the forces of nature all manifestations of a single force? Scientists would like to think so, for aesthetic reasons, but hard evidence is still lacking.

(5) Why is gravity so much weaker than the other three forces? It’s about 10^32 times weaker than the next weakest force. Why?

(6) Why is there more matter than anti-matter?

(7) Are there extra dimensions of space?

(8) Is God a master geometer? For me, this is perhaps the most interesting question of all.

Surfer Dude and physicist Garrett Lisi once said, “I think the universe is pure geometry – basically, a beautiful shape twisting and dancing over space-time. Since E8 is perhaps the most beautiful structure in mathematics, it is very satisfying that nature appears to have chosen this geometry.”

Of course, I would say God. Nature doesn’t choose anything, but from an aesthetic standpoint, I would expect God to make the most geometrically beautiful possible universe. According to Lisi’s Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything there should be 248 particles, corresponding to the symmetries of E8. 226 are known Standard Model particles, but some of the remaining 22 particles might be detected by the LHC. If the relations between the particles making up our universe turn out to reflect the structure of E8, then the Surfer Dude’s hunch will have been vindicated.


waterbear for this comment at 6:

Nine billion dollars and 15 years later, what is the Large Hadron Collider likely to tell us that is worth the cost and trouble?”

Exactly what the LHC will tell us cannot yet be known but will fall into one of two broad categories. Either that our current understanding of space, time and matter is generally correct in which case the LHC will reveal detail never seen before. Or that our current understanding is wrong, in which case we’d better work to fix that and understand what’s really going on.

And either of those two outcomes is valuable because every other time we have peered deeper into the structure and behaviour of matter and the universe’s fundamental forces we have learned things of direct practical use. Learning that matter was composed of different sorts of “atoms” spurred chemistry and metallurgy, further assisted when experimenters learnt that those atoms were in turn made of negatively charged “electrons” and a heavier positively charged part. Figuring out that the atom’s positive charge was concentrated in tiny “nuclei” vastly smaller than the atom and subsequent discoveries that the nucleus was made of both protons and neutrons spawned all nuclear technology from power generation to cancer radiotherapy, while discovering the relationship between magnetism and electricity and developing a tested theory of “electro magnetic fields” gave birth to all the electrical infrastructure we take for granted. Discovery that the smallest particles of matter behaved in different ways than matter at everyday scales led to the quantum mechanics which underpins much of modern electronics and permits the design of more communications and computing technology. Antimatter, for a long time only a speculative possibility and a staple of bad science fiction books, is now a confirmed reality being put to work every day in medical imaging and could even lead to better cancer therapies. All thanks to painstaking and often slightly slow and expensive work in the arcane world of particle physics and field theory. Go, physics!

A couple of centuries ago the bystander could have read about the work of those early experimenters and asked “what is studying these hypothetical ‘atoms’ likely to tell us that is worth the cost and trouble?” and nobody would have been able to give a satisfactory answer. Today we know better, that we can afford it and it’ll pay off.

And quite apart from the likely future technologies built on whatever the LHC uncovers we will also gain a deeper insight into how the universe really works, what stuff is made of and how it behaves. This is valuable in its own intangible way because nobody likes to be ignorant.

(Note: I don’t propose to generally announce two winners, but these two together provide a neat summary of what Hadron hopes to do (provided it is not shorted out by more bread from heaven), and its historical rationale.

Some other comments: Nakashima noted at 2 that Hadron doesn’t cost so much – a dollar a year? – when you average it out among all European taxpayers. Point taken, but the fact is that there are zillions of projects out there that cost only a dollar per taxpayer per year – and they all add up to zillions of dollars in the end.

My local public hospital could add 100 beds and fill them immediately, but the problem is that 1800 less critical dollar-a-year projects leach away the needed money. I have nothing against Hadron; I just want to know what the payload is, to decide if I think it worthwhile enough.

Nilglew at 5 suggests applying the “horselaugh of common sense” to many physics theories, and I agree. I am not the only journalist in Canada who thinks that large numbers of theoretical physicists are mere poseurs. Remember, you can be a poseur about theoretical physics without getting found out in a way that you can’t be about plumbing or wiring or building a deck.

I am glad that Kontinental at 9 is a proud European taxpayer. I just hope he’s getting something more for his money than mere absence of war. We don’t have much war here in Canada either (no local war since 1812-1814, actually), but generally we would never put up with all that Eurocracy. The people who have tried it on us are getting their butts kicked all across the country. They are not smart enough to tell us how to live.

Readers, if you would like to enter future contests, periodically announced, here are the contest rules, not many. Winners receive a certificate verifying their win as well as the prize. Winners must provide me with a valid postal address, though it need not be theirs. Names are never added to a mailing list. Have fun!

8 Replies to “Uncommon Descent Contest Question 13: The Large Hadron Collider is back up and running, but why? Winners announced.

  1. 1
    Heinrich says:

    My local public hospital could add 100 beds and fill them immediately, but the problem is that 1800 less critical dollar-a-year projects leach away the needed money.

    Perhaps you should consider living in a Eurocracy. Not only do we have absence of war, we also have more support for each other.

  2. 2
    O'Leary says:

    Aw come on, Heinrich! We read the papers here. “More support” translates into stuff most Canadians find oppressive.

    I – and many others – remember journalist Oriana Fallaci standing up to defend herself from the Italian bureaucracy on “hate speech” charges when she was dying of ovarian cancer.

    I read her book. She said some rude things, but it was not remotely “hate speech.”

    I remember commentator Ayaan Hirsi Ali, having fled Somalia, later fleeing The Netherlands for the United States due to trumped up charges.

    So that’s Eurocratic “support”?

    I’m not saying you can’t have it if you want. Of course you can.

    I am merely pointing out that in Canada we are kicking the butts of the kind of people who provide that kind of “support” and plan to do much more of the same.

    Check out “My name is Ezra Levant” at YouTube to see what I mean.

    The reason we need more hospital beds here is that we don’t have a big euthanasia lobby. What about where you are?

  3. 3
    Heinrich says:

    “More support” translates into stuff most Canadians find oppressive.

    Ah, you mean like universal healthcare, and support for the unemployed and elderly?

    Of course we’re not perfect, so pointing to a few cases where governments have done something bad isn’t terribly impressive.

    The reason we need more hospital beds here is that we don’t have a big euthanasia lobby. What about where you are?

    Nope, not here as far as I’m aware. Although I think it’s a shame that the terminally ill are taking up hospital beds, rather than hospices, which are better geared towards looking after such patients.

  4. 4
    Rude says:

    I’m reminded of the Ronald Reagan Super Collider cancelled in 1993 by politicians eager for the pork of a “peace dividend”. At the time I rued it what with the billions already spent and the then elitist mania to expand the bureaucracy with undemocratic abandon.

    In much of Old Europe there is scant memory of who it was that liberated her from the scourge of wars of her own making, of the hundreds of thousands of North Americans who gave their lives so that others could breathe free. No, there is mostly envy and a crass projection of blame on two freedom loving nations that actually believe in defending their liberty and their lives.

    Today one “hyperpower” polices the world—it remains to be seen whether peace prevails should that power leave the scene.

  5. 5
    Zachriel says:

    Rude: In much of Old Europe there is scant memory of who it was that liberated her from the scourge of wars of her own making, of the hundreds of thousands of North Americans who gave their lives so that others could breathe free.

    Really, Rude. When was the last time the French have fought and died alongside Americans?

  6. 6
    O'Leary says:

    Hey, guys, all I know is this:

    Euthanasia programs are well under way in The Netherlands, for example, with many non-consenting victims – and now that Europe has decided it is all one big happy family, you either shut that down or you adopt it yourselves.

    You can’t have a right to live in Germany but not in Holland – and pretend you are the same basic entity.

    Do you think I have a right to live in Ontario but not in Saskatchewan? (provinces of Canada)

    Recently, Canada has thrown off its traditional sense of shame. (a few thousand acres of snow … as a French king put it, when he signed Canada away in the mid-18th century).

    A worse bargain was there never in the history of the world …

    We used to look up to Europe – no more.

    And we did not ask to be handed the torch:

    “… to you from failing hands we throw the torch,

    be yours to hold it high … ”

    (- from our national Remembrance Day poem, “In Flanders’ Fields”, written by a Canadian paramedic in the back of an ambulance in WWI.)

    But we never thought it would really happen. Still, what happens, happens.

    We have come to realize that it is okay to say that we are the True North Strong and Free, and to act like it, and not care what bloviating Europundits or Yankeepundits say about us.


    Our Citizenship and Immigration Minister has in fact said, in a recent speech, about Islamist attacks on Jews:

    – 0 –

    We have articulated and implemented a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. What does this mean?  It means that we eliminated the government funding relationship with organizations like for example, the Canadian Arab Federation, whose leadership apologized for terrorism or extremism, or who promote hatred, in particular anti-Semitism. 
    We have ended government contact with like-minded organizations like the Canadian Islamic Congress, whose President notoriously said that all Israelis over the age of 18 are legitimate targets for assassination.  We have defunded organizations, most recently like KAIROS, who are taking a leadership role in the boycott. And we’re receiving a lot of criticism for these decisions. I can’t recall how many times I’ve been sued for some of the decisions that we have taken, but we believe that we’ve done these things for the right reasons and we stand by these decisions. 
    We have shifted our program of multiculturalism, which is our programmatic approach to integration and to pluralism, to focus precisely on integration towards liberal democratic values to remove any confusion that may have existed that our approach to multiculturalism justifies abhorrent cultural practices and the expression of hatred. 
    And I need to commend our parliamentary colleagues for their tremendous work in forming the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition Against Anti-Semitism, and for launching an inquiry which is undergoing its hearings in Parliament through this month and next.  A tremendous opportunity for us to bring to light the threat of the new anti-Semitism across Canada. 
    At the international level, we have tried to give practical expression to our profound concern about the new anti-Semitism in many ways.  We did so by being the first government in the world to announce that we were removing funding for the Palestinian authority following the election of Hamas because of the essentially anti-Semitic nature of that organization. We have robustly stood by the right of the state of Israel to use the means necessary to protect its innocent civilians from attacks, terrorist attacks motivated by hatred, committed by organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. 
    – 0 –

    Right on. Now, if you want to impress me, show me that Europe has a spine like ours, and I will believe you. We have hundreds of thousands of Jewish Canadian citizens [with a variety of views about Israel] at risk from backward anti-Semitism, wished on us from abroad. But we are moving quickly to power down that risk.

    Also, here is an example of what concerns many of us:

    Apparently, a Brit police force was recently forced to apologize for and stop using a German Shepherd pup as a character, to enforce various safety messages for children.

    Some citizens think dogs are “unclean,” so of course the Brit administration immediately caved.

    And remember, you are all one big family now, so … if you care, you must fight the rot, not make excuses for it.

    Why I care: I spent part of my childhood in the Yukon, atop whose coat of arms proudly sits – a dog (a Husky, Malamute, or Canadian Eskimo dog, I gather). The dog was the principal animal that enabled the survival of humans in the near and far north for thousands of years.

    And as long as I have breath, that dog will stay there on the top of the Yukon’s Coat of Arms, as he deserves.

    Look, Heinrich, hands across the Pond in friendship. We WANT you to be free. But you must want it for yourself.

    Don’t talk to me about “support” for citizens, when it looks from here like the very same soft totalitarianism we are throwing off.

    Bureaucrats are not smart enough to tell you how to live.

    A glorious thought, surely?

  7. 7
    IrynaB says:


    Euthanasia programs are well under way in The Netherlands, for example, with many non-consenting victims

    That’s not what I heard. I heard that in the Netherlands you have the freedom of choosing your own time of death when you are a terminally ill patient. So you can gather your family and friends around to say goodbye while you’re still capable, and have a painless death. That’s freedom. I am not aware of anybody being killed against their wishes. Are you?


    If there is so much freedom in North America, how come the USA has the largest per capita prison population in the world? If you are a black man in the USA, chances are very good you will spend a significant amount of time in prison.

    In Europe we are free from the terror of health insurance companies. I heard those companies kill tens of thousands of people per year in the USA.

    So, I am not so sure that you enjoy more freedom on your side of the pond. Your social Darwinism seems to curtail the freedom of lots of folks. But if that’s you want, feel free do so.


  8. 8
    O'Leary says:

    Iryna at 7, go here for info about how such claims as “gather your family and friends around to say goodbye” ring hollow.

    Of course they do. At any given time, far more old people are wanted dead than want to die.

    In Canada, we have a different non-working system from the United States, so please don’t confuse the two.

    I would certainly take my chances with a US insurance company rather than a Dutch euthanasia physician, the former just wanting money and the latter oozing compassion and lethal injections.

    And yes, we DO have more freedom here. That’s precisely why we are here. If you don’t like that, please live somewhere else and be happy.

    Anyway, I am out of here; I have other fish to fry.

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