Friday, September 12, 2008

Memo To Matter

Memo To: Matter
From: JK
Date: September 12, 2008
Subject: The REAL Secret

The pressure is on, baby! Forget about the rack, forget about waterboarding. They've turned on the LHC and they're waiting for you. In case you haven't heard, or don't care, that would be LHC as in Large Hadron Collider. Or as in Let's Hear the Confession. You see, they want you to give up the secret.

I don't know why it came this. You used to be so simple, so solid, so there. I grew up seeing you, bumping into you, counting on you. Matter was the one reality I couldn't deny. Nobody could. But now I'm told you're sort of there. What's really there are atoms. And atoms are really protons, neutrons, and electrons. And protons, neutrons, and electrons are really gluons, leptons, mesons, muons, quarks--a whole zoo of nano-nano things, hadrons being in there somewhere. And all these subatomic things, deep down, are really something else. So why not spill the beans? Tell us what they are. Forces? Geometric points? Chunks of space-time? Strings of energy? Membranes? No one seems to know.

They're going to smack you around a bit to find out. Put you in the largest "experimental" chamber science has ever built. This sucker is seventeen miles in circumference and runs through two countries. Don't take my word for it, take a look. Pretty impressive, eh? You can feel important if you'd like, but I'd be terrified. They're going after the smallest stuff you've got. I don't know why it takes something so big to twist the truth out of something so little, but that's the deal. It's not how it works in outer space.

Right now they've shot a few of your protons into the LHC. They're shaping them into a beam and revving them up to the speed of light (well, 99.9999991% thereof). Sometime this fall they'll direct one beam into another and the demolition derby will begin. Six hundred million head-on collisions per second, each one spewing out thousands of particles. Sounds ouchy to me, but if that's what it takes to get you to talk . . . .

I can save you a lot of grief by telling you what they want. They want the secret. They want the Higgs. The Higgs field, the Higgs particle, the Higgs mechanism, whatever. They think the Higgs will tell them how energy converts into mass, how a "field" becomes a "particle," how Matter ends up as something we all bump into. Sounds like creation to me--and to them. That's why they call the LHC the Genesis machine. And why they call the Higgs the most fundamental particle there is, even the God Particle.

So if you've got a Higgs somewhere, fork it over. If you don't have one, if, omigosh, there is no Higgs, . . . well, let's not even go there. Once the LHC gets cooking, about a year from now, one ought to pop up every 2.5 seconds. Finding it will be the trick. It's not like a needle in a haystack, it's like a needle in a million haystacks. You could save us all some trouble with a few "Here" signs.

If you "cooperate," if you really start talking, you could even tell us about the Big Bang. And that's a big deal. But not as big as the REAL deal, the REAL secret. No one's talking about it right now, but shortly after the Bang you were nothing but hydrogen. That was the universe. The REAL secret is how you turned into opera, into love and hate, truth and lies, compassion and vengeance. How did hydrogen get around to reading memos? That's what I want to know, and I'm afraid the LHC will never get it out of you.




Unknown said...

John, as one of those who has been assembling the pieces that will look for those particles that will point back to a possible Higgs which will, perhaps, give some form to the theories of what mass is, I appreciate your sense of wonder and gee whiz about the whole enterprise. Of course the answers that come from the LHC will be both enormous and miniscule. They can say nothing about how hydrogen became sentient. But what a wondrous place this world (universe) is! If it is so hard to understand the relations between mathmatically describable particles, it is a wonder that we can understand anything that is infinately more complex.

Anonymous said...

I printed your latest posting and will have it with me when I go to the Power Center this morning for SMP. On first glance I’d say you are reflecting many of my thoughts when I hear of the “promises” of the LHD. Mary and I saw “A Disappearing Number” on Thursday evening and I’m going to be interested in what the panel discussion has to say today at SMP. Sitting in the large audience on Thursday I had to wonder just how all of the subject matter of the play was playing out in the diverse mindsets.

Unknown said...

Perfect choice of style for your piece on the LHC, John. It reminds me of A.C. Clarke's comment that "any sufficiently developed technology is indistinuishable from magic". In this frame, your "Memo to Matter" is like a fairy tale--or better, a kind of prayer. In this proper cosmic perspective it leads me to suggest that the explication of any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from theology.
Jack Lambert

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding a little like Larry "Pinto" Kroger in "Animal House" when he gets high on pot, this idea of matter being fundamentally mystical or at least profoundly mysterious does undeniably open up the discussion about God. It brings people who are quite persuaded by a scientific worldview right round to talking about theology or at least mysticism whether we want to or not. I love the irony of it. I admire the subtlety of it. I think it's enormously funny and perplexing and full of possibility.

Anonymous said...

Regarding LHC and learning about matter becoming sentient, you won’t be surprised that I find Teilhard giving praise to science helping us all know about the cosmos from the inside out. On page 26 of “The Divine Milieu Explained” by Louis M. Savary I found:

"From the dawn of creation, universe has been following a certain upward trajectory. The universe’s evolutionary direction, Teilhard discovered, is governed by a law of attraction-connection-complexity-consciousness..

"Because that same law also governs the development of the Total Christ, this law lies at the heart of Teilhardian spirituality. The task of spirituality for the twenty-first century is to learn how to put that law into practice."

I see the LHC, and all future analysis of the results, to be driven by the law of attraction-connection-complexity-consciousness and our using terms such “God particle” are all part of it. And that IT is the Divine Milieu and we are showing the “sentientness” of it all by our involvement from the simplest person on the street to the many scientist who are hanging onto all events showing up from the LHC project.

Mark A. Thomas said...

I can take part in the laughter. Although Science should try its best to keep down the religionists' noise and uses the cold emotionless maths (with as little of organic language as possible in descriptions) there is no doubt that (Science) is headed toward a direction. That is a direction toward a universal commonality. Now, one could possibly say that this origin or commonality is infused with spirit or the sacred. Or one could be an atheist or just believe that the whole process of creation involves inaminate matter, no spirit no nothing. Sean Carroll, a cosmologist who happens to be a proclaimed atheist states in a post on his blog 'Cosmic Variance': “I’m not really surprised that people bring up God when asking about cosmology; the subjects are related, like it or not.” Getting closer to Big Bang conditions in a collider is a form of theology related to the Western thought that began with ancient Greece. Even physicists refer to the building of ever bigger colliders as being akin to "cathedral building". The LHC is not a Big-Bang machine like a lot of the press would have you believe but it does create conditions about a billionth of a second after the Big-Bang. You might think that this is close time wise but it is not. The LHC energies are still on a time order of 10^28 removed from the Big-Bang. Mind-blowing. Without a complete theory of 'quantum gravity' the veils between the LHC energies and the early cosmic Planck energy are guaranteed to be thick.