Monday, 6 May 2019

Picture Post #46 A Machine to Peek Into the Universe’s Core



'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Keith Tidman 

The Large Hadron Collider, siad to be the most complex machine ever built by humanity.
Image courtesy of CERN
tale of scale.  The CERN Large Hadron Collider, a Brobdingnagian* machine searching through the Lilliputian world of subatomic particles. This, we are told, to better understand the universe at the smallest scale. The human mind is challenged to take in the machine’s ‘cathedral’ dimensions. I think that the aim of this cathedral, however, is more than just inspiring awe, or reverence, or faith.

Rather, for me this towering monument — testament to human tool-making — has a very different purpose: to pull back the shroud so that humanity can peek into the remarkable inner world of our cosmos, and what it tells us about aspects of reality. Case in point: the confirmation of the Higgs boson a few years ago, whose field gives other particles their mass — ‘convenient’ for a universe like ours, including us.

There’s the hard-core science to all this, to be sure, with international collaboration at its best. But just like more-conventional, faith-based cathedrals, doesn’t this image also inspire humanity to speculate about the cosmology and meaning of this universe that we occupy, our own purpose, and the values we ought to revere? Doesn’t it serve and reward humanity’s instinctual sense of curiosity, imagination, and inspiration — the fertile seedbed of human discovery?



* After the fictional land in Jonathan Swift's 1726 satirical novel Gulliver's Travels occupied by giants

13 comments:

Louis P Solomon said...

AS usual, Keith Tidman has a clear insight about various things, and this is no exception. It is always a pleasure to read what he has to say........about almost everything.

Unknown said...

" humanity’s instinctual sense of curiosity, imagination, and inspiration — the fertile seedbed of human discovery",may be the very best part of us. But will it be enough? Until we use it to discover that we are all connected to each other in profound way,we will continue on a path of self destruction.

Unknown said...

The above comment was posted by Jerry Goldstein

Keith said...

“Until we use [human discovery] to discover that we are all connected to each other in profound ways, we will continue on a path of self-destruction.” I agree, Jerry, that it’s our shared humanity — the profound “connections” you refer to — that we must remain astutely aware of. These interpersonal and intercultural connections must be concertedly preserved and burnished, based on the best of values, norms, and imperatives. I propose that this effort to advance and enrich humanity (and the intimate connections) has to be pursued on a broad front, including the kinds of creativities, discoveries, and inventions associated with both the humanities and sciences writ large. As you say, Jerry, the consequences of humanity not getting all this right are existential in scale.

Keith said...

Thank you, Louis, for your generous comment.

Martin Cohen said...

The machine is big, yes, but is it really so complex? Microprocessors have a certain sophistication too - and I think are a lot more elegant!

Martin Cohen said...

... I can't help wondering, Louis, which things you do not like reading Keith on?

Tessa den Uyl said...

Thank you Keith for your pp. Discoveries are not starting with our own bodies, made out of particles that are part of the whole cosmos? Everything is interconnected (as Jerry mentions)and would rather see people starting to discover themselves instead of these machines going into space. For how humanity will be enriched if it continues to think to be somehow separated while being made up out of 'stuff' that does really NOT care about your ego?

Keith said...

I’m happy to acknowledge that both the Large Hadron Collider and microprocessor are extraordinary tributes the ingenuity and inventiveness of the human mind. However, as I see the distinction, Martin, the collider is complete unto itself, whereas the microprocessor acquires its role and utility only as part of another machine. To that extent, given that the collider includes microprocessors, I'd offer that the ‘sophistication’ and ‘elegance’ of those microprocessors become the collider’s.

Keith said...

Thank you, Tessa, for your insights. I was particularly struck by this: ‘Discoveries are not starting with our own bodies, made out of particles that are part of the whole cosmos?’ (Might this be an implied nod to some variant of panpsychism?) Agreed, we are beholden, for our existence, to the stuff that supernovas and other violent cosmic events sent hurtling across the universe, conveniently making us possible. Cosmology is, I would argue, our ultimate history, written to the biggest scale.

It seems to me that one may construe, therefore, that there are common, definable threads woven through all of creation — perhaps a universal quality (well, a qualified universality, anyway) to consciousness itself. And if so, to your point, that might make it all the more essential to recognize the interconnectivity suffusing humanity, bonding civilizations and individuals alike. I suggest that powerful tools like the particle collider help us understand that ‘ultimate history’ — our cosmic history — I just referred to.

Thomas Scarborough said...

I am baffled as to how, philosophically, one can leap from hard-core science to meaning, purpose, values, and so on. It is the leap from fact to value, which apparently cannot be done. This does not detract from the achievements of CERN, but it does introduce the suspicion that science breeds irrationalism.

Martin Cohen said...

Surely science embodies certain values? Is utilitatian and the servant of purposes and values? It might be irrational if scientists built the collider to help us 'understand ourselves', pace Keith, but if they built it to get a huge wodge of public money, to feather their institutional nests, to progress their careers. That's both utilitarian and rational! And the values are only those most people live by.

Keith said...

“I am baffled as to how, philosophically, one can leap from hard-core science to meaning, purpose, values, and so on.” I suggest, Thomas, that there are myriad examples of how science can inspire thoughts of (inspire leaps toward) meaning, purpose, and values — under the rubric of philosophy. For now, I’ll offer just one. As you know, the ‘anthropic principle’ entails scientific constants and parameters — so-called ‘initial conditions’ and laws of physics — that were and are precise to such an extraordinarily fine level of granularity that they make the universe, galaxies, solar systems, planets (including habitable planets), and humanity and other sophisticated life forms possible or perhaps even necessary. Among the many conditions are the initial entropy of the universe, the strength of gravity, the energy states of the electron, the strength of the strong nuclear force — with the list extending out. On its face, this is ‘hard-core science’; but, I suggest, that’s not the whole story.

To the last point, because of these extraordinarily precise initial conditions’, one may legitimately ponder philosophically whether and why they may have been (deliberately?) arrayed, and the universe animated, according to some sort of cosmic design. And if so, whether (or not) that tells us anything regarding the possibility of a god’s existence (and the values, norms, and creeds one might derive); the purpose and possible intentionality of such a universe’s creation; the meaning of humanity as a conscious, intelligent life form occupying a habitable planet within this universe; our role as ‘observers’; the point of consciousness, in the first place; the possible presence of other intelligent life scattered throughout the cosmos (and our and their connection); our isolated location within this otherwise light-year-measured universe; and so forth. Or whether, instead, this universe was prosaically and simply all by chance — an existence ex nihilo, even — where these initial conditions and their extraordinary precision were mere coincidences — coincidences that existentially couldn’t have been otherwise.

I propose, respectfully, that all of that is perhaps as much philosophy as science.

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