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October 20, 2014

Space/time revisited

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The Large Hadron Collider at CERN last week set a record by crashing together two 3.5 trillion electronvolt proton beams, insuring that physicists will go on to discover more and more sh*t I don’t and never will understand.
Scientists say the achievement, which will allow them to examine the nature of matter and the origin of stars and planets 13.7 billion years ago, heralds a new era in science.


I’m afraid I haven’t understood a single complex idea about the present era of science. I actually did quite well in physics as a high-school student, but I am certain that time represents four or five eras back.
We – and by that, I mean humanity, represented by a handful of Collider Geniuses – are searching for new states of matter. This includes the Higgs boson, a theoretical particle that, if discovered, would help scientists to explain why matter has mass.
I read this in the newspaper: “The experiments proceeded despite objections that they could create micro black holes – subatomic versions of collapsed stars that can suck in planets. Scientists dismissed this, saying that any such holes would be so weak that they would vanish almost instantly without caus
ing any damage.”
What an outrageously insouciant thing to say!
I imagine myself as a genius. The conversation goes like this:
Journalists: “Herr Professor, your experiment may create black holes capable of smashing the earth into a speck of dust!”
Me: “Don’t be so dramatic. These black holes will be very small.”
We are seeking dark matter and dark energy – the latter is perhaps responsible for the acceleration of the expansion of the universe. We might also discover hidden dimensions of space and time.
That’s a near quote from an Associated Press story – the offhand, throwaway remark that we might find (one imagines the journalist yawning as he writes this) new dimensions of space and time. It is possibly the most hilarious use of understatement I have ever witnessed – even though I have absolutely no idea what it would mean to discover them, since I do not know the first thing about the nature of space and time I am currently aware of.
I only know I am getting older, and I have less and less time to grasp the new era of science, which should last two more years, until the Hadron Collider crashes two 7 trillion electronvolt proton beams, and the little black holes get a little bit larger.
I have been watching a new series on the BBC called something like ‘The Wonders of the Solar System’, narrated by a young hip physics professor who explains physics in a way that excites me, and makes me tell my girlfriend, “Hey, did you know that…?” and so on. He also flies around in helicopters and in jets 8km above the surface, and travels to various very hot and cold places.
I grew up in Texas, as my five readers know all too well, and never had the BBC. I watched ‘Knight Rider’ and ‘Simon & Simon’, etcetera. Perhaps if people who made television felt a responsibility to inform instead of vomiting out t*ts and stupidity and pain, I’d have understood the significance of this day.