Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's the end of the world as we know it (maybe)

In less than 24 hours, CERN is going to flip the switch on the Large Hadron Collider, inarguably the world's largest and most expensive science experiment. Built at a cost of $5.3B from an international collaboration, the bulk of the LHC consists of a gigantic ring of magnets about 25 km in circumference. It will accelerate protons to almost the speed of light...and then smash them into each other. Each beam of protons will have the combined energy of an aircraft carrier moving at 60 km/hr. And they're not just going to do this once: they're going to do this 600 million times per second for several months.

The purpose of this experiment is to find the elusive Higgs boson, otherwise known as "the God particle", a particle that may have been present at the creation of the universe.

Of course, all this is raising concerns that the end of the world is nigh: in the imaginative worst case scenario, the LHC could create a black hole that would destroy the earth and everything in it. If this fear is true, the next few hours could spell the end of the world.

And you know what? I feel fine about it.

In the scheme of things, the end of the world wouldn't be so bad, considering how badly things are already going. It's not just the politics or the poverty or the prejudice. Most days, I look out the window and ask: is this all there is?

Maybe I've hit a philosophical midlife crisis, but it's getting harder and harder to think of goals that are worthwhile. Right now, the pinnacle of what the world is able to offer is wealth and recognition, and really, that's not a whole lot. But that's just me.

Given the choice, I would have said knowledge, but even that's tied up in an academes that are philosophically stagnant and politically hamstrung.

So maybe the end of the world -- ultimately egalitarian -- wouldn't be so bad.

On the bright side, maybe with the LHC we'll finally be able to build spaceships and warp drives and antigravity. Now that's worth sticking around for.

Who knows, we may even finally get our own superhero.

But seriously, if I had to place any bets, I would say that the world will still be crummy tomorrow. That ain't fine.