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October 14, 2009 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Is The Large Hadron Collider Being Sabotaged from the Future? A couple of distinguished physicists posit that this indeed might be the case! [NYT Article]
posted by sk381 (128 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Give me a break. You're telling me that Bush would ever have been President if people could go back in time?
posted by Joe Beese at 2:05 PM on October 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


Maybe future Bush went back in time.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:06 PM on October 14, 2009 [9 favorites]


I'm totally using that excuse at my next project meeting.
posted by empyrean at 2:06 PM on October 14, 2009 [24 favorites]


I think I know who's responsible.
posted by sswiller at 2:07 PM on October 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


A couple of distinguished physicists are, with all respect, either off their nuts or masters of mass-media bad science reporting catnip.
posted by rusty at 2:09 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The hypothesis doesn't say that people from the future are stopping it, but that Higgs bosons from the future are stopping it.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 2:10 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like this theory myself.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:11 PM on October 14, 2009


The Higgs Boson's best friend is a talking pie.
posted by The World Famous at 2:13 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Remember that Karl Rove fanfic where he goes back in time to the 90s to get Monica Lewinski a job at the White House?
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 2:14 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Stylus Happenstance: The hypothesis doesn't say that people from the future are stopping it, but that Higgs bosons from the future are stopping it.

Exactly. Reverse causality on the subatomic level has been theorized and discussed for years, by people like Richard Feynman.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:14 PM on October 14, 2009


Oh, they got that plot from Futurama where Fry went back in time to become his own grandpa.
They should not publish theories that come out of a session at a party that went on way too long. Even distinguished physicists can get silly with too much alcohol and weed.

Hexatron's Wife
posted by hexatron at 2:16 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dr. Nielsen and Dr. Ninomiya have proposed a kind of test: that CERN engage in a game of chance, a “card-drawing” exercise using perhaps a random-number generator...

We should probably take it's horoscope and consult the sacred chickens as well.

Just to be safe.
posted by Avelwood at 2:18 PM on October 14, 2009


Hmm...methinks the NYTimes needs to recalibrate their joke sensors. They build the most complicated machine of all time, and when it doesn't work, they invoke as a cause mystical time-ripples caused by future imaginary particles? Maybe the LHC needs a little debugging because IT'S THE MOST COMPLICATED MACHINE EVER BUILT. Frankly, if it ever does work, perhaps we should consider that it might be because someone came back in time to help us make the blasted gadget actually work!

Or if the NYTimes does understand that this is a joke, then they ought to spell it out more carefully for a public that last year was ready to shut down the project JUST IN CASE IT ATE THE EARTH. I don't think this public has earned the right to have dry humor in its news sources.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:25 PM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Dear Higgs Bosons From The Future,

Unless I win the lottery tomorrow, I'm going to spend the rest of my life attempting to create Higgs Bosons. Sure, it's unlikely that I'll succeed, but do you really want to take that chance? I think we both know what the safe thing for you to do would be.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:25 PM on October 14, 2009 [39 favorites]


Great article. People who are making snarky jokes about time travel rather than just reading it are really missing out.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:26 PM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I like this comment on Slashdot by Bob Hearn:

by John Gribbin, (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, 105(2):120?125, Feb 1985). In that story a powerful particle accelerator seemingly fails to operate, for no good reason. Then a physicist realizes that if it were to work, it would effectively destroy the entire universe, by initiating a transition from a cosmological false vacuum state to a lower-energy vacuum state. In this story, the explanation of the failures assumes a many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. So instead of explicit backward causality, there is effective backward causality: only the branches of reality with equipment failures contain observers; therefore, observers can only experience histories with equipment failures. The effect is the same.

Of course, its ridiculous to give humans enough credit, that we could actually destroy the universe with one of our blunt machines (none of which have the subtlety of nature).
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 2:34 PM on October 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


I still can never read this as anything but "large hardon collider"
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:35 PM on October 14, 2009 [13 favorites]


People who are making snarky jokes about time travel rather than just reading it are really missing out.

I read the article and then made a snarky joke. I fail to see how reading it and also making a snarky joke results in me "really missing out." Indeed, I believe that it is you, who refuse to make a snarky joke, who are missing out. The Higgs boson has a sense of humor, sir. Perhaps you should, also.
posted by The World Famous at 2:37 PM on October 14, 2009


So, wait, was the paper meant to be tongue in cheek in its entirety, or just for that line about the US-based machine losing funding when several billion were already spent? Or was that meant to be actual evidence?

Also, if they are serious about the Higgs particle being a particle that causes bad luck in the past, good luck getting political support for turning the machine back on. There's enough people spooked that it could create a black hole that eats the Earth, although it's massively improbable. Now, we know that the machine manufactures bad luck, so guess what's way more likely to happen when it hits full steam?

In conclusion, I'd like to wrap up my layperson conjecture by saying the machine probably also started the financial crisis (which began a few months before it was switched on), and that perhaps we could reverse the polarity to fix the economy.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:38 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


See...this is why theoretical physics is the best field evar. You actually get paid to think about this stuff. And, then, you get paid more to actually investigate it!

Sure as hell beats doing ads for Bob's Mufflers all day.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:39 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


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.

Elsewhere, a pair of LOST writers read this article, looked at each other and high-fived.
posted by naju at 2:40 PM on October 14, 2009 [13 favorites]



Remember that Karl Rove fanfic where he goes back in time to the 90s to get Monica Lewinski a job at the White House?


The Eagle Has Landed
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 2:41 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dear burnmp3s,

Say a brief hello to my friend, Bob the Bolide. Too bad about your neighbors.

Yours sincerely,

Eschaton.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:42 PM on October 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


the hypothesized Higgs boson ... might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one

No no no no, the collider works out fine, it's our kids! Something's got to be done about our kids!
posted by CynicalKnight at 2:42 PM on October 14, 2009 [18 favorites]


Love the last line: As a Red Sox fan my entire adult life, I feel I know something about jinxes.
posted by zarq at 2:51 PM on October 14, 2009


Well, it is something of a fringe theory, (expect J. J. Abrams to adopt it for one of this TV shows). Given that quench accidents have happened to much lower-power accelerators, it's far more likely that human error in the design or construction of the components caused the failure than voodoo physics of a sentient particle or god. As reported, it's deeply in Alien Space Bat territory, so talking about science fiction is entirely reasonable IMO.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:51 PM on October 14, 2009


Lemme guess: the Higgs boson has an Austrian-American accent and says "your atoms: give them to me."
posted by MuffinMan at 2:52 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Future events such as these will affect you in the future
posted by panboi at 2:57 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am making a snarky joke from the future!

The part about physics being reversible makes sense. But just because you can work back from some boundary condition in the future doesn't prove anything about time travel and saying it does is asinine.
posted by no_moniker at 2:58 PM on October 14, 2009


No no no no, the collider works out fine, it's our kids! Something's got to be done about our kids!

The solution is simple. Get the particles to collide at precisely 88 miles an hour and watch the entire LHC wink out of existence.
posted by zarq at 2:58 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Has anyone considered that rather than going back in time to stop the experiment because it would destroy the universe, maybe... just maybe... the Higgs Boson is coming back in time to sabotage the experiments because he's a dick?
posted by qvantamon at 3:01 PM on October 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


I can't wait until this shows up as a joke on Big Bang Theory.
posted by bove at 3:03 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Little known fact: Heavier objects actually fall faster than lighter objects - it's just that the Higgs Boson keeps jumping on top of lighter objects to make them fall faster to throw our science off. Because he's a dick.
posted by qvantamon at 3:05 PM on October 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


If the future was serious about fucking us, they'd send back some creepy monoliths.
posted by sparkletone at 3:06 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


What, does the future LHC turn into assholes or something?
posted by crapmatic at 3:09 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true"
-
Robert Oppenheimer

Maybe Bush was better than the alternative choices?
posted by blue_beetle at 3:09 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


So... you're saying the Higgs Boson is disguised as Ralph Nader?
posted by qvantamon at 3:10 PM on October 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


by John Gribbin, (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, 105(2):120?125, Feb 1985). In that story a powerful particle accelerator seemingly fails to operate, for no good reason. Then a physicist realizes that if it were to work, it would effectively destroy the entire universe

Hold on a second here. Has no one noticed that if you rearrange the letters in "John Gribbin" you get Higgs Boson?* Is it possible that the Higgs Boson particles came back from the future to warn us with short stories in our science fiction/fact magazines and we've been ignoring them the whole time?

* Actually, "Hing Bobin Jr." is the closest I can get, but work with me here.
posted by turaho at 3:16 PM on October 14, 2009 [9 favorites]


Catch (Higgs boson) 22
posted by Cranberry at 3:20 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Didn't they already do this plot in Donnie Darko? I dunno, I might watch this one on Netflix, but I'm not going to the theater. I did like DD after all.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 3:21 PM on October 14, 2009


We let one Higgs Boson in from the future and pretty sure future people will be popping out everywhere and the next thing ya know...they're takin' our jobs!
posted by jamstigator at 3:29 PM on October 14, 2009


I can't wait until this shows up as a joke on Big Bang Theory.

It'll probably involve Sheldon and the phrase "Bazinga".
posted by quin at 3:29 PM on October 14, 2009


My google-fu is failing me right now, but didn't someone already work out that there was mathematics to prove that the energy of attraction within atoms was somehow enough to convert to mass and account for such things without the need for the Higgs Boson? I could swear that I read that sometime within the past 5 years, but I'm just not finding any articles about it at the moment.
posted by hippybear at 3:31 PM on October 14, 2009


Is The Large Hadron Collider Being Sabotaged from the Future?

I believe they mean Willan the Large Hadron Collider On-Be Sabotaged From the Future
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:31 PM on October 14, 2009 [20 favorites]


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.

I like the subtle use of the phrase "otherwise distinguished" here. I'm going to use that at my next oral argument. "Your honor, I must point out that otherwise distinguished counsel for the plaintiff has failed to mention . . . "
posted by The Bellman at 3:36 PM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


This sounds not totally unlike the plot of Timescape by Gregory Benford, in which Cambridge physicists from 1998 send a message back to 1962 via morse code in a molecular resonance experiment.
posted by biffa at 3:36 PM on October 14, 2009


I can't wait until this shows up as a joke on Big Bang Theory.

*taptaptap*
"Penny"
*taptaptap*
"Penny"
*taptaptap*
"Penny"

"What do you want, Sheldon?"

I need you to drive a vintage DeLorean so we can go forward in time and stop Wolowitz from destroying life as we know it.

"..."

"I would do it. But as you know, I can't drive."

posted by zarq at 3:37 PM on October 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


Oddly enough, I have a theory about quantum physics analogies where the simple analogies from the future ripple backwards in time to limit the amount of dumbing down of certain complex physics phenomenon for mass consumption that can be done and still have the reader gain understanding of what the hell is going on.

Seriously, this whole thing reads like a revelation about magic pixies that conspire to keep us from measuring the exact speed and location of an electron.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:38 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I for one can't wait until the machine turns on (November, if all goes well) and finally puts and end to all of this idiotic speculation and sensation-mongering in the mass media.

It's bad enough that this paper got accepted at the ArXiv, but it's simply a disaster when something like this gets picked up by a channel like the NYT and given such widespread publicity.

For a good 'insider' point of view on this subject - I suggest reading Tommaso Dorigo's excellent blog
posted by crazy_yeti at 3:41 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm only posting this as a reminder to me in the future to go back in time and make it funnier.
posted by digsrus at 3:41 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read the article and then made a snarky joke. I fail to see how reading it and also making a snarky joke results in me "really missing out." Indeed, I believe that it is you, who refuse to make a snarky joke, who are missing out. The Higgs boson has a sense of humor, sir. Perhaps you should, also.

Whoa, whoa, misunderstanding. I'm all for snarky jokes. I'm just talking about the people who are making snarky jokes about the post rather than reading the article, which is more interesting and less lulzy than they might think. Also I'm not a sir.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:43 PM on October 14, 2009


I for one can't wait until the machine turns on (November, if all goes well) and finally puts and end to all of this idiotic speculation and sensation-mongering in the mass media.

Well, that's one way to do it.
posted by darksasami at 3:43 PM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Larry Niven (author of the essay "The Theory and Practice of Time Travel") had a short story called "Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation" -- based on the name of a paper in which a time travel device was proposed. (The story is collected in Convergent Series and some multi-author anthologies.)

Anyway, there was an alien civilization that had figured out that a spinning device that was long enough as opposed to infinitely long was just as effective in creating relativistically improbable conditions such as to allow time travel decided to build one, just for kicks. The trouble was, it seemed to be caught in an improbable vicious circle of its own construction, as everything went wrong -- the company building it went bankrupt, the civilization collapsed into civil war, the nearby civ that invaded was beset by a bizarre technical problem with their spacecraft, and so forth.

Ah, CNET's Steven Shankland thinks the same thing.
posted by dhartung at 3:57 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


So basically he's saying that we keep tripping the breaker?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:00 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can't quite tell if the tone of the article is more anti-intellectual, anti-quantum physics, or anti-LHC. Maybe he's just trying to write at a proper level for his audience (it is the New York Times, after all).

The article he links to has some good stuff on modern theories of time travel (though the tone is still about the same).
posted by clorox at 4:09 PM on October 14, 2009


Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the theory that Higgs Bosons are ubiquitous throughout the universe, and that's why things have mass?

If there are bazillions of higgs bosons already in the universe, why would creating one more be so dangerous?
posted by empath at 4:19 PM on October 14, 2009


Wasn't Higgs Bosons the little British guy on Magnum PI?
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:26 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


So basically he's saying that we keep tripping the breaker?
posted by The Light Fantastic


Eponysterics aside, they are saying that we might be on the verge of creating a machine that could, in theory, change or erase things that have already happened, and we are not able to do that precisely because they have already happened, which means that nothing, including that extra Higgs boson, has come back from the future to prevent them from happening. These glitches saved the world as we know it.

It's like Nader must fuck up the Gore machine because Obama cannot be elected and save the world without eight years of Bush. We owe our existence to Ralph.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:43 PM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Maybe Bush was better than the alternative choices?

We owe our existence to Ralph.


Stop it you all, you're scaring me.
posted by Zinger at 4:58 PM on October 14, 2009


Everything's reading like comic book exclamations today. "By Hera's Knuckles!" "By Higg's Bosons!" "By Hexatron's Wife!"
posted by fleacircus at 5:04 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


It is generally assumed in science that the laws of physics are well formed and are not going to conflict with one another, or actually imply something paradoxical. If our formulations of them do, it's generally assumed that it is our formulations that are wrong. I mean it makes things far, far simpler; it's only common sense. However, seeing as physical reality has less and less to do with anything like common sense on smaller and smaller scales, this may not actually be the case.

So what if it is not the case? Well one hypothesis, inspired by the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics is that the probability of something impossible happening is going to just be inherently zero. So if you do somehow manage to create two way time travel, and set it up so that it seems like the series of events are not going to line up, are going to create a paradox, that simply has no chance of happening. So therefore the least improbable way for things to turn out that results in the situation not becoming a paradox is the most likely to happen. Even if under ordinary circumstances such events would be ridiculous and improbable.

So for a thought experiment, say you have a pool table where the pockets actually transport the balls a few seconds back in time and pop them back out onto the table. Then say you line up a shot so that it should go into a hole and pop out going in just the right direction to knock itself off course. Well that's a paradox, that shouldn't happen, and according to this hypothesis it doesn't. What does happen is that the most likely thing that can prevent it from knocking itself off course will happen almost every time. The rest of the time it will be even less likely events that do the same.

So no matter how precise and accurate your calculations or alignment, that ball is never going to knock itself off course. Something's going to happen, be it your cue breaking, the ball splitting in two, you just missing, the ball just teleporting through itself, whatever. And from the perspective of normally reality and common sense, it's going to be bizarre and spooky as hell.

Do I think that it's even remotely likely that this is what happening with the LHC? Heck no, it's a large, complex, experimental project and things will go wrong. It's expected. It's the type of things that you get superstitious about when too much seems to be going right. Now this isn't based on any sort off empirical evidence, any easily guessed probability, just on a feeling of how the universe should work. But the universe all too often doesn't work how it should. And if paradoxes are technically allowable from the laws of physics, well then this probabilistic viewpoint is probably a whole lot more sensible than many of the alternatives.

So, to paraphrase Einstein, if we knew what we were doing it wouldn't be research.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:11 PM on October 14, 2009 [14 favorites]


"... a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimy ... stuff."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:11 PM on October 14, 2009


That was possibly the worse piece of science reporting I've read on the New York Times. Incredible.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:14 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


You mean, other than their monthly journalistic wank about what evolutionary psychology has to say about our choice in footwear?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:16 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Isn't it some sort of anthropic principle + quantum suicide?

As in:
Assumption: If LHC works, the universe is destroyed. [I AM NOT MAKING ANY STATEMENT ABOUT THE TRUTHINESS OF THIS, JUST DERIVING FROM IT]

Corollaries:
If the LHC worked, probability of someone who witnessed the LHC working existing == 0.
If the LHC didn't work, probability of someone who witnessed the LHC working exisiting == 0.

Thus, LHC working or not working, there's no way someone who witnessed it working exists. This is a direct derivation from the assumption. The only question is whether it could work or not.

And then, even if you don't take the many-worlds (quantum suicide) part of the argument, talking about past probability is always bullshit. The canonical thought experiment (generally used against arguments that "life can't be random because it's a series of extremely unlikely accidents") is I give you a deck of 52 cards, tell you to shuffle it, then read them to me one by one, then say "Do you want me to believe that you obtained THAT exact sequence? Do you know how unlikely it is that THAT exact sequence will happen by chance?" It already happened, the past probability is bullshit. Same thing - if the LHC is a universe-destroying machine, there's no point in talking about the accidents being extremely unlikely - we are here, so obviously it CAN'T have worked. Period.

The quantum suicide part of the argument is not at all about the past, it's only a requirement if we want to talk about what will happen if we keep trying to fire it. The classic/Copenhagen theory says it will eventually work and destroy the universe. The many-world theory says it will eventually work lots of times and destroy lots of universes, but the "us" in the remaining universes will never know it worked, and see just increasingly more uncanny series of freak accidents (just as the random sequence of cards gets increasingly more unlikely the more cards you read)

The quantum suicide argument is actually PRO-LHC. It's basically saying that we can try to fire it as much as we want - until we get convinced of both the many-world interpretation and the universe-destruction power of the LHC. Some universes will be destroyed, but no one will be there to care.

The time-travelling part is just typical science reporting bullshit. It's like saying Earth went back in time to the moment where life started, to tell the proto-prions - "Hey, come live here instead of the core of the Sun! If you try to go live there life won't exist!"
posted by qvantamon at 5:19 PM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh and another point, the paradoxical event in question need not be a Higgs Boson--it simply has to be something that would ordinarily be so likely to be the result of attempting to run the machine at full power, that the odds as calculated of the event simply not occurring are far, far less then the chance of random and bizarre technical failures.

But, you know, random technical failures are probably the most likely thing to occur when you first crank up to full power a project of this magnitude anyway.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:21 PM on October 14, 2009


If there are bazillions of higgs bosons already in the universe, why would creating one more be so dangerous?

It's not.

Actually I read about this the other day, but this NYT article is completly absurd:
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.
First of all, why "Otherwise" distinguished? Did they lose their distinction because the NYT writer thought the idea was silly? Also, the scientists said nothing about the particle being "abhorrent to nature", in fact, scientists believe higgs bosons are integral parts of all atoms. They are just trying to separate them to see if they exist. And the scientists simply theorized that the particles would move backwards in time, rather then forwards, not that they would "stop the collider before it could make one"

Ugh.
posted by delmoi at 5:22 PM on October 14, 2009


Or hmm. Maybe I misunderstood what the papers were talking about when I about them before. If the NYT article is correct, then those scientists do sound pretty crazy. (Although I think it was more of a thought experiment type essay, rather then anything serious). I assumed they were just talking about something like the particle zipping backwards in time, so it couldn't be detected. That kind of thing.
posted by delmoi at 5:26 PM on October 14, 2009


But, as the LHC isn't the only heavy-particle slinging object in the universe, doesn't this fall under the same sort of hypothesis as the horrible gobbly black hole? With billions of more energetic interactions happening in our cosmic backyard, we have to assume that the devil is rolling billions of dice and missing, or that these collisions are not that dangerous at a macro level.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:28 PM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


So THAT's how they invented the Infinite Improbability Drive...
posted by Noon Under the Trees at 5:48 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rappin' about CERN's Large Hadron Collider
posted by Sparx at 5:49 PM on October 14, 2009


Of course, it's possible, even probable that we inhabit one of the universes that gets winked out. We will never, ever know it.
posted by Xoebe at 5:59 PM on October 14, 2009


This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the Higgs Bosons
that were in
the Collider

and which
you were probably
saving
for the Big Bang

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 6:35 PM on October 14, 2009 [14 favorites]


This is why the world of science is so deeply fucked: conventional thinking- that purposely avoids any intersection with imagination- rules the roost.

This retarded approach- often called 'skepticism' by it's sports fans- is age-old control freak bullshit and is why we can't have anything nice.

This theory might be bullshit. So what? In the world of non-anal thinkers, bullshit is Fucking Useful.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 6:38 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have eaten the Higgs Bosons

Goddammit! How can you go around eating everything in sight? Do you have a black hole in your stomach?
posted by qvantamon at 6:43 PM on October 14, 2009


Intelligent commentary about the theory itself (it's not at all about time travel) and some discussion of the PR aspect of all of this, over at Cosmic Variance
posted by secretseasons at 6:56 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


HP_Laserjet: if you really did ingest the Higgs bosons (and you're not just making some kind of joke here), then you had better read these emergency instructions...
posted by crazy_yeti at 6:57 PM on October 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


I keep losing my hadron and now I have a good excuse.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:58 PM on October 14, 2009


Secret Seasons: I think the writeup on Cosmic Variance is way too gentle. I prefer the more opinionated review by Tommaso Dorigo here
posted by crazy_yeti at 7:05 PM on October 14, 2009


"... a kind of test: that CERN engage in a game of chance, a “card-drawing” exercise using perhaps a random-number generator ..."

Such as for instance an atomic vector plotter suspended in a strong Brownian Motion producer (say, a nice hot cup of tea)?
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:06 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


A handful of philosophers mostly of Australian extraction are having a pretty entertaining and intuitive discussion on the topic here. I like one of the examples given: if this is right, then you can set up a device that will produce a Higgs boson whenever your beer rises above a comfortable level, thereby guaranteeing cold beer forever.
posted by painquale at 7:06 PM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Maybe Bush was better than the alternative choices?
Maybe... but if so, then clearly the alternative was a universe-destroying Higgs boson from the future.
posted by Flunkie at 7:14 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


crapmatic: What, does the future LHC turn into assholes or something?

It'd have to be a swutting big one.

Why yes, I have been listening to old BBC radio shows, why do you ask?
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:20 PM on October 14, 2009


The theory was greeted on some blogs with comparisons to Harry Potter

Dear science journalists,
Could we just once have a goddamn science article that doesn't mention Harry Potter?
Regards
posted by albrecht at 7:35 PM on October 14, 2009


Prepare for unforeseen consequences.
posted by EarBucket at 7:36 PM on October 14, 2009


Some will argue that the failures of the LHC prove the existence of God, but others will see it as final clinching proof of atheism. The argument goes something like this:
"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "the continued failures of the LHC are a dead giveaway, aren't they? Increasingly improbable failures, that could not have happened by chance could only be caused by a creator safeguarding their creation. Therefore the improbable failures prove you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't though of that" and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. Followed by the universe 20 minutes later when an engineer addresses the last fault and man powers the LHC up.
posted by humanfont at 7:36 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


time machine?

Who needs to smash atoms?

http://www.realitysandwich.com/half_past_human
As Cliff puts it, "Basically, the computer part doesn't matter. Humans are psychic -- they just may not know they're psychic. "


(and if my google-fu was good enough I'd have links showing how the Texas superconducting super collider is still operating as a functioning time machine *AND* toss in links about how the fire ants are time sensitive.)
posted by rough ashlar at 7:45 PM on October 14, 2009


It sure will be interesting if they never actually manage to get the LHC powered up.
posted by Mitheral at 7:50 PM on October 14, 2009


Given that quench accidents have happened to much lower-power accelerators, it's far more likely that human error in the design or construction of the components

Why subscribe to human error what could be subscribed to human greed and note how the normal way of things is the low bidder gets the job and to 'cut costs' means more money in the pockets of the contractor.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:56 PM on October 14, 2009


Last weekend the French police arrested a particle physicist who works on one of the collider experiments, on suspicion of conspiracy with a North African wing of Al Qaeda.

I must have missed this when the news first broke. You know, if there's anyone I would prefer not to have easy access to the energies which formed the universe, it's a theocratic millenarian terrorist group. You go, gendarmes.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 8:56 PM on October 14, 2009


As an expert in time travel, I would just like to...

...I've said too much.
posted by gern at 10:38 PM on October 14, 2009


Seriously, this whole thing reads like a revelation about magic pixies that conspire to keep us from measuring the exact speed and location of an electron.

The laws of physics, if they exist, are very impersonal. To me it seems the higgs destroying equipment in the past at CERN is better suggested to be a fundamental "rule" of playing with these particles, rather than some "reaction" by some deity. If particles can be entangled across space (and they most definitely can) all signs point to things moving through time in a similar way.

I found it obnoxious that the physicist quoted in the article kept referring to a male god and his involvement with the process. WTF dude? are you even a scientist? That was the only part that made it seem unbelievable to me.
posted by cbecker333 at 10:40 PM on October 14, 2009


Hans Moravec proposed creating a computer with time travelling curcuits. It's a pretty interesting concept.
The amplifier circuit is in a consistent causal loop--when first switched on, it can permanently assume either 0 or 1 without contradiction. The loop with the inverter, on the other hand, is a simple case of the classical time travel grandfather paradox, a paradoxical causal loop. An input of 1 to the inverter gives an output of 0, which is brought back in time to contradict the input. It takes some quantum mechanics to make sense of the situation, and we will have to say something about how the signals are physically represented. Most digital circuits represent signals as electrical voltages or currents in wires, which is inconvenient because electrons interact with each other and with matter in complex, hard to analyze ways. Some experimental circuits use much simpler space-crossing beams of light . Let's suppose 1 and 0 are encoded as coherent light beams of opposite phase (perfectly out of step with one another--one crests where the other has troughs). In that case a 0 that meets meets a 1, as in the inverter circuit, will simply cancel . Either alternative would have zero net probability, and the circuit (perhaps containing a charged laser, ready to emit a beam) should simply fail to turn on (ignite) at all, somewhat like a ball balanced on a knife edge that, against all odds, teeters indefinitely instead of falling to one side or the other. This is Niven's law at work in the small. The circuit finds itself perpetually in a dark fringe of an interference pattern.
posted by empath at 11:14 PM on October 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


This is why the world of science is so deeply fucked: conventional thinking- that purposely avoids any intersection with imagination- rules the roost.

That's pretty ridiculous. There's plenty of imagination in science, it's just that you can't understand it without years of math. Just like, if you've never even seen a car, you can't really imagine what it would be like take a corner at 90 miles an hour.
posted by delmoi at 2:09 AM on October 15, 2009


Their theory goes a long way to explain why it took so long for history to create the Post-It Note.

One day, clearly, the entire planet will be covered in them.
posted by markkraft at 2:56 AM on October 15, 2009


This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an “anti-miracle.”

Give me a break, the United States routinely wastes billions of dollars on failed projects that would never work, take "Star Wars" for instance.

This theory is dubious at best, the LHC fails to start once and it must be something from the future that caused it? What the hell kind of logic is that? The reporting is poor to mediocre with all sorts of fictional and non-fictional quotes cherry-picked to support the theory and its propagaters. I usually expect better from the NYT but I should know better than to expect anything resembling good science reporting from the mass media.
posted by IvoShandor at 3:41 AM on October 15, 2009


the LHC fails to start once and it must be something from the future that caused it? What the hell kind of logic is that?

Its worked for Murphy and his law.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:52 AM on October 15, 2009


Coincidentally, in 1998, John Cramer wrote a novel, Einstein's Bridge, in which the SSC (the failed predecessor of the LHC) inadvertently signals a deadly hive-mind alien civilization, and in order to stop Earth from being consumed, the protagonists, with the help of some friendlier aliens, have to go back in time and get George Bush (Sr.) and Dan Quayle elected so that the SSC project will be cancelled.

If you're going to read time-travel fiction about particle accelerators, I think Cramer's book is a much better choice than this NYT article.
posted by mmoncur at 4:58 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Give me a break, the United States routinely wastes billions of dollars on failed projects that would never work, take "Star Wars" for instance.

Isn't that being a little harsh? The first two episodes weren't that bad.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 5:50 AM on October 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


This theory is dubious at best, the LHC fails to start once and it must be something from the future that caused it? What the hell kind of logic is that?
I don't think that you'll be able to find anyone who doesn't think that the idea is dubious; not even the two physicists who proposed it.

As for "what the hell kind of logic is that", not the kind of logic that the physicists proposed. They didn't even come close to saying "it must be something from the future that caused it". They said that it's possible that it is, and moreover they proposed a (theoretically) repeatable experiment that would test the proposition.
posted by Flunkie at 6:20 AM on October 15, 2009


It's bad enough that this paper got accepted at the ArXiv

ArXiv is not peer reviewed, it's just an archive of papers. I think you can find all sorts of nutball stuff that's been uploaded there.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:25 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Flunkie: As I read it, or at least read the abundant commentary, their experimental protocol appears to be non-falsifiable. Perhaps the probability of their card trick would be affected, perhaps not if this effect is so broad as to include congressional action. Perhaps they have a good point regarding the calculation of quantum improbability, non-local effects, and imaginary numbers and choose to use a highly misleading and easily misinterpreted metaphor ala Schrodinger's Cat.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:29 AM on October 15, 2009


Ok, so help me here: can the LHC or the Higgs boson help me pass my history exam or not?

Because Alaska, dude.
posted by zap rowsdower at 7:45 AM on October 15, 2009


This is sort of how I'm hearing this right now (think the adult voice on any Peanuts special):

science science science science science Universe in Peril! Political jokes! science science science science NYT sucks science science science....

Liberal arts grad here. Can some explain these fine particles for me? From reading the Wikipedia entry, what I'm understanding is that the Higgs boson is a giant particle that is not made up of any smaller particles -- so it's what, like a big bubble? And if we manage to hunt down the wily Higgs boson, we'll know why things in the universe have mass? Is that it? So if we find it, can we then do things with the existence, nonexistence or transportation of mass? Say, teleportation?

Am I reading too much into this? Why are we after the Higgs boson other than "hey! look! we found it!"?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:56 AM on October 15, 2009


I don't see why this theory is getting so much criticism. Admittedly, the Times article isn't written very well, and as secretseasons has pointed out, the article at Comsic Variance is substantially more scientific about this whole idea.

However, it seems to me that people are scoffing at this idea simply because of the unconventionality of it. The entirety of quantum mechanics deals with topics like this; in terms of absurdity, this idea is nothing new, and even if it were, it wouldn't be grounds to reject it. That's the way science works: propose a hypothesis, propose a way to prove or disprove it, conduct the experiment. So far, the only two things that have happened are the first two steps. Until the experiment is conducted, we have no reason to believe or disbelieve the hypothesis.
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 8:35 AM on October 15, 2009



ArXiv is not peer reviewed, it's just an archive of papers. I think you can find all sorts of nutball stuff that's been uploaded there.

Rhomboid - it's not exactly peer-reviewed, but ArXiv is managed, and people do get banned from uploading papers, if they upload sufficient garbage to get themselves onto the blacklist.
posted by crazy_yeti at 8:43 AM on October 15, 2009


bitter-girl.com: Why are we after the Higgs boson other than "hey! look! we found it!"?

Pretty much "look! we found it!. Teleportation and massless transportation is probably out of the question. Our understanding of the Higgs might produce insights that allow us to understand cosmology a bit better, but that's about it.

fiz*zy: But as far as I can tell, there is no way to falsify the hypothesis, making it pseudoscientific. The card trick proposed would simply falsify that there is an effect on a card deck, not the effect as a whole.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:00 AM on October 15, 2009


Why are we after the Higgs boson other than "hey! look! we found it!"?

Interactions with the Higgs boson are thought to be what gives matter its mass. It's the only fundamental particle that has not been directly detected. Detection of the Higgs boson would be experimental confirmation of a fundamental prediction of a rather fundamental physical theory. There are also some properties of the Higgs boson that we don't really know directly from theory. A non-detection would actually be a bigger deal, because the Standard Model all but guarantees that Higgs bosons will be created by LHC.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:40 AM on October 15, 2009


Thank you, KirkJobSluder and dirigibleman! Makes more sense now...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:47 AM on October 15, 2009


This is now a pretty ancient thread, but I thought I'd pop in to point out that Zalzidrax's pool table thought experiment is actually a pretty classical one, and it has an unexpectedly simple solution which makes the Novikov self-consistency conjecture seem fairly plausible:

"the ball is fired into a wormhole at an angle such that, if it continues along that path, it will exit the wormhole in the past at just the right angle to collide with its earlier self, thereby knocking it off course and preventing it from entering the wormhole in the first place. Thorne deemed this problem "Polchinski's paradox".

After considering the problem, two students at Caltech (where Thorne taught), Fernando Echeverria and Gunnar Klinkhammer, were able to find a solution beginning with the original billiard ball trajectory proposed by Polchinski which managed to avoid any inconsistencies. In this situation, the billiard ball emerges from the future at a different angle than the one used to generate the paradox, and delivers its younger self a glancing blow instead of knocking it completely away from the wormhole, a blow which changes its trajectory in just the right way so that it will travel back in time with the angle required to deliver its younger self this glancing blow. Echeverria and Klinkhammer actually found that there was more than one self-consistent solution, with slightly different angles for the glancing blow in each case. Later analysis by Thorne and Robert Forward showed that for certain initial trajectories of the billiard ball, there could actually be an infinite number of self-consistent solutions."
posted by roystgnr at 11:20 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are a couple of reasons why this seems like a crackpot theory, at least from this armchair physicist.

First, if indeed the effects of the Higgs tweaks probability to prevent the circumstances that lead to its creation, then the most obvious place to look for this effect would be in the results of the collisions themselves, which are already probabilistic. High-energy physics isn't like playing pool. You throw a whole bunch of particles of indeterminate position and momentum, at a whole bunch of other particles of indeterminate position and momentum, and hope that enough rolls of the dice will deliver enough evidence of the kinds of interactions you are looking for. If the probability function goes back in time to prevent the creation of a Higgs, then it only needs to go a few nanoseconds to do so.

The second sign of a crackpot theory is when physical effects are proposed for radically different macro-level phenomena. In this case, the Higgs effect would influence congressmen, the function of the cooling system of a superconducting magnet, and a deck of cards. The defunding of a "big science" project was quite probable given the climate in which it happened, mechanical systems are vulnerable to manufacturing and design errors, and any stage magician can tell you that card shuffles are only rhetorically random. With no more justification of mechanism for such disparate phenomena than mere manipulation of probabilities, this starts to sound suspiciously like astrology.

The third issue is that the argument seems to use concepts like "non-local" and "probability" in ways that are pretty far removed from how they are used in physics. It's one thing to say that the Higgs has non-local quantum effects on space-time. That is one of the funny things about gravity after all. It's another to say that congressional votes are non-local quantum effects. I also really don't think that quantum physics and social sciences really say the same thing when they use probabilistic models. When fivethirtyeight makes probabilistic election predictions, the uncertainty is based on sampling error. When quantum physicists talk about the wave function of an atom, they are talking about a physical property that's apparent under a variety of situations.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:41 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't do it.
posted by The Whelk at 12:59 PM on October 15, 2009


And in other physics wierdness...



A theoretical design for a table-top black hole to trap light was proposed in a paper published earlier this year by Evgenii Narimanov and Alexander Kildishev of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Their idea was to mimic the properties of a cosmological black hole, whose intense gravity bends the surrounding space-time, causing any nearby matter or radiation to follow the warped space-time and spiral inwards.

posted by rough ashlar at 5:21 PM on October 15, 2009


Flunkie: As I read it, or at least read the abundant commentary, their experimental protocol appears to be non-falsifiable. Perhaps the probability of their card trick would be affected, perhaps not if this effect is so broad as to include congressional action. Perhaps they have a good point regarding the calculation of quantum improbability, non-local effects, and imaginary numbers and choose to use a highly misleading and easily misinterpreted metaphor ala Schrodinger's Cat.
Their theory is easily falsifiable (assuming it is false). I predict it will be falsified soon. Get LHC up and running at full steam.

Their proposed experiment, which is in theory repeatable an unlimited number of times, is, on the other hand, potentially able to give probabilistic supporting data, in the case that the theory is correct. The more often that somebody builds an LHC-like device, pulls a spade out of a huge deck of clubs, and therefore doesn't run the LHC-like device, without anyone ever having pulled a club for any LHC-like device, the more data we have to back the theory.

I think that what you're saying -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- is that just because their theory is true wouldn't imply that their experiment would work. Perhaps, for example, they'll draw a club, and therefore try to run LHC at full steam, and LHC would explode before it could fulfill its purpose (due to their theory being correct).

That's true, of course, but it does not imply that their theory is not falsifiable (again, I predict it will soon be falsified), nor does it imply that there is no potential worth to the experiment that they proposed.
posted by Flunkie at 5:31 PM on October 15, 2009


Their million-card-draw experiment is not an experiment aimed at falsification, but at vindication. If we draw the one card from a million, that would vindicate their theory. If we didn't, it wouldn't falsify it; the project might still run out of funding or all the members could get arrested or whatever.

I wonder how many scientists would have to be killed in Final-Destination-type accidents before people finally accept this theory? I'm putting my bar at three. Three more crazy coincidences and I'll start believing in history trajectories weighted by complex actions.
posted by painquale at 8:52 PM on October 15, 2009


As long as we don't anthropomorphize the effects of the Higgs Boson - that is, it's not an "intentional" effect, it's just a mindless result of physics - I think it's a very interesting theory.

The thought struck me that this addresses the time travel paradox. Perhaps time travel is possible - but that time travel with paradox is not. You can go back in time and have a beer with your grandpa. You could even introduce him to your grandmother. But you can't kill him. If you tried, you'd fail. You'd get hit by a bus, your gun would jam, he'd kill you first.

You simply can't exist in a universe where your grandpa died before your parent was born. Therefore, no you: no you killing grandpa.
posted by Xoebe at 10:12 AM on October 16, 2009


Flunkie: But then you get into the same sort of problem as astrology and psychic phenomena. When claims are "falsified" in rigorous experimental tests, its advocates argue that experimental protocol was too blunt of an instrument to determine it.

For a theory to be falsifiable, it must offer a limited range of predictions. If the theory is so broad as to encompass a magnet quench and a congressional vote, then there are few practical bounds on the kinds of predictions we can make.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:23 AM on October 16, 2009


In BBC News today.
posted by Xoebe at 2:08 PM on October 16, 2009


"The thought struck me that this addresses the time travel paradox. Perhaps time travel is possible - but that time travel with paradox is not. You can go back in time and have a beer with your grandpa. You could even introduce him to your grandmother. But you can't kill him. If you tried, you'd fail. You'd get hit by a bus, your gun would jam, he'd kill you first.

You simply can't exist in a universe where your grandpa died before your parent was born. Therefore, no you: no you killing grandpa."

That would also explain why we haven't seen any time traveling tourists. No chrononauts have ever announced their presence in history, therefore they can't reveal themselves to us. Circular reasoning as destiny. ;-)
posted by Kevin Street at 2:45 PM on October 16, 2009


I wonder how many scientists would have to be killed in Final-Destination-type accidents before people finally accept this theory?

We also live in a universe where my having frisky candlelit buttsecks with Megan Fox is similarily threatening to the very fabric of space-time. Therefore, I predict an endless series of "co-incidental diversions" will ensure this otherwise logical and seemingly inevitable union never happens.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:12 PM on October 16, 2009


For a theory to be falsifiable, it must offer a limited range of predictions. If the theory is so broad as to encompass a magnet quench and a congressional vote, then there are few practical bounds on the kinds of predictions we can make.
With all due respect, I think you're missing the point.

Again, this theory is falsifiable. Get LHC up and running and make a naked Higgs boson. Poof, the theory has been falsified.

You're objecting that the proposed "draw a card" test isn't testing a falsifiable condition. That's fundamentally different; you're conflating two different things. It's not the point of that test. That test is not intended to prove or disprove anything; it's intended to be a possible way to collect data.

This is totally different than the astrology and such that you bring up. No one's going to be "arguing that the experimental protocol was too blunt of an instrument to determine it" when LHC makes a Higgs. And on the flip side, everyone's going to be curious after five straight LHC-like devices are shut down because each time, one club was drawn out of a deck of ten thousand spades.

They've got a falsifiable theory and a suggestion for a possible way to collect data. They're not going to be arguing their theory is correct after LHC makes a Higgs. This is similar to astrology how?
posted by Flunkie at 2:39 PM on October 17, 2009


On a different note. Just speculatin' here.

Perhaps the universe, or it's timelines/parallel universes are deterministic. Our universe happens to be one that survives it's attempts to encounter the Higgs Boson. It will always survive this, because it's deterministic - backwards and forwards.

Scientists will keep looking for the Higgs Boson. Building ever larger and better instruments - but they never encounter it. They conclude - perhaps wrongly - that it doesn't exist at all.

They could be correct though, from a certain point of view. All the universes that do encounter the HB are destroyed. Therefore it does not exist in any universe*, because it cannot both exist and not exist.

*for any meaningful period of time. This begs the question of what is existence, if the time something exists is infinitesimally small.

Didn't someone mention Plato's Cave earlier in the thread? That reminds me of the idea that our universe is a holographic reflection of real reality. The Higgs Boson perhaps could exist in that universe? But we can only speculate, because the HB "casts its own light" - destroying the shadow on the wall of the cave. It doesn't destroy reality...it destroys our own reality.
posted by Xoebe at 12:34 PM on October 18, 2009


Note - the ArXiv has re-classified this paper (a pretty uncommon occurence) from hep-th (high-energy physics, theory) to gen-ph (general physics) which is where all the "worthless"
papers get classified. Probably doesn't mean much to the NYT readership, but this is significant to the readers of the ArXiv.
posted by crazy_yeti at 9:08 AM on October 20, 2009


Flunkie: Again, this theory is falsifiable. Get LHC up and running and make a naked Higgs boson. Poof, the theory has been falsified.

But the wording of the article doesn't make that clear when it talks about concentrations of Higgs bosons. So a single Higgs wouldn't falsify the theory either.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:18 AM on October 20, 2009


Odin's Beard! This post itself will be sabotaged by a better one from the future!
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:57 PM on October 20, 2009


Good thing I'm not a mod, I'd have a hella of a time not unposting this thread right now.
posted by Mitheral at 3:46 PM on October 20, 2009


Baguette Dropped From Bird's Beak Shuts Down The Large Hadron Collider.
posted by EarBucket at 12:27 PM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


My bad.
posted by Higgs Boson at 4:10 PM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


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