Media

They Say You Can't Fight the Future, But Maybe It Can Fight You?

|


Whatever the science editors at the New York Ti

GREATSCOTT!

mes were on when they published this story, I want some. In what's definitely the weirdest Times story I've read this week, it seems that two noted physicists are floating the theory that problems with the Large Hadron Collider, the world's biggest atom smasher, area result of sabotage by unknown forces… from the future. Great Scott!

There's little explanation as to how this might be happening, but the idea's originators do have an idea why: The LHC was designed to allow scientists to produce a particle called a Higgs boson, which some have theorized might result in serious calamity, like, for example, the end of the world. Nature, the two scientists suggest, is not willing to let that happen.

No, I am not making this up. From the NYT:

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.

…According to the so-called Standard Model that rules almost all physics, the Higgs is responsible for imbuing other elementary particles with mass.

"It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck," Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, "Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God." It is their guess, he went on, "that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them."

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."

Wouldn't this mean we're in one of those time-travel paradoxes, like in the third Harry Potter movie, or every other episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Maybe not! Instead, it would be more like the first Back to the Future, in which Marty McFly has to travel back in time and ensure that his parents get together so that he will eventually be born.

While it is a paradox to go back in time and kill your grandfather, physicists agree there is no paradox if you go back in time and save him from being hit by a bus. In the case of the Higgs and the collider, it is as if something is going back in time to keep the universe from being hit by a bus. Although just why the Higgs would be a catastrophe is not clear. If we knew, presumably, we wouldn't be trying to make one.

The cheap crack here would be to ask why the future couldn't come back and sabotage health-care reform instead (or maybe it is!). Instead, however, I'll leave you with what's sure to be the most important question for libertarians: What might this mean for the singularity?

Previously at Reason, Ron Bailey asked whether European physicists might destroy the world (short answer: so far, no).

UPDATE: A colleague reminds me of this helpful web application, which determines whether or not the LHC has destroyed the world yet. Sometimes I really have no idea how anyone did anything before the Internet.