Monday, September 15, 2008

I've Got Your Signs of the Apocalypse Right Here! (Part Two)

And by draft I mean that the Large Hadron particle Collider is up and running! (Sound the bugles!) Yes, finally, after years of development, the 8-billion dollar, 17-mile long particle accelerator buried deep beneath the French-Swiss border has been turned on, and is about to start slamming protons into each other like tiny subatomic bumper cars, if those bumper cars could reach speeds of 99% that of light and then shatter into even smaller, never-before-seen kinds of bumber cars upon collision. I am stoked.

Why, you ask? Well, other than the fact that the LHC could begin to answer some of the galaxy's most perplexing questions, questions like, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Well, then maybe it's because I take a kind of perverse joy in seeing people flip their lids over the possibility that the LHC might inadvertently destroy All-That-There-Is by creating a black hole that will devour first the Earth and then the solar system and then the entire Milky Way (nom-nom-nom).

For example, check out this article from last week on DailyTech.com. (Footnote: Why is an article "in" a magazine but "on" a website?) It turns out that some people are so absolutely terrified by the possibility of the end of all existence that they're actually sending death threats to the scientists in charge of the LHC demanding that they take the collider off line. Of course, the mad scientists will have none of this pish-posh, as the article says:

According to Professor Brian Cox of Manchester University, the public animosity is so severe that American Nobel prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has received death threats. Professor Cox, typically sedate, adds irritatingly, "Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a t---. "


I really would like to know what Dr. Cox meant by "t---". I'm guessing, since he's from Manchester, that it was "twat." However, I am not ruling out "teet," nor the possibility that DailyTech.com is really PG and he said "twit."

But here's what really interests me about this situation: The fact is that the physicists cannot say that there is a zero percent chance that they'll create an Earth-eating black hole because there isn't. In fact, there is a (roughly) one in ten-to-the-thirty-first-power chance that they will cause such a space vacuum. That's a 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 chance for the end of all existence. But those are really pretty good odds, especially when you consider that the Earth has only existed for roughly 16,425,000,000,000,000 days, so that even if the scientists had conducted one particle collision per day for the past 4.5 billion years, they would only have a (roughly) 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000 chance of destroying the world. (i.e., one in one-thousand trillion, if my math is right.) Of course, these statistics only apply if you believe in evolution. (And FYI, they're planning on doing at most two experiments per day.)

But we human beings can't comprehend those kind of numbers in our tiny (monkey) brains. So all we hear is when the physicists say "1 in 10 to the 31st", is "not 0." And when he hear that - or when we hear that there is any kind of mathematical chance for destruction - we think of that chance as a kind of a flip of a cosmic coin, or, at best, the roll of divine dice. And so we freak out because when we hear the true statement from the scientists that, "We could destroy the Earth," we can only understand that word "could" in terms of, say, "Human activity could be the cause of global warming," or, "A black man could become the President of the United States," or even, "The Cubs could win the World Series."

And that possibility terrifies us all.

Post-Script: I really like this scene.

2 comments:

jesse K said...

My first thought was t--- might be turd!

jim v. said...

Oh that draft....

I thought you where gonna talk about the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.

I like a little chaos in one's life and I too like that Dark Knight clip. Better yet is the chaos of people running up and down the aisle during the movie.

Here's a little example of how to get a handle on really big numbers. If you where to count out one dollar every second you would have $100 in less than two minute. $1000 (Thousand) in 16 minutes. $1 Million in 11 days, $10 Million in 110 days, $100 Million in 3.1 years and $1 Billion Dollars in 31.7 years. And the Grand Daddy.... 1 Trillion Dollars would take 31.7 thousand years.

So if we started paying off our national debt at $1 / second, it would take 307.5 thousand years. And from what I can tell, that does not include the Wall Street bail out.

Maybe would should root for the super collider to put an end to all this chaos.