A Philosopher's Blog

The Future Strikes Back?

Posted in Metaphysics, Science by Michael LaBossiere on October 31, 2009
This map showing the location of the Large Had...
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While watching the Colbert Report, I learned that two physicists have put forth the theory that the hypothetical Higgs boson particle might be so abhorrent to nature that creating it would cause a temporal backlash that would prevent such a vile spawning. This was put forth as an explanation why the Large Hadron Collider suffered a mechanical failure that put it out of operation for about a year.

Interestingly enough, these two physicists are well established in the field. They are Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan.

They have written papers on the topic such as “Test of Effect From Future in Large Hadron Collider: a Proposal” and “Search for Future Influence From LHC,” Of course, the idea that time is not a one way street is nothing new and some physicists claim that such time events are quite possible. Obviously enough, the idea that the discovery of an abhorrent particle would cause such a backlash is something new (at least outside of science fiction).

Interestingly enough, Nielsen predicts that all machines intended to produce the Higgs boson will suffer from bad luck.  He even asserted that “well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God” and “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.” This prediction provides an empirical way to test their claim. After all, if all machines intended to do this suffer from “bad luck” at a rate that differs in a statistically significant manner from the norm, then there would be grounds to suspect that there is some unusual causal factor at work. Of course, “bad luck” would need to be properly defined and a proper baseline would need to be set for determining what would be a statistically significant deviation.

In terms of the evidence for this claim, the Hadron machine suffered that rather serious failure and the United States Superconducting Supercollider (also intended to search for the Higgs boson) was canceled in 1993 after a fortune had been spent on it. More recently, a scientist who works on a collider experiment was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy with Al Qaeda.

Of course, it is rather common for things to go wrong with large projects and large machines and these failures can be explained without some sort of odd temporal backlash. For example, human attempts at space exploration have been marked with some very serious disasters, yet these can all be explained in perfectly mundane ways. Likewise, the problem with the Hadron seems to be explainable in mundane terms and there seems to be no compelling reason yet to go beyond the mundane.

Naturally enough, if all machines intended to to produce the Higgs boson fail, then there would be good grounds for believing a causal factor is in play that is well worth considering. However, the notion that there is some sort of temporal backlash would be but one possible explanation and the mere repeated failures of such machines would not conclusively show that this specific hypothesis is correct. After all, alternative explanations could be given. To use a science fiction one, perhaps benevolent aliens are sabotaging such projects because they know that producing a Higgs boson would destroy the world. Or perhaps the aliens are doing it to keep us from advancing. Or any other of a number of odd explanations.

Of course, sitting around and waiting for more failures will take time. So, Dr. Nielsen and Dr. Ninomiya have suggested a test that can be conducted now. This is, oddly enough, a luck test in which the folks at CERN would play a game of chance to check for bad luck radiating back from the future. They claim that if the outcome of the game was adequately unlikely, then this would indicate that machine would not work or, if it did work, not function well enough to produce the Higgs boson.

Obviously enough, luck and bad luck are not exactly scientific concepts. However, they could no doubt be properly defined in terms of statistics (something I have written on elsewhere). In this case, bad luck would be negative events happening that consistently exceed what would be statistically expected.

However, even if “bad luck” is properly defined, there is the obvious question of whether this bad luck affects anything related to the collider or just the operation of the collider. To be specific, it seems reasonable to wonder whether the alleged bad luck would affect such a game of chance. Suppose, for example, people decided to play Monopoly on the site-would everyone roll really badly? Or would people lose at cards if they happened to be thinking about making a Higgs boson detecting machine? It is, of course, not clear how all this would work. Finally, even if the game went badly, there is still a probability that things can happen against probability (that is, the possible is still possible even it is incredibly unlikely).

When I first heard of this hypothesis, I assumed that it was a clever joke. After all, it seemed to involve attributing to nature a purpose that smacks of Aristotelian teleology-something that has been out of fashion in science since the Renaissance. At the very least it does propose some sort of intent and seeming intelligence to the universe-that it takes action against certain events and has the capability to target specific things like magnets and also to influence human decision making. I suppose that a suitable tale could be told trying to show how nature could do all this with no real purpose or intent-perhaps by drawing an analogy to how a body’s immune system destroys invading disease agents without any conscious intent. Of course, in this case nature is said to be ridding itself of a contaminate before it even exists, which is a heck of a trick.

I’m still sort of waiting for these two clever fellows to say “just kidding.” But, I’ve seen enough bizarre stuff in philosophy and science to suspect that this is no joke at all.

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  1. biomass2 said, on October 31, 2009 at 8:47 am

    As I was reading paragraphs 5,6,7. . .I’m certain I heard strange noises emanating from my refrigerator compressor; the hairs on my forearms stood on end; my forehead felt clammy.

    I think I’ll have a technician check the fridge. I’ve been putting off shaving my forearms for weeks. . . .And there’s a clam around here that I’ve got some unsettled business with.

    Trick or treat!

  2. T. J. Babson said, on October 31, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Personally, I blame the Pauli Effect.


  3. magus71 said, on October 31, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Sometime in 2010, the space shuttle program will have commenced 134 launches. Assuming no more shuttles are destroyed, that means that a shuttle blows up every 67 launches.

    Imagine if people got into fatal car accidents at this rate…

  4. Jacob R. M. said, on October 31, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    In another fit of bad luck, the millionaire man who bought the unfinished Texas Super Collider and was preparing it to become the worlds largest data center, slipped on a spot of ice, cracked his head open and died.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 1, 2009 at 12:36 pm

      After doing some research, I found that the future is the enemy of all of us, not just the collider. Did you know that in the future, everyone who is alive today will be dead? We must fight the future before it kills us all! Just say “no” to time. :)

  5. kernunos said, on November 2, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Well, there is another difference from science fiction. If one of the designers of the collider put forth a theory of a ‘backlash’ then they could be considered a mad scientist for going forward and a very nice book plot develops.

  6. Stephanie said, on November 5, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    I can’t decide if I find the situation surrounding the Hadron Collider interesting or terrifying. This video shows some interesting points of views on the collider, and also shows how the director of the whole project addresses the rumor that this is going to bring about the end of the world. http://www.newsy.com/videos/collider_experiment_part_two

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2009 at 1:25 pm

      I’m going with interesting. According to my physicist friends, it can’t actually do anything really dangerous. Even if, for example, it did create a black hole it would be so tiny that it would do nothing significant. While an artificial blackhole could be an impressive weapon, it would require incredible amounts of energy to create way-far beyond what the Hadron has available.

      Of course, things can always go wrong in unexpected ways…

      • kernunos said, on November 5, 2009 at 5:58 pm

        Do you surmise there were plenty of physicists in the mid 40’s that were saying similar things about the atomic bomb? Physicist talking with philosopher buddy in the 40’s-” There is no possible way that much power will come from such a small mass of Uranium.”

        Philosopher-” Wow! That’s great. I’m only interested now and not concerned.”

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 6, 2009 at 10:55 am

          Well, the bomb is based on known physics: that much energy can come out of uranium. In the case of the Hadron, where would the energy to create a black hole come from?

          • kernunos said, on November 6, 2009 at 4:36 pm

            Yeah, after the fact it is pretty obvious isn’t it Mike? I was talking about the past when those physics involved in fission was experimental and theory.

  7. T. J. Babson said, on November 6, 2009 at 8:23 am

    You can’t make this stuff up:


    Baguette Dropped From Bird’s Beak Shuts Down The Large Hadron Collider (Really)

    The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, just cannot catch a break. First, a coolant leak destroyed some of the magnets that guide the energy beam. Then LHC officials postponed the restart of the machine to add additional safety features. Now, a bird dropping a piece of bread on a section of the accelerator has, according to the Register, shut down the whole operation.

    • biomass2 said, on November 6, 2009 at 9:25 am

      I’d love me a baguette right now.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 6, 2009 at 11:00 am

      That serves them right from having baguettes. Next, a squirrel will drop a latte into it.

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