Sunday, 18 September 2011

Three Wassails for the Archdruid

Archdruid Eileen does it again:

An interesting and, I think, enlightening comment from Jeremy Hardy on this week's news quiz (this link will expire on 23 September).

Regarding the total failure of the Large Hadron Collider to find any Higgs Bosons (my theory being that it's a bit too small for them to see) Jeremy Hardy remarks that it's this kind of thing which causes a higher proportion of physicists to believe in God and therefore incidentally makes physics not a "real science". After all, he remarks, we know chemistry works because we've got Boots. Although I suspect he's ignoring the existence of the Boots homoeopathic range.   But Jeremy Hardy rightly points out that physicists eventually have that end point in their research. At the Big Bang - or even if they work out what was before it - at the Higgs Boson - or anything smaller - or whatever they decide may exist instead of it to give us all mass - at some point they're going to have to shrug their shoulders and say "maybe God did it." Maybe not Brian Cox, of course - who seems to believe in analternative higher being. And that has certainly been my experience.

The proper scientists  I've known - physicists, theoretical chemists, even biochemists - seemed to have average or even above-average levels of religious belief. Not fundie 6-day-creation religion, because by definition these people can think clearly. But they certainly often have faith. Whereas the soft-scientists and almost-scientists - zoologists, economists, computer scientists - they don't. And I suspect it comes down to your priorities. Physicists and theoretical chemists are interested in truth and facts and mad stuff like that. Whereas zoologists are into fluffy bunnies, economists think human beings can actually control this world in some meaningful way and computer scientists just got into it because they thought it was a way to meet girls.

If the particle physicists have really spent about £3Bn of our money - that's 3-followed-by-11-zeroes pence, as Brian Cox would tell us - in an attempt to find something that doesn't exist, that's got to be an act of faith that outstrips the Oxford Martyrs, Christopher Columbus trying to find the Indies by sailing west, and even people tuning into Big Brother thinking it might be better this year. And what a waste of money - grief, £3Bn could have bailed Greece out for nearly a fortnight. But maybe, as Prof Brian would tell us, the basket-case Euro-zone countries will always be with us. Whereas the Large Hadron Collider will be quietly re-opened as a fairground ride in two years' time, and we'll forget what it was ever meant to be for.


William Young said...

Dear Father, I do not quite agree with your negative take on the hadron collider, but perhaps I can make you feel better about its cost. The "billion" they use these days is really only a thousand million. The true billion is a million million, but revolutionary France and the nascent USA started the rot and used the word billion for what the Germans call Milliard and we call a thousand million. So three billion spent on the collider is only three thousand million not three million million. Interestingly, the current use of trillion is therefore only really a true billion. A thousand billion would of course be a billiard! I wonder what sort of billiards Greece thought it was playing?

Archdruid Eileen said...

William - I suspect you'll find it was the kind of billiards where you find your economy cannoning off a banking crisis and into a black hole. With no net in the pocket.

Part-time Pilgrim said...

To a physicist NOT finding what you expect is more exciting than actually finding it because it means the generally accepted theories are wrong.

jangojingo said...

The pursuit of scientific knowledge has an economic cost. This cost is not about narrowly-defined human needs. I would hope it is an exercise of human responsibility.

I am one of those who think this cost is intrinsically oriented towards the promotion of the common good.

Archdruid Eileen said...

Part-time Pilgrim - you're right, when it's a generally-accepted theory - of course you're right. A physicist disproving a widely-believed theory, after being burnt as a heretic, will be revered as a saint. And, in order to get a few billion of my own, I'm going to propose that, if you can only isolate them in sufficient quantities, positrons taste of strawberries. I won't be doing the tasting myself, of course.