A physicist at the world’s biggest scientific experiment – the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva – is speculating that the failure of the collider soon after it was switched on in September was caused by intervention from the future to stop the experiment happening.
While the speculation, by CERN-based Harvard physicist Kevin Black, is partly tongue-in-cheek, he is raising a serious issue.
The $US 10 billion LHC is a massive particle accelerator that is designed to fire tiny parts of atoms at each other to explosively but on a tiny (quantum) scale recreate the very moments after the Big Bang that began our present universe.
When turned on in September, its first trials firing protons one way round the 27-kilometre tunnel at the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) laboratory beneath the Swiss city of Geneva worked well, but after a few days of trials, a helium leak shut the collider down, with repairs now expected to take till the middle of 2009.
According to Kevin Black, who is one of the thousands of scientists working on the project, it is possible that the shutdown was caused by interference from the future attempting to shut down an experiment that should not go ahead.
Don’t laugh. As I wrote in an article in May, time travel is possible (however unlikely) under Einstein’s theories of relativity. However, according to those theories, time travellers from the future would not be able to visit us until the creation of the first time machine, which theoretically the LHC is.
This is why, according to the theory, time travellers have not appeared among us yet. But the September trial firing-up of the LHC may have been the moment that would theoretically have allowed a visit from our future.
You can read all of Kevin Black’s speculation here and given its complexity I won’t go into the details, but in brief, and quoting other research he was initially sceptical of, he suggests that the expected creation by the LHC of the fabled Higg’s Boson might have created the possibility of Higg’s Bosons from the future coming back to 2008 to stop the creation of multiple Higg’s Bosons upsetting the universe by being created by the LHC. Whew!
This is the ultimate time travel paradox. If you could go back in time and while doing so killed your grandfather, you would cease to exist because you would not be capable of being born. Could the Higgs kill the Higgs by coming back in time to stop its beginning?
Current standard physics theory teaches that the Higgs Boson is the most fundamental particle of matter and is what gives atoms mass and gravity. But its existence is totally theoretical.
The LHC experiment will prove whether or not the Higgs exists. What Kevin Black is postulating is that the Higgs may exist, but has come to us from the future to stop us finding it, for reasons best known to itself.
If true, this would be an astonishing discovery.
Of course, finding the Higgs is far from the only reason for the LHC. The atom-smashing it is designed to do will almost certainly create anti-matter and discover why there seems to be no anti-matter in the visible universe, even though it must have been created in abundance at the Big Bang. It’s possible the experiment will create mini-black holes (which the scientists say cannot possibly swallow the Earth as they will be too small). And find new dimensions and parallel universes. And allow time travel. And much more.
Truly is the LHC project the greatest scientific experiment in all of human history, and how fantastic it is to be alive to experience it.
- I have long meant to add this link to the fabulous YouTube clip Large Hadron Rap by CERN publicist Katherine McAlpine (Alpine Kat). Not only is it fun to watch, she explains lyrically and simply how the LHC works.
Footnote: A “hadron” is a technical term for a tiny particle of an atom. A proton is one such particle, and the LHC is designed to fire protons round the tunnel, to see what happens when they collide with each other or atoms of a heavy material such as lead.
It's me again. Alpine Kat (aka Katherine McAlpine, science writer) explains the LHC in rhyme here.
If you're more technically minded and like listening to people riff on particle physics, check out this explanation of 'why we need the LHC.'