Large Hadron Collider and Human Curiosity

When I came across people who questioned the utility of Large Hadron Collider experiment, of investing 8 billion dollars in it and of humans trying to control Nature by being curious, I was inspired to research on the topic and to write a post on my blog expressing my view. I remember in school, the first chapter in science textbook was about scientific method and various steps in it, namely, Ask a Question, Do Background Research, Construct a Hypothesis, Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment, Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion and Communicate Your Results. Science doesn’t work like instant noodles. Many researches are carried out without knowing what is one looking for and along the way a new discovery is made. But in today’s world which demands instant results of its efforts, many people are asking “How’s the view from the top?” whereas the scientists at CERN have just started climbing the stairs. I quote someone’s reply in a forum discussing the same topic.

Science does not work as in the movies. In our time and age scientists can’t just come up with something new and suddenly revolutionize our whole understanding of the universe. We move forward by uncovering small pieces of information about stuff so trivial it might seem like a complete waste of time, but when these observations accumulate we will by time suddenly find ourself possessing knowledge which allow us to do things we couldn’t even have imagined when we started. A complete Standard Model (which the LHC will help create) would bring us that much closer to achieving the Theory of everything. For example the world wide web was invented in CERN in 1989. At the time it was only a way for scientists to access documents from different computers around the world but we all know what it has evolved into today.

Prof. Brian Cox of CERN cites a very good example of Quantum mechanics when asked about application of the Big Bang experiment in daily life.

Quantum mechanics was developed to maturity as a theory during the 1920s and by 1947 we had the first transistor. It is often said, I think with some justification, that it is extremely unlikely that transistors could have been developed without the quantum theory. Perhaps we are on the verge of a similar leap when we deepen our understanding of the sub-atomic world once again at LHC – who knows!

Taking more examples, when Hertz was doing calculations to prove the existence of electromagnetic waves or when Fermi was bombarding uranium with neutrons or when Fleming was cultivating bacteria in petri dishes or when Mendel was cross breeding pea plants or when Pythagoras was playing with some numbers or when Galileo was throwing objects from the Leaning Tower of Pisa or when Marie Curie was processing pitchblende or when Antony van Leeuwenhoek was grinding lenses and observing stuff under them, people at that time would have questioned the point or usefulness of it all. But they all were proved wrong in due time. Time and faith..thats what we should give to any research. If we can place our faith in politicians year after year then why not scientists?

About the safety issue of the LHC experiment, I would again quote Prof. Brian Cox’s reply as he is the right person to say anything on this.

It is, of course, essential that all scientific research at the frontiers of knowledge, from genetics to particle physics, is subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny to ensure that our voyages into the unknown do not result in unforeseen, perhaps dangerous outcomes. CERN, and indeed all research establishments, do this routinely and to the satisfaction of their host governments. In the case of the LHC, a report in plain English is available here.

I think the media should behave more responsibly and show more scientific temperament than spread unnecessary rumors and panic among people leading to some untoward incidents. People just need a trigger for their fear of death to overshadow rational thinking. As for the investments, if the financially strong 20 member states of Europe are willing to spend so much on a research and have the unity to build such a huge structure across borders, Indians have no right to object as they are also investing 140 crores in making a movie when 30 crore Indians are below poverty line. Moreover the cost of Beijing Olympics held recently is estimated to be £20bn. It had cost 5 billion dollars to build the nuclear bombs used in WW II. Its a matter of, shall we say, priorities?

Lastly, curiosity to gain knowledge and the instinct to control with the help of that knowledge is something innate to every species. The only difference is the intelligence level and opposable thumbs I guess!! Without human curiosity, there would have been no fire, crops, vaccines, machines, electricity, computer, Internet…the list is endless. Without the urge to control, there would have been no storm warning systems, or eradication of small pox or contraceptive methods; a few of endless examples.

Interesting reads:

10 accidental inventions

Great Scientific Discoveries of the Twentieth Century

A rap explaining the LHC experiment

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42 thoughts on “Large Hadron Collider and Human Curiosity

  1. It’s Large Hadron collider, my dear and not Haldron. Also, check out this CNN IBN news article.. In the first paragraph, they’ve spelt it as HARDON..!!! hEHEHEHE!! What a bunch of perverts! :D

    And its quite interesting to know that the university of Jammu has played its part in the experiment! :)

    Reema: My title was correct. As for the post, its now corrected! Its not only the Jammu University that played a part in LHC experiment but faculties from many universities in India, the two major physicists being from Rajasthan University.

  2. Curiosity is the mother of all inventions ..

    No experiment on this earch can destroy the whole world .. The guys who were shouting that song must be bunch of jealous asses ..

    Why always we find such pessimist and negative people when we are doing something good??…

    Reema: I guess the pessimist and negative people have a purpose too.
    Nindak neare rakhiye angan kuti chhaway!
    Bin pani sabun bina NIRMAL kare subhay!!

  3. @ Reema:

    There is a rather interesting debate between two extreme points of view on this issue, going on at my blog. See it and let me know what you think :-)

    I agree with your points in this post. Scientism, however, has been forced to become a dogma in itself, to prevent ignorance becoming the de-facto choice of billions. For a change, I am happy to be on the side of a dogma. :-)

    The questions broadly are valid but as you point out are nearly always raised for science experiments never for arbitrary cultural extravaganzas entirely unrelated to sports activities! Every action against science needs a reaction – in terms of a calm, measured, logical response. Some of us have to keep at it.

    Reema:I’ll read debate aka the long comments surely and give my two cents :) “calm, measured, logical response” Was that meant for my post? :P Wow!!! Thanks! :lol:

  4. Well those people just didn’t face questioning,they were ridiculed ,mocked at in the case of Galileo,even had cases(?) against him…well now we idolize them as the foundation stones of our world…

    Reema: Yes Galileo was placed under house arrest. Situation may not be that bad but scientists in today’s world have their own set of problems. I can vouch for this as a fact since my brother in law is a scientist in Physics.

  5. All that the-world-is-coming-to-an-end-due-to-LHC-experiment is sheer crap, spread by the useless people, read: conspiracy theorists, who have nothing else to do and those who want their own 15 seconds of fame. Pathetic.
    But this hasn’t and never will stop the scientists to explore the unknown. I really hope that LHC experiment leads to something in the future.

    Reema:Yes thats one way to come on television. I hope the same.

  6. Read carefully :

    As a concerned citizen of Planet Earth, I demand that the LHC begin operations as soon as possible, at as high energies as possible, and continue operating until such time as it is proven completely safe to turn it off.

    Given our present state of knowledge, we simply cannot exclude the possibility that aliens will visit the Earth next year, and, on finding that we have not yet produced a Higgs boson, find us laughably primitive and enslave us. Or that a wormhole mouth or a chunk of antimatter will be discovered on a collision course with Earth, which can only be neutralized or deflected using new knowledge gleaned from the LHC. Yes, admittedly, the probabilities of these events might be vanishingly small, but the fact remains that they have not been conclusively ruled out. And that being the case, the Precautionary Principle dictates taking the only safe course of action: namely, turning the LHC on as soon as possible.

    After all, the fate of the planet might conceivably depend on it.

    :- Source

    I am getting bored with discussions on this topic now. Let it happen. If earth is going to be destroyed by this experiment, no one is going to scold at me for this comment :D

    Reema: Interesting link and point of view. Oh I’m going to follow you to hell or heaven to scold you but not at this comment as its a good comment. Atleast its not an application to be a bathroom!! :P

  7. unnecessary rumors and panic among people leading to some untoward incidents.
    You must write another post on the mortality and morbidity toll in India resulting from the media hype about this experiment.
    Two deaths I heard of- one died of heart attack, and another committed suicide ” ‘cuz the world’s gonna end…”
    Morbidity- well, look at the family of our domestic help lady back home- her family has gone into depression and she has stopped working…
    Very nice post, and I love the parts about the spirit of science and the quest for knowledge.

    Reema: I want to leave some topic for you to write about. :) Thanks!!

  8. mere ko phir se chakkar aa rahe hai! :P :D

    Jokes apart, good post and good research!

    @ Nomad

    Morbidity and mortality? :P :D

    Reema: Tumhe aaj kal bahut chakkar aa rahe hai? :P Thanks!!

  9. u’ve covered a host of interesting points and some very important history. while we should appreciate the fact that science is not facing big hurdles as those mentioned in history, it is always rational to think from both sides – success and failure – equally.
    as an avid fan of sub-atomic nature from my schooling days, i offer hearty support to the LHC – the biggest and the most complicated machine ever. It was amazing to read about the creation of genesis in the science fiction “Angels and Demons” by Dan Brown. And coming to think of the fact that there is an effort underway to get as close to God’s mind as possible should wake up the minds fighting against it.
    But… what does a common man want? Does he want to be in GOD’s shoes? NO! he is more bothered about himself and his society. So it is natural for such people to panic at the rumour that the world could end coz of some insane experiment conducted by a (big) bunch of maniacs (which, i know, they aren’t). When it was an ambitious scientific, diplomatic, curious, and uncertain expedition into unknown arenas of nature, is it not the responsibility of the governments and the supporters to give a good amount of briefing regarding the safety levels of the experiment? Even as the process of spreading the knowledge is underway, it boils down to the race between the great minds doing the work, and the great mouths doing the talking.

    PS: I’M BACK…! I guess… :P

    Reema: Welcome back! a good comeback with a wonderful comment. I think the information is out there. But people dont have the urge to verify what they heard. They just go on passing the information and thus it becomes rumor. And some irresponsible media makes it news!!

  10. hey reema,

    i guess my blog inspired u to write on this topic. First of all, as always a very well written post.

    But as i have said..human curiosity till one level is good…whatever inventions you have talked about in your post here..would have not affected mankind if anything would have gone wrong but this LHC experiment is carried on under our own very planet in a very large scale. We have seen what happened in Bhopal some 20yrs ago when dangerous gas leaked out and 1000s of people died and the affect is still lingering. If results are good ofcourse we all will rejoice but if something goes wrong..’a sorry’ will not help!!!

    Reema: Thanks! I have cited only few examples. There are many more examples in which if something had gone wrong it would have affected a lot of humans. Like when Fleming was testing his vaccine suppose if it didnt work and had induced some other infection then it would have been a failure. Same for all the medicines that have been discovered. Imagine the destruction!! Not to mention the experiments leading to nuclear process!! And scientists do thousands of calculations before embarking on any such project. Even building a bridge requires hundreds of calculations and testing. Human negligence and mismanagement (Union Carbide Plant) cant be compared to any scientific research. However I understand its pretty normal to have doubts.

  11. Well, without controversy, life would be so boring don’t you think? This is exactly what some of the people completely thrive on.

    Reema: I guess we should thank such controversies for giving us food for thought.

  12. The fact that I typed this and you are reading this, points that all is well and we are not in a Black Hole yet. So way to go Science!

    A really well written post. Even I wrote in my blog today about how the media needs to get their facts straight before telling their audience something just for the sake of getting attention and TRP. That’s just not responsible journalism.

    @swathi: Are You kidding? Comparing Bhopal Gas Tragedy (a negligence and not innovation) to LHC (A Great Pioneering Step)?

    Reema: Yayyy!! We are alive! Thanks!

  13. I am so bored to death everyone talking of it everywhere. Not that I am not following the news but discussing something so much gets on u and this got on me now.. :):)

    Reema: Yes discussing something at great length does get boring but then I’d to express my opinion!!

  14. @pushkar

    no i am not kidding…i know that was a industrial disaster..but human error is a human error…either if it happens in a industry or during an experiment..but yeah this time i hope i am proven wrong and something really good comes out of this experiment :)

  15. do u prepare for lessons the same way too??

    Reema: Ummm..didn’t get the question’s context with the post. I m dumb :( Do u mean the elaborate researched manner? Yes I do. :)

  16. WOW! Nice bit of research. Actually I felt the same negative thought which filled most people’s minds at that time. But not because the media led me to think that way. I am a person who believes anything only after analyzing the facts. But my thoughts about the “Big Bang” being replicated(correct me if I am wrong) is a little to the paranoid side. I fear anything that involves huge nuclear reactions. But I am not able to find any unbiased reports on this matter.

    Reema:Thanks!! Check out the link I have given in post -the one with Brian Cox interview. He has answered quite a lot of queries there.

  17. This is a very nice qualitative article on Science and LHC. I wish more people can understand the reality behind science and the how much of an effort a scientist puts in to identify very little details. Unfortunately people only have a cinematic view of what a scientist looks like and does. I am blogmarking this.

    Reema: Thanks!!

  18. Scientists are always disparaged for wasting public money. What people very conveniently forget is that all the luxuries of life which we are enjoying right now came from such experiments.
    The scientist which are carrying this experiment are not fools and neither are the governments which are supplying the money.
    And the way the news channels were showing the news was disgusting, to say the least.

    Reema: Good point!!

  19. excellent post ..
    the news channels indeed make everything look big..
    the fact that they were not creating the big bang but the conditions before big bang are no where to be mentioned..
    i personally feel even they are unsuccessful it would be a great step for tommorow

    Reema: Thanks!! I agree with you.

  20. Reema, there was a reason I didn’t comment on this post…it went quite way over my head! :) OK I confess, the minute I read “Large Hadron Collider” I panicked. :) I did try to read it though, knowing that it must be a good post because you have written it. But even then I am incapable of writing an intelligent comment here. Shefaly is the right person.

    Reema: Awwww thanks for reading it dear.

  21. Whoa…. what an interesting read.

    I myself wanted to write a post about LHC, but was busy all last week.

    I guess now I do not have to write it.

    Nice post and research.

    Reema: Thanks!!

  22. @Smita
    One thing you can do is , SWITCH TO WORDPRESS!! :D :D :D
    Everyone on Blogger, switch to WP or make a replica of your blogs here :P So that I can read everyone!!!

    :D
    Cheers

    Reema: Stop this blog conversion immediately :P

  23. Your replies are getting short like Mallika’s clothes. :P
    That means you are very busy!

    Reema: Scroll above and see I’ve replied sufficiently to many people. :) I’d nothing more to add to your comment and I agreed with it…as I have already written that why people dont question money being spent in cultural extravaganzas and weapons’ build up by their countries. Same for media. Hence “good point!!” about the sentence that “all the luxuries being enjoyed have now come from money spent on research”. :)
    Also I’d around 80 comments to reply and 42 posts to read the day I came back from a short break. :(

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  29. Vous pouvez lire un article sur ce que eritten par Dr.Babak Zawari dans le centre de recherche du CERN.

  30. Vous pouvez lire un article sur ce que eritten par Dr. Babak Zawari dans le centre de recherche du CERN.

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