The Large Hadron Collider is almost back in commission after its accident last year. It is the biggest atom smasher in the world and it is not American. It has been designed to discover the Higgs Boson, the current fundamentalest particle of all. For the super-conducting magnets which contain the stream of particles to work properly, it has to be very cold, and it has just been announced that it is now colder than deep space.
The quantum world does not obey the usual rules, and Niels Bohr, one of the pioneers of quantum physics, said that if you are not shocked by the laws of the quantum world, then you haven’t understood them. In this world, for example, certain events can only be explained by time going backwards.
I haven’t got too much of a problem with that, because if you look at neuro-pathology, you start to realise that the 3-D ‘external’ world, together with time, are created by the brain to create order out of our sensory input. As a model, it works pretty well, but that doesn’t make the external world real in a hard and fast way. Astrology also works, a lot of the time, at any rate. But it’s just another model, which is why it doesn’t always work. Just like our senses aren’t always reliable. And even if they are reliable, if you ask 2 people to describe the same event, you’ll probably get different accounts.
Anyway, the Large Hadron Collider. It was just starting to get up and running last year, amid a lot of publicity, when it had an accident. There was a liquid helium leak and it’s taken over a year to sort. And 2 physicists have seriously suggested that the damage may have been caused by Higgs Bosons (which of course have yet to be discovered) travelling backwards in time from a future experiment.
I doubt it is the true explanation, but I liked the idea that real physicists were suggesting it. Of course, the LHC doesn’t ‘know’ that it is going to be used to discover Higgs Bosons. Otherwise it could just as well send back some other particle. Which means that human intention must also be playing a part in creating this future that has not yet happened and from which Higgs Bosons could be travelling back in time to upset our plans.
I don’t know if the scientists are thinking that way. But it makes complete sense to me. Because so much of what we call reality is the product of people’s imaginings, if not all of reality. There is a deep way in which the world is a product of consciousness. Our culture, for example, gradually developed the idea that reality is material and follows empirical, rational laws and sure enough, reality obliged and we find ourselves in such a universe. Some ancient cultures developed the idea that there is a relationship between the movements of the stars and human affairs and sure enough, reality obliged and we find ourselves in an astrological universe.
I don’t mean all this in a superficial way, like reality is simply what you think it is. It’s to do with the imagination. The imagination seems to connect what is ‘in here’ with what is ‘out there’. So that when an idea about how the universe works stirs our imagination, it is because it is in some way real, and it’s probably hard to say which came first, reality or our idea about it. The fact that quantum physics is, properly understood, shocking, says a lot in its favour. If it is shocking, then it touches us, and that gives it reality.