December 11, 2008

FP: LHC doom among 10 worst predictions of 2008

Foreign Policy has posted their list of the 10 worst predictions of 2008. Among them was the claim by Walter Wagner and others that the Large Hadron Collider would destroy the Earth:
“There is a real possibility of creating destructive theoretical anomalies such as miniature black holes, strangelets and deSitter space transitions. These events have the potential to fundamentally alter matter and destroy our planet.” —Walter Wagner,

Scientist Walter Wagner, the driving force behind Citizens Against the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), is making his bid to be the 21st century’s version of Chicken Little for his opposition to the world’s largest particle accelerator. Warning that the experiment might end humanity as we know it, he filed a lawsuit in Hawaii’s U.S. District Court against the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which built the LHC, demanding that researchers not turn the machine on until it was proved safe. The LHC was turned on in September, and it appears that we are still here.
Ah, yes -- tee hee, it "appears that we're still here." And such is the peril of predicting human extinction: no one will ever be there after the fact to pat you on the back and say, "Dude, you totally called that one." So-called Chicken Littles will always look silly by virtue of the fact that a post-doom state cannot be observed; we can only reflect and marvel at our ongoing survival -- no matter how improbable.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the LHC was or is a legitimate threat. I just want to make the point that we need to be careful about chastising those who warn of such dangers. Existential risks are real risks. And more are on the way.

As for Walter Wagner's prediction, for all we know he was absolutely right, and we are now branching out into a freakishly unlikely and implausible set of all possible Many Worlds. In other words, doom may have been more likely than not -- we just happen to be observing the small set of surviving universes.

Again, I think this highly unlikely; I'm just sayin'.


Anonymous said...

While I don't think there's much chance that the LHC is going to start spewing strangelets and suddenly covert the planet into a small quark star, it should be noted that the LHC wasn't running that long before it shut down.

Furthermore, collisions in the LHC have only been running at around 900GeV, or about 10% of the energy of the 10TeV collisions planned when the facility is running at full capacity.

Personally I think that if high energy particle collisions were likely to produce such dire results, we would have seen such phenomenon before now: Gamma Ray Bursts can produce highly energetic particles in the 10-20TeV range, and there's a GRB occurring somewhere in our observable universe daily, it seems. I have read that the last GRB to occur in this galaxy occurred on the order of 10^6 years ago - but given the Earth's 4x10^9 year age, it probably has weathered many such blasts, and has not spawned quantum black holes or strange matter in the atmosphere to rain destruction down upon the planet.

That said, we don't really know what the results of the LHC will be, because we haven't seen the LHC perform at peak energies yet.

Anonymous said...

"Ah, yes -- tee hee, it appears that we're still here."

George, you disappoint me. If you've done your research, which you haven't since you're too busy drinking CERN's Kool-Aid, you would discover that twisted the facts to smear Walter Wagner. Of course we're still here, the experiment hasn't been tried yet. All they did at the LHC last September before it broke was circulate protons to test it, minus any collisions. Mr. Wagner was talking about what could happen after collisions at the LHC. Don't let the media pull the wool over your eyes like they did with Iraq before the war began.

George said...

Sarah, you clearly missed the point of my article.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

For starters the collisions did not eventuate. Second when they do there are particles individually 110 million times more energetic. That is CERN's safety argument. The trouble is the collisions per second focused to a hairs width can absorb 300 trillion times the number of particles. That makes it 3 million times more intense than anything ever attempted or naturally occurring.

The 3 million does not include the 11,200 revolutions per second around the ring because they can only be destroyed once. It does not include the 7,500 times mass increase of each particle. It does not include the possibility that a fracture could occur in the 27 km ring at any point causing an event horizon. It does not include the liquid helium which is in the form of Einstein-Bose nuclear condensate that could get dragged into the event horizon.

The LHC is the most powerful concentration of energy ever, anywhere to get Big Bang particles. The biggest stars in nature go through a 'false supernova' creating a huge star destroying explosion before they are small enough to create regular black holes.

So if it goes wrong it might implode or just as easily explode, such is the nature of uncertainty. At the moment of destruction a sure sign will be the scream and stampede of all the worlds animals and then oblivion.