Sunday, September 07, 2008

Banging a few protons together

The £4bn spent by scientists at Cern on the mother of all particle colliders has produced the usual mixed reaction from the gallery. Press attention has focused mostly on reports of the possible emergence of a black hole that swallows us all - in effect, the reversal of creation.

So what's the point? Put simply, the point is that despite everything, science has no real idea of how the universe works because the accumulation of knowledge springing from Einstein's theory of relatively has failed to explain where most of the matter in the universe is hiding - or for that matter, the nature of gravity. These are actually quite massive holes in any basic understanding of how things works; it's like medical science hadn't moved beyond expecting to find babies under gooseberry bushes.

And most scientists who understand a bit about the principles involved suspect that the gap/chasm in their knowledge holds some if not all the answers to the basics of nuclear fusion technology. Science fiction such as Stargate and Star Trek has actually adapted some of the postulations to credible effect with the notions of sub space and warp fields - so credible in fact that many conspiracy nerds are convinced that this is all based on genuine discoveries made at Roswell.

Managed fusion is the holy grail of energy - it basically means free infinite energy for all. So just pause to consider for a moment what that means for a world that lurches from crisis to crisis thanks to assorted charlatans, liars and cheats that seek to manipulate the factors of the current fossil energy economy. In that moment of reflection, consider just how those assorted rogues and charlatans would feel if their jealously guarded energy resources were actually made worthless overnight. That alone has got to be worth the miniscule risk of switching on at Cern.

Unlike most commercial and national organisations, Cern - inventor of the world wide web - has a pretty good track record of making its discoveries available for the good of Mankind.

The mastery of the techniques necessary for assembly of atoms from their component particles means that any element could be made to order, and there is clearly more than enough energy to be tapped from the universe to provide the minuscule needs of this planet without any pollution - if only we knew how to tap into it. This energy is amply displayed in large scale natural phenomenon such as hurricanes, where estimates vary considerably, but most suggest the energy of a single hurricane would keep the lights on for a whole year.

So by faffing about at the fringes of alternative energy, we may be missing the point. If there is a chance that the Cern scientists are able to isolate and explain the process of nuclear fusion and a practical result that can explain gravity, it really must be taken.

But if the doomsday theorists are correct, and the collider starts a chain reaction and the whole of creation disappears into a singularity before re-emerging in another big bang (and who knows how many times that might have already happened in the course of infinity?) then that too would solve the world's problems - but not quite so elegantly. Too bad we wouldn't be able to leave a note for the next bunch of sentient beings that might try it all again in another 14 billion years time.

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