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The LHC, the Higgs Boson, and Fate 691

Reader Maximum Prophet sends a piece from the NY Times by the usually reliable Dennis Overbye reporting on a "crazy" theory being worked up by a pair of "otherwise distinguished physicists": that the Large Hadron Collider's difficulties may be due to the universe's reluctance to produce a Higgs boson. Maximum Prophet adds, "This happened to the Superconducting Super Collider in the science fiction story Einstein's Bridge. Now Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan, are theorizing that it's happening in real life." "I'm talking about the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future. A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather."
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The LHC, the Higgs Boson, and Fate

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  • So... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:56PM (#29735171)

    We created the universe that we are trying to figure out who made it.

  • He found a practical application for the effect in "Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation" (named in honor of Frank Tipler's paper). The universe hates time machines... so one side of a war works to convince the other side to try to make one.
  • Quantum Suidice (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sonic McTails ( 700139 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:03PM (#29735267)

    I dunno, the more I keep seeing the LHC fail and fail is that we may be experiencing quantum suicide. In each reality that the LHC properly starts up and smashs atoms, the world ends as we know it. We keep experiencing a version of reality where cirmstance is preventing the Hiigs Boson from being created. For those unfamiliar with the concept, here's the thought experiment behind the theory straight from Wikiepdia:

    One example of the thought experiment is: a man sits down before a gun, which is pointed at his head. The gun is rigged to a machine that measures the spin of a quantum particle. Each time the trigger is pulled, the spin of the quantum particle is measured. Depending on the measurement, the gun will either fire, or it won't. If the quantum particle is measured as spinning in a clockwise motion, the gun will fire. If the particle is spinning counterclockwise, the gun won't discharge; there will only be a click.

    The man now pulls the trigger. The gun clicks. He pulls the trigger again, with the same result. And again; the gun does not fire. The man will continue to pull the trigger again and again with the same result: The gun won't fire. Although it's functioning properly and loaded with bullets, no matter how many times he pulls the trigger, the gun will never seem to fire.

    Go back in time to the beginning of the experiment. The man pulls the trigger for the very first time, and the particle is now measured as spinning clockwise. The gun fires. The man is dead.

    But the problem arises; the man already pulled the trigger the first time — and an infinite amount of times following that — and we already know the gun didn't fire. How can the man be dead? The man is unaware, but he's both alive and dead. Each time he pulls the trigger, the universe is split in two. It will continue to split, again and again, each time the trigger is pulled. This thought experiment is called 'quantum suicide'. It was first posed by theorist Max Tegmark in 1997. However, science fiction author Larry Niven originally proposed a fictional variant of quantum suicide in his short story All the Myriad Ways in which the protagonist's final action in the story kills/fails to kill him in myriad alternate realities.

    With each run of the experiment there is a 50-50 chance that the gun will be triggered and the experimenter will die. According to the Copenhagen interpretation, the gun will (in all likelihood) eventually be triggered and the experimenter will die (assuming the experimenter allows the wavefunction/spinor of the particle to evolve back to its original state after each attempt). If the many-worlds interpretation is correct then at each run of the experiment, the experimenter will be split into one world in which he survives and another world in which he dies. After many runs of the experiment, there will be many worlds. In the worlds where the experimenter dies, he will cease to be a conscious entity.

    However, from the point of view of the non-dead copies of the experimenter, the experiment will continue running without his ceasing to exist, because at each branch, he will only be able to observe the result in the world in which he survives, and if many-worlds is correct, the surviving copies of the experimenter will notice that he never seems to die, therefore "proving" himself to be invulnerable to the gun mechanism in question, from his own point of view.

    If the many-worlds interpretation is true, the measure (given in M.W.I. by the squared norm of the wavefunction) of the surviving copies of the experimenter will decrease by 50% with each run of the experiment, but will remain non-zero. So, if the surviving copies become experimenters, those copies will either die in the first shot, or survive creating duplicates of themselves (copies of copies, that will survive finitely or die).

  • Re:Could happen (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Philip K Dickhead ( 906971 ) <folderol@fancypants.org> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:03PM (#29735275) Journal

    The difference between theory and practice is that nothing in the universe actually conforms to your perceptions and everything you know is not even wrong. You are not even really "you" in any sense beyond the illusory narrative created by the mind, to order its disparate sensations.

    Black hole? Maths say they exist - but you will never really know, nor will it ever really matter - if you cannot even know your "self".

    "In theory there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is". I paraphrase this as:

    "To the imagination, it is identical with reality, when Reality is so totally comprehensive that all of imagination is an infinitesimal subset."

    But the mind is a little thing - with such a limited set of tools and perceptions, on such a tiny scale.

  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:04PM (#29735287)

    [citation provided] [wikipedia.org]

    I got a particular kick out of the phrase "otherwise distinguished physicists" in the summary.

  • by tylersoze ( 789256 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:05PM (#29735305)
  • by Bob Hearn ( 61879 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:11PM (#29735387) Homepage

    by John Gribbin, (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, 105(2):120?125, Feb 1985). In that story a powerful particle accelerator seemingly fails to operate, for no good reason. Then a physicist realizes that if it were to work, it would effectively destroy the entire universe, by initiating a transition from a cosmological false vacuum state to a lower-energy vacuum state. In this story, the explanation of the failures assumes a many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. So instead of explicit backward causality, there is effective backward causality: only the branches of reality with equipment failures contain observers; therefore, observers can only experience histories with equipment failures. The effect is the same.

    I also discussed this idea in the context of novel models of computation in my MIT Ph.D. thesis, Games, Puzzles, and Computation [mit.edu] (section 8.2; also published as a book by A.K. Peters). The idea was a bit similar to Nielsen and Ninomiya's proposed experiment. It turns out that by connecting an accelerator capable of destroying the universe to a computation depending on random numbers, one could in principle solve problems that are otherwise intractable. I termed this "doomsday computation", as a variation on the similar concept of "anthropic computation" proposed earlier by Scott Aaronson.

  • Re:Could happen (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Brian Gordon ( 987471 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:14PM (#29735433)

    Information (except its mass, charge, and spin) can't escape a black hole, period. You don't even need to suspect that some difficult concept could plausibly be an exception, because you know there are no exceptions.

  • Re:Could happen (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thepotoo ( 829391 ) <thepotoospam.yahoo@com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:18PM (#29735463)

    A physicist will be able to explain better than I can why entanglement can't be used for information transfer (such as FTL or what you describe), but my simplistic understanding is that in order to observe the spin on the particle, you have to actually observe it, and by observing, you might alter its spin. You have no way of knowing whether the spin you just observed is a legit signal, or a bunk one induced by your measurement.

    Any signal transmitted becomes indistinguishable from a random number generator, and you're back to square one.

    On the topic of the linked "paper", this seems like the sort of utterly ridiculous nonsense that Penrose [wikipedia.org] or Novikov [wikipedia.org] would cook up (especially the latter). I'm not going to dignify it with a response other than to predict that Occam's Razor will slice it apart.

  • Natural Occurrence? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dizigel ( 756737 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:18PM (#29735465)
    Isn't one of the defenses of the safety of colliders such as the Large Hadron that natural collisions at even higher energy levels happen all the time in the universe, just not in front of a sensor that can accurately measure it? Therefore, scientists aren't doing anything that isn't "supposed" to happen. Or maybe it's the _observation_ that isn't supposed to happen. (-;
  • by Bob Hearn ( 61879 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:19PM (#29735479) Homepage

    But the great thing is, they propose an experiment to *test* whether this is happening.

  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:19PM (#29735487)

    It has a serious, and might I saw, rather obvious flaw

    If the activation of the LHC created some kind of cataclysmic event which would some fuck up time to the extent of violating causality, and if the universe does indeed have causality as a boundary condition, then there are far more probable ways of averting the fatal collision than screwing up several tonnes of magnet months before the high energy firings were scheduled to take place.

    The universe could simply induce a sufficient e/m force to stop the proton beams colliding. It wouldn't take much, on a cosmic scale, and would be a far more likely outcome than an entire macroscopic object being foobared just to protect the continuity of the universe.

  • by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:26PM (#29735583) Homepage Journal
    Put it this way. Of all alternate Earths, the surviving ones (and, if you are reading this, you are in one of those) are the ones that never managed to produce one.
  • by FlyingBishop ( 1293238 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:30PM (#29735653)

    Well, that's precisely it. The statement doesn't make a lot of sense.

    The Higgs boson, if it were created, would destroy the universe. But it wouldn't just destroy the universe in the future - it would also destroy the past. The creation of a Higgs boson is therefore a physical impossibility, not because it can't be done, but because its creation is undone once it is done. (A universe cannot contain such a temporal paradox.)

  • by hondo77 ( 324058 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:41PM (#29735807) Homepage

    ...there are far more probable ways of averting the fatal collision...

    And you are measuring this probability how?

  • Disregard that (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Aphoxema ( 1088507 ) * on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:44PM (#29735851) Homepage Journal

    How chauvinistic! But of course, who but a human would think that a human's mind would be so powerful that the mere observation of a revealing "secret" of the universe would be a threat to it?

    Honestly, this is beyond illogical. It may be a fact that the universe thinks and is aware of itself, but to think that it would be protecting itself from humanity learning about it in some way is ludicrous when presented with the infinite number of other ways it could restrict humans from discovering the Higgs boson.

    Let's instead consider a more plausible scenario: The LHC is an enormous undertaking that goes beyond any attempt of artifice made before involving particle collision and it is very likely it will have many setbacks.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:45PM (#29735869) Journal

    ... (some time between fall '63 and spring '65) I wrote a short story with a similar premise:

    The government's physicists had identified a way to create such a "bounce" situation by a nuclear mumbo-jumbo that starts with putting together a dense enough energy packet. This backs the universe up a bit and it takes another alternative timeline. Humans have just enough psi to make different decisions. The more energy you use to start the process, the farther back the "time bounce" to the fork. Or at least that's the theory.

    The government has taken advantage of this by creating a secret project: They are collecting and storing a LOT of energy using a solar power satellite. (The downlink is a laser and the ground-based collector and energy storage tech, like the details of the bounce device, are unspecified.) Accumulation of energy is ongoing, so they continue to have enough to bounce back at least to the time when the project was initiated. (Going farther risks taking a fork on which the device is not made.)

    This is used by the diplomats as a way to correct mistakes: If things got too bad diplomatically they could go back and try something different. (Unlike a doomsday device you WANT to keep this one secret - and for there to be only one.)

    Since the project went online, though there have been many conflicts and near-misses on situations with the potential to degenerate into something that would make WW II or a comet impact look tame, things have always worked out for the government in question. Sometimes by smart diplomacy, sometimes by smart battle strategy in small conflicts heading off large ones, sometimes by seemingly amazing coincidences and blind luck. Starting as one country on Earth (where the device is still sited) the government has (mostly peaceably) unified/absorbed/explored/grown into a multi-solar-system empire.

    The kicker is that, from the viewpoint of the operators (from which it is was written) EVERY use is the FIRST use. It ALWAYS appears that things have miraculously gone so well that they haven't needed it - until JUST NOW. Maybe the thing really doesn't work - in which case it will destroy the planet and life on most of the spiral arm. Maybe it does work - but from the viewpoint of the current timeline it's just the end of the universe. Maybe the diplomats and generals, knowing this is a possibility, have gone to heroic efforts and pulled out heroic saves - until JUST NOW. But now it's finally hit the fan and the viewpoint characters have been ordered to set it off ...

    One of the others in that class was the guy who was the model for Aahz in Asprin's books. Ran into him a decade or two later. He brought up the story and said it had haunted him ever since. B-)

  • Re:Could happen (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gerzel ( 240421 ) * <brollyferret.gmail@com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:50PM (#29735929) Journal

    Uhm...you forgot "according to current theory" in that statement. We think there are no exceptions, but if we find one then the theory has to be changed.

    Theory is only our current working simulation of how we think the universe works; the universe itself plays by its own rules which may or may not match our theories.

  • Re:Could happen (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:52PM (#29735949) Journal

    You were born, and soon you will die.

    Conjecture on your part, based upon your observations and your personal interpretation of those observations. Whether or not he (or I) ever die is a distant mystery to you and doesn't matter; you should be more concerned with your fate.

    See, perspective and philosophy is fun to play with. And my reply to your post is as inane in irrelevant to the subject matter as your reply to the parent was.

  • Re:Could happen (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Devout_IPUite ( 1284636 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:59PM (#29736089)

    Perhaps the sum of solution spaces where the machine is never turned on is greater than the sum of the solution spaces where it gets turned on but doesn't find what it's looking for?

  • Spoiler (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:17PM (#29736339)

    I've read that one. The universe decides that, if side A hadn't tried to convince side B to build a time machine, it wouldn't have been built - so it destroys side A.

  • Re:Could happen (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:33PM (#29736571)
    Kind of a super strong Anthropic principle. "The universe exists because someday, something in the future will require it to."
  • Re:Could happen (Score:3, Interesting)

    by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:43PM (#29736703)

    So gravity doesn't escape a black hole? Then how does gravity pull you closer to it?

  • by CopaceticOpus ( 965603 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:48PM (#29736809)

    If the universe is going to prevent this machine from working, it's going to do it in the way that requires the least "effort" from the universe's perspective. This is probably something much different than what would seem to be the simplest and easiest from a human perspective.

    The universe doesn't have limbs. It doesn't act with muscle. Fundamentally, it acts with probabilities. The universe is also the master of time, not the slave of time as humans are.

    To generate a spontaneous e/m force when the beam is switched on is possible, but it would require a large number of improbabilities coming together in an instant. Similarly, it is possible for the atoms in your can of soda to spontaneously jump two feet to the left. However, this is vastly improbable, and the universe tends not to act this way.

    It may be that by causing a few minor shifts in events months or years in advance, the universe can steer us towards a failed LHC with very little forced improbability. For example, simply aligning the spins of a few atoms in a researcher's brain might cause that person to make a critical decision leading to the failure of the magnets. It's a convoluted approach in human terms, but the essence of simplicity in quantum mechanical terms.

  • Science? Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:01PM (#29737017) Journal
    Does it explain why, if the Universe is so loath to produce a Higgs boson, it bombards our atmosphere when enormously high energy particles that can create Higgs bosons if they exist? Why hasn't it propagated back in time to stop cosmic rays? It sounds far more like fiction, and inconsistent fiction at that.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:02PM (#29737037) Journal

    What if certain "extraordinary" people are merely beneficiaries of dumb luck? What if Warren Buffett has no actual investiment skill, but appears so because we never put him in the context of the many thousands of similar individuals who eventually "landed on tails", so to speak?

    I understand that there's a theory in investing that a significant fraction of investment advisers are precisely that. B-)

    There's also a confidence game that works that way:

      1) The con artist starts by extracting a large number of names and addresses from the phone book.

      2) He send them each a random stock pick or horse race winner.

      3) After the race/target date he discard all the names he sent a bum pick and repeats with the remainder and a new set of picks.

      4) After a few iterations he has a handfull of people who are convinced he's psychic or has inside info, some of whom already traded/bet on his calls and are richer than they were before he started. (The number if iterations is significant but I don't recall it. It's got to be long enough to hook the suckers and short enough that the news of the losers doesn't propagate. USPS and the racket squads are aware of this system.) Then he sends a letter asking for a big fee for the next pick. This brings in a pile of money.

      5) He sends each of 'em who pays up another random pick. If they're all flops he's still got the pile of money. If one or two hits he now has one or two suckers who are even more convinced and have a bunch of money to fleece with one more iteration.

  • Time Travel Cheating (Score:4, Interesting)

    by arthurpaliden ( 939626 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:51PM (#29737857)
    If you go back in time to before you first met your wife and had a fling with her would that be cheating or would it just be the first time you met your wife.....
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @06:29PM (#29738399) Homepage

    You're only thinking in three dimensions. The concept is that the universe doesn't end when the Higgs boson is created, it's that the universe cannot take on a structure such that an event affects one that precedes it.

    Yeah I realize I said "see the universe end". But I'm not thinking three dimensionally, and thus "was never allowed to be" is not in any way a better answer.

    I think if you extend that to four dimensions, you sort of get this outcome: anything that causes a particle to move backwards through time is impossible. Therefore, the universe will not take on such a shape.

    That's a great explanation for why FTL travel/communication is impossible. It could be a good explanation for why directly observing the Higgs is impossible.

    It's a lousy explanation for why the magnets on the LHC suddenly break to prevent it from seeing the Higgs.

    I think the real issue here is that people would like to see us as distinct from the universe - that somehow our actions are elective, not the result of natural processes.

    Much like the question of whether a hypothetical machine that appears intelligent is really intelligent or just aping it perfectly, I think the question is moot. Also it has nothing to do with my objection.

    I don't really buy the many worlds theory, or at least, if there are many worlds, it follows that there are in fact worlds that cannot exist. Not worlds that stop existing when they violate natural laws, impossible worlds that do not exist because their existence would violate natural laws. Structural laws about arrangement of objects in space-time.

    Yes, that's more akin to my reference to the Uncertainty Principle, where you cannot measure both velocity and position beyond a certain precision because the very definition of 'momentum' and 'position' of a wave depend on contradictory factors. It's simply physics that says you can't do both. That's fine. If someone comes up with a similar principle or theory which shows the Higgs Boson cannot be observed, that's great.

    This isn't like that. This is like you have a device that can measure position and velocity to infinite precision, but every time you try to turn it on, the velocity-measurement component of the device mysteriously catches fire.

    Or it's like you have a space ship that all known physics says could travel faster than light and violate causality, and rather than it failing because the physics was wrong, it fails because the ignition switch snaps off when the astronaut tries to flick it. And when you fix it and try again, it turns out the second-rate repair crew didn't screw a PCB down tight enough so it shakes loose before the engine fully warms up. And then you fix that, but right as you hit the ignition it turns out the only rat on the entire orbital ship yard got into the conduit and chewed through a wire and fried itself and the system. And so on, and so on.

    The whole idea here is that the LHC would work correctly and detect the Higgs Boson, so somehow "the universe" has to prevent it from ever firing up by breaking things that don't directly have anything to do with the Higgs at all.

    That's fucking ridiculous.

    It's either impossible to detect, or it isn't. If it's impossible, then when the LHC is finally up and running (and seriously, the setbacks have not been that unusual and are certainly not evidence of some kind of Cosmic Karma), then it simply won't detect the Higgs and we'll be left to scratch our heads as to whether it doesn't exist, or can't be observed by the LHC, or can't be observed at all.

  • Re:Einstein's Bridge (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:30PM (#29739481) Journal

    No, the morons on channel 680 mean that.

    Dittos on that.

    I hear they did it because people were pronouncing it "skiffy".

    What is particularly annoying is its relation to the fannish distinction from a few decades back. Science fiction was abbreviated "SF" and pronounced "ess-eff". "SciFi" was pronounced "skiffy". SF was things like _the Foundation Trilogy_. SciFi was things like _Son of the Giant Toad that Ate Chicago_. "SciFi" could also be used as an adjective: "That movie/TV show is EXTREMELY skiffy".

    And by that definition most of what the SciFi / SyFy channel runs/ran is "SciFi".

    (Oh, well. At least they coined a new one rather than appropriating SF and misbranding themselves. "SyFy" is what THEY define it to be by what they run.)

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"