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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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  • Einstein's Bridge (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:55PM (#29735163) Journal

    Now THAT is a book I'd like to see made into a movie. Put some of the "science" back in Science Fiction.

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:03PM (#29735283) Homepage Journal

      Don't you mean Scyence Fyction?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by StikyPad ( 445176 )

        There's no C in SyFy. Or I/Q, for that matter.

      • by HeronBlademaster ( 1079477 ) <heron@xnapid.com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:49PM (#29735915) Homepage

        Aw, man, I just stopped crying about that. Why did you have to remind me?

        I'll be in the corner in the fetal position, sucking my thumb, holding back tears and watching "Sci-Fi"-branded reruns of Star Trek if you need me.

    • by MiniMike ( 234881 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:27PM (#29735605)

      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.

      Yeah, leave something like that to Hollywood. In the movie version, the LHC would travel back in time to kill its grandfather, but would miss instead killing the Tevatron. Hilarious shenanigans
      or a car chase (probably both) would ensue.

      Please just leave it as a book, if you like it.

    • 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-)

      • by rAiNsT0rm ( 877553 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:17PM (#29736343) Homepage

        Awesome! Great stuff, and don't worry I once wrote a followup to Morte d'Arthur perfectly in the style of the original on which I received a C- for parts where my grammar and structure matched the original work but apparently were "incorrect" to the teacher... and then I won a National English Merit award for the same work when the teacher's assistant submitted it because she dug it. Grade never got changed.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Orne ( 144925 )

          I had a high school english teacher who gave me a C+ on a book report on The Time Machine [wikipedia.org] because I failed to mention the nuclear war... that occurred only in the 1960 movie version, not the book.

          In retrospect, this should have been self-evident to the teacher, since the story was written in 1895, before Bohr suggested there was even such a thing as an atomic nucleus in 1913.

          Needless to say, I had my grade corrected.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Gruturo ( 141223 )

            I had a high school english teacher who gave me a C+ on a book report

            My high school english teacher gave me a C++ instead

            Bjarne Stroustrup

    • 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 Philip K Dickhead ( 906971 ) <folderol@fancypants.org> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:55PM (#29735165) Journal

    I think casting Keanu Reeves as Neils Bohr was a stroke of unmatched brilliance.

    Lady GaGa is, of course, a surprise as "the loathsome particle". She does a good Burlesconi imitation, all thing considered...

  • 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.

  • Perfect... (Score:5, Funny)

    by neurogeneticist ( 1631367 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:56PM (#29735175)
    So I can tell my wife that I cannot cook dinner tonight because the result would be so abhorrent that nature might send an agent back in time to destroy me before I can create it. Ergo, any movement toward making dinner could very well result in my demise...so let that be on her conscience.
    • Re:Perfect... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DdJ ( 10790 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:15PM (#29735437) Homepage Journal

      Actually, if you go ahead and tell your wife that, it may just be that one of your descendants would just be so abhorrent that the universe decided you should not be allowed to breed, and this is the method it's using to enforce that.

    • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:26PM (#29735601) Homepage

      You can tell her, but she'll probably stop listening after "because," at which point she'll begin recalling everything you've ever done wrong, and start reeling them off in a run on sentence not unlike this one, taking the collective, including your most recent attempt to get out of making dinner, to mean that you don't love her, which raises the question of why you're even together, except that you obviously just want your needs satisfied while she does EVERYTHING, and you don't even care.

      Either that or she'll just start making dinner without saying anything, in which case you're in *real* trouble. If so, DO NOT EAT THE FOOD, because it's probably poisoned, but also don't let her know that you're not eating the food, because it will only be taken as an insult to her cooking and further enrage her.

      • I am truly humbled by your words, StikyPad. We cannot permit your wisdom to be restrained any longer! You must go to that Siren that has ensnared you, and proudely proclaim that you will once again wander the Earth, for the Slashdotters need your words! (And if she likes, she can tag along, but it's Fast Food from here on out.)
  • ...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...

    if this is true, it's either scary or wonderful!

  • by sofar ( 317980 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:57PM (#29735195) Homepage

    but seriously, if it came back through time we should be able to detect it.

    • by FlyingBishop ( 1293238 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:00PM (#29735227)

      No, I think the theory is that a universe in which we create a Higgs boson is impossible, because such a universe would not only cease to be, but cease to have ever been as soon as the boson appears.

  • Ah, 2024... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I remember when that happened to me, in 2024...

    Life hasn't been the same until.

  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:58PM (#29735203)

    I'm thinking noodly appendages are involved.

  • 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.
  • by eln ( 21727 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:59PM (#29735219)
    Everyone knows the time traveler's objective in going back in time is not to kill his own grandfather, but rather to BECOME his own grandfather.
    • by FlyByPC ( 841016 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:04PM (#29735293) Homepage
      So time travel just involves a trip to Appalachia?
    • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:25PM (#29735577)

      I'm my own grandpaw.

      I'm My Own Grandpa
      ( Lonzo & Oscar )

      It sounds funny, I know,
      But it really is so,
      Oh, I'm my own grandpa.

      I'm my own grandpa.
      I'm my own grandpa.
      It sounds funny, I know,
      But it really is so,
      Oh, I'm my own grandpa.

      Now many, many years ago, when I was twenty-three,
      I was married to a widow who was pretty as could be.
      This widow had a grown-up daughter who had hair of red.
      My father fell in love with her, and soon they, too, were wed.

      This made my dad my son-in-law and changed my very life,
      My daughter was my mother, cause she was my father's wife.
      To complicate the matter, even though it brought me joy,
      I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy.

      My little baby then became a brother-in-law to Dad,
      And so became my uncle, though it made me very sad.
      For if he was my uncle, then that also made him brother
      Of the widow's grown-up daughter, who, of course, was my stepmother.

      Father's wife then had a son who kept him on the run,
      And he became my grandchild, for he was my daughter's son.
      My wife is now my mother's mother, and it makes me blue,
      Because, although she is my wife, she's my grandmother, too.

      Now if my wife is my grandmother, then I'm her grandchild,
      And everytime I think of it, it nearly drives me wild,
      For now I have become the strangest case you ever saw
      As husband of my grandmother, I am my own grandpa!

      I'm my own grandpa.
      I'm my own grandpa.
      It sounds funny, I know, but it really is so,
      Oh, I'm my own grandpa.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by AP31R0N ( 723649 )

      Ohh, a lesson in not changing history from Mr. "I'm My Own Grandfather"!

  • To say... (Score:5, Funny)

    by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:01PM (#29735241) Journal

    that the Higgs boson is abhorrent to Nature is ridiculous.

    Please don't anthropomorphize particles. They don't like when you do that.

  • Almost... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Facegarden ( 967477 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:02PM (#29735261)

    This theory actually kind of makes sense to me... almost.

    If the universe were indeed so much more complex than we imagined (which I fully believe is possible) that something like this could happen, I still don't think it would happen this way - that the future universe is coming back in time, just to break some magnets. Nature is rarely so subtle.

    I do believe in the possibility of multiverse theory being correct, which also allows me to believe in some form of time travel, but a more natural extension of this all is that the particles created in the future tear a hole in time-space and destroy the collision center of the machine, not some magnets around the edge (unless an accidental collision occurred elsewhere, i suppose).

    Plus, I've never figured out if time-space would follow the earth in its orbit, or if these things would just happen out in space somewhere, at the spot in orbit the earth was going to be at.

    I really hope this is kind of correct, or the universe would be a much less interesting place. I fear that one day we'll figure everything about this stuff out, and that it won't be a magical world of multiverses and time travel.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by notgm ( 1069012 )

      i brought this up before, and was shouted down a little bit.

      i think it's less like the future leaking back to prevent the present, and more like the present just isn't capable of reaching the future we expect.

      it's like the first time you ever put two little toy magnets together, north pole to north pole. not really knowing anything about them, you think they might stay, but one flips as soon as you take away your hand. try as you might, there is no way for you, as a child, to keep them together effectivel

    • Re:Almost... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Verteiron ( 224042 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:15PM (#29735441) Homepage

      No, it's just the guys running the simulation don't have any code to handle what we're doing with the LHC, so they keep tweaking things to break it while they work on a patch.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Normal Dan ( 1053064 )
        That's what they did with the tower of babel. They didn't have space all figured out just yet so they just gave everyone some encryption. Also, when the hubble came out, they didn't have deep space done quite yet. (They did, but it was having some rollover errors.) So they decided to break the mirror a little bit.

        It all makes sense if you don't think about it.
  • by rsborg ( 111459 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:03PM (#29735273) Homepage
    This "theory" is horribly bad, inconsistent with modern concept of time and light-cones, but would make a kick-ass book or movie. Hollywood, you know what to do!
  • 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 ttimes ( 534696 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:04PM (#29735289)
    ...but did you notice no one mentioned that it is simply hard to create the conditions necessary to detect the Higgs boson? We too quickly opt for the sci-fi answer and though the idea of time based sabotage is fun, it makes for a better movie than it does an answer. And how was such a conjecture published without data or peer review? Nothing to see here, next particle please...
  • by tylersoze ( 789256 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:05PM (#29735305)
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:05PM (#29735307)

    [quote]the Large Hadron Collider's difficulties may be due to the universe's reluctance to produce a Higgs boson[/quote]

    Let's apply Occam's Razor. One of two cases must be true, either:
    (a) "the Large Hadron Collider's difficulties may be due to the universe's reluctance to produce a Higgs boson"
    (b) building a machine like this is rather complicated and it might take a few goes before they get it right.

    Of course, there could be an option (c) they really suck. I'll try that on my boss the next time I fuck something up. "No, see, it's not that I'm not any good at my job, it's that the universe is conspiring against the proper completion of the project. Have I ever mentioned Schroedinger's Cat?"

  • 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.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:13PM (#29735403) Journal
    It's because it would have lead to time travel:
    • Duke Nukem Forever: A brilliant physicist spending his days masturbating pauses to download the latest copy of Duke Nukem Forever only to realize it's the worst game ever made. Unable to 'unplay' the game, he sets his mind to developing a way to travel back in time in order to prevent himself from playing the game and instead spend his time doing better things (like masturbating). Unless Duke Nukem Forever can never be released due to unexplainable problems!
    • Hurd: A revolutionizing operating system is delivered to MIT's labs only to allow the physicists 100% computational up time and serious efficiency. Unplagued by BSODs and kernel panics, the lab flourishes to the point of developing a way to time travel. Unless Hurd is development is never completed!
    • Steorn's Free Energy: Currently a large hurtle in faster than light travel is the energy required to move the tiniest amount of mass at that speed. Steorn's perpetual motion machine would have provided that energy ... unless their debut in London fantastically flopped and stymied them resulting in an international laughing stock.
    • ReiserFS: Had nothing to do with potential time travel, Hans just got out of control and killed his wife.
  • I dunno (Score:5, Funny)

    by should_be_linear ( 779431 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:19PM (#29735477)
    Did anyone tried to fix LHC by waterboarding main scientist? Today I was trained at my workplace to think outside the box.
  • 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 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?

    • by mpoulton ( 689851 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:55PM (#29736003)
      That misinterprets the theory, by falling for the news author's anthropomorphism on the universe. The theory isn't that the universe is actually a conscious being that throws a wrench in the works and makes the LHC break just in the nick of time. The theory really is that in every multiverse where the LHC works correctly, the multiverse is destroyed by the abominable bosons. We are all riding through a series of universes in which the LHC repeatedly fails to work. At each point where a quantum event occurs which eventually leads to the LHC either working or failing, the universe splits and our consciousness follows the branch where the LHC fails, because existence is extinguished in the other branch. Is this somehow more solidly believable than the author's "sentient universe messing with stuff" explanation? Probably not.
      • by mbkennel ( 97636 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @06:27PM (#29738361)

        "The theory really is that in every multiverse where the LHC works correctly, the multiverse is destroyed by the abominable bosons. We are all riding through a series of universes in which the LHC repeatedly fails to work."

        But that semi-sophistry could apply to any conservation law or forbidden transition:

        Put on your spooky voice and say "The creation of a particle in a configuration which violated conservation of momentum would cause such a Disturbance In the Force that it would wipe out the whole of the Universe, so we are sailing in a sea of universes selected from the Master Multiverse for which only momentum-conserving outcomes just happened to take place".

        More reasonably, physicists say, "Some transitions are forbidden due to conservation laws" and there are observable consequences. This is normal physics.

        Would the present hypothetical Higgs case be any different?

      • by Walkingshark ( 711886 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @05:27AM (#29742353) Homepage

        You realize, of course, that if this is the case then you will never die unless there is no possible universe in which you could continue existing.

      • I am also finding that there is a very high correlation between the multiverses where the LHC doesn't work and those in which I do not win the Lotto and become a billionaire.

        While correlation is not causation, I have to wonder... Do I only win the Lotto in the multiverses where the LHC works correctly?

    • by zmooc ( 33175 ) <(zmooc) (at) (zmooc.net)> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:04PM (#29736153) Homepage

      It's the other way around. The universe "does" nothing. It merely prevents certain scenario's from happening. You might think of the current situation as one of infinitely many parallel universes. That we're currently slashdotting in the one were those magnets happened to fail, does not mean that that is the only scenario happening, it merely means that we happen to be in that universe, in that timeline. In other timelines they're probably discussing why a meterorite happened fall exactly on the LHC;-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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

  • Superstition (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vga_init ( 589198 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:23PM (#29735525) Journal

    I have to point out that this is merely superstitious thought; there is no evidence to indicate that this is the reason why the collider failed, and while the theory *is* possible, it defies rationality. The simplest/most obvious explanation is the the collider simply failed due to technical reasons due to flaws in design or construction. Anyone could tell you that. Saying that it didn't happen because the Universe simply didn't allow it is the same as if you just substituted "God" for the word "Universe." Why didn't X happen? God didn't allow it. Why did Y happen? God made it happen. I'm not saying that it's wrong to believe in God, but these "explanations" are really non-explanations.

  • by Beelzebud ( 1361137 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:23PM (#29735535)
    Next they'll tell us that we live in an electrified universe!
  • by ianm.phil ( 1140173 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:26PM (#29735591)

    This is ridiculous and not worthy of any publication, let alone the NYT (and should not be propagated on slashdot, imho).

    In short, the Higgs boson (if theories are correct) is a scalar that provides mass to all particles. That means it is present at all times everywhere. So, although it is tongue in cheek, we are swimming in an invisible soup of Higgs particles at each moment. To say that universe doesn't want us to create one is like saying people are born blind because the universe didn't want us to experience light.

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:38PM (#29735747) Journal

    I'm talking about the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future.

    As proof of this, the NY-Times article can only be read by some observers but not others.

  • 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.

  • 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.....

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel