On July 4, C.E.R.N physicists publicly acknowledged the existence of the fabled Higgs boson, and the world cheered.
The ‘God particle’ is being popularly hailed as the most significant discovery since experimental confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity. The physicists being championed for leading mankind another significant step, rather, a giant leap closer to understanding the workings of the universe. What is being less talked about is what it cost to get us there.
C.E.R.N’s Large Hadron collider(LHC), completed in 2008, is mankind’s most sophisticated feat of engineering. Built with hopes of gaining insights into 96 percent of the universe invisible to us- ‘dark’ matter- the doorkeeper to which is the Higgs boson. LHC is a giant atom smasher, a playground where physicists simulate conditions fractions of seconds into the big bang. And quite an expensive toy.
Does an intellectual quest justify the billions of dollars drained from a world on its economic crutches? When a significant portion of human beings barely keep abreast of the poverty line? Human rights activists will no doubt holler about malnourished children in Africa, but Michael Tuts, Professor of Physics at Columbia University thinks it is.
“In the early 1900s, I doubt anyone could have foreseen how quantum mechanics would become the bedrock of our current technology (such as cell phones and computers) or how important Einstein’s theory of general relativity would be.”- he says. “Could anyone have imagined that the effects predicted by general relativity are crucial to the accurate functioning of the ubiquitous GPS systems that we have in our cell phones?”
On a different note, Barack Obama, before being elected for his first term, was asked if he believed there was life out there in the cosmos. “What I know is that there’s life here on earth, and we’re not attending to life here on earth.” he glibly answered. “That’s what I’ll be attending to first.”
Mankind’s reach for the stars is at the expense of its own kind. Hundreds and thousands of humans sacrificed on the altars of science along the way is just collateral damage.
It would be criminal in context, to leave out the most significant engineer in history, one Nikola Tesla, born in 1856.
Had Tesla’s inventions perpetuated, we wouldn’t be paying for electricity today. Cars would not burn fossil fuels. Global warming would be less of an issue and more importantly, society significantly closer to a socialist utopia. Capitalism’s death knell resounding.
So much for the God particle.
Christopher Nolan’s iconic film, ‘The Prestige’ features Tesla as a minor character played by David Bowie. In a memorable moment the film’s protagonist Angier, played by Hugh Jackman, is thus introduced to the inventor’s genius:
As night falls and the town of Colorado Springs sleeps, Tesla diverts its electricity to power his own experiments; Angier left awestruck when bulbs light up without wires, and continue to shine when lifted from the snow.
What is less widely known is Tesla was actually capable of such wizardry. There are accounts of reporters visiting Tesla’s labs where electricity was similarly harnessed without wires. Yet when Tesla sought funds to mass produce it, J.P Morgan refused because he couldn’t put a meter on it.
Tesla’s contributions were further censored by the physics ‘priesthood’ since it made out their beliefs on the universe’s workings to be a joke. Tesla showed that energy could be borrowed freely from the environment. But our current science has since devolved into a capitalist tool for perpetuating scarcity economics, forgotten the primary reason science exists: to better human life.
Most physicists do not swear by the ‘God particle’ lest they be compared to priests, claiming it sensationalizes an extremely mundane, weighty problem: how subatomic particles acquired mass at the beginning of our universe, how they ceased to be ‘virtual’ and became ‘real’. Whatever it might have cost, the Higgs boson has unquestionably laid bare new frontiers.
The world is watching from the sidelines, psyched for the next breakthrough. But any physicist worth their salt will be bracing for the low blow- for history tells that a significant scientific breakthrough is only ever a humbling experience. When the veil of dark matter lifts, we might look up at the stars and discover we havenít come as far as weíd like to believe, and might still be trapped in the darkness of Plato’s cave measuring shadows with ruler, compass and astrolabe.