A tweet series. The compilation on this page is updated periodically. For accompanying photos and latest tweets, see Twitter feed.
Visiting CERN, disappointed “and Void” missing from sign seen here. Taken for granted? Many have argued against it.
I ask my CERN guide, “Why do physics?” I hear of the pleasure of understanding. Would total understanding bring total pleasure?
Epicurus recommended constant activity in the study of nature as a means to bring calm to one’s life. (Ep. to Herodotus 37)
I learn the LHC is used to discover particles and their properties. Facts of the matter, you might say.
I hear of potential limits of knowledge due to certain quantities being brute facts of this cosmos, irreducible &contingent. Cf. @tegmark.
Epicurus to Herodotus (45): “There is an unlimited number of cosmoi, and some are similar to this one and some are dissimilar.”
I ask, “What effects have CERN’s discoveries had on how people live?” A confused look, then: “Oh, tech spinoffs? The Web started here.”
I clarify: “Has CERN reduced superstition?” My guide appears nonplussed, then responds, “I suppose the Web has… hmm.”
I do not see the connection to CERN, but, like @platobooktour, I have been captivated by the Web since my return. And by Twitter.
I find the Web’s first server, now off despite the note affixed. I learn the Web persists even as its parts come and go.
I am happy to find atomic theory has developed nicely but disturbed to find “atom” used to refer to things that have parts.
My guide explains the LHC collides protons — atom-parts — and shows me a bottle of the sort used to supply them.
Me: “The knowledge you seek; is it in the bottle to begin with?” My CERN guide: “No. Yes. No, it is not like that.”
I volunteer to my CERN guide that some have considered me a physicist. He asks my specialty, and it is my turn to be confused. “Nature.”
He inquires as to what I have published. “One volume of six books, for a lay audience. A Latin poem.” His eyes grow wide.
I pull a small red hardcover volume from my pack and offer it to him. “Latin on left, English on right.”
“You wouldn’t believe the crackpot papers I receive in my inbox,” my guide says while taking my book. “Each a ToE — a Theory of Everything.”
He flips through the pages and says, “What is the translation of the title ‘De rerum natura?'” Me: “On the nature of things.”
“But it is not a theory of everything,” I continue. “In fact, the last section was cut short by a… deadline.”
“I cover fundamental physics, atomic theory, spirit & mind, sensation & thought, origins of cosmos & life, meteorology. Hardly everything.”
“I had hoped to write a book on the atomic nature of the gods, but time has not permitted.” My CERN guide promptly hands back my book.
“Not another book on the ‘God’ particle, I hope,” he says. Me: “The subject is well covered?” Guide: “Do you follow @seanmcarroll?”
“I do. I even maintain a list of physicists on Twitter. I’ve not seen any address the atomic nature of the gods.”
The rest of the CERN tour group enters. Our guide, with a concerned glance at me, says, “We’ll now watch a short video on the LHC.”
The video shown on the CERN tour is in 3-D. I am distracted by the distinction between perception and reality and miss much of the film.
The video ends, the lights return, and I remove the glasses. The 3-D world seems to have less dimensionality than the film; how is that?
We proceed to a room filled with screens where bits flow to and from the operators and scientists, collisions controlling their minds.
The tour ends and the group disperses. A few visitors pose parting questions to our guide. He eyes me as he edges toward the door.
The last visitor satisfied, I approach my departing CERN tour guide. As I follow, we nearly collide with a woman entering. My guide smiles.
“Hi Lisa,” he says. Then to me: “This is Lisa, a friend I texted during the video and asked to come meet you. Lisa, this is, um…”
“Lucretius,” I offer. My guide: “Lisa studies the history and philosophy of science and enjoys talking with persons such as yourself.”
“Physicists?” I venture.
“Those who send us theories of everything,” he says. Lisa winces.
“Thanks for coming; I have to run.” And he goes.
“Lisa, I am afraid I told him my theories hardly encompass everything.”
“Perhaps I should be the judge of that,” she says.
I hand her my copy of De Rerum Natura. “It is all I have had to say.” She leafs through it.
“I have read parts. You are the author?”
“Why did you come to CERN today?” Lisa asks. I respond, “To assess the status of atomism.” “What have you found?” “Uncertainty.”
“Do you have a more certain theory to share?” Lisa asks. “No, I am certain only that I have questions.” “Let’s get coffee,” she suggests.
Carefully stirring and watching the swirling cream in her coffee, Lisa says, “What did you mean by finding uncertainty at CERN?”
“There remains a limit of knowledge, a boundary of ignorance. Is this a permanent state of affairs?” The contents of her cup become uniform.
Lisa says, “Would you have there be a limit to ‘why?’”
“Perhaps, at least, a limit to ‘how?'” I reply.
“What of the view that the laws underlying the physics of everyday life now are understood?” she asks.
“Yes, I took it in De Rerum Natura.”
Lisa: “But there is much you misunderstood.”
Me: “I argued all is atoms moving in void. Matter, energy, space, time. Is more now known?”
I continue: “My aim was to show cosmos where some saw chaos. The existence of ‘a’ mechanism is key; not identification of the ‘right’ one.”
“Most now take the mechanistic view for granted and labor to identify the particular mechanisms,” says Lisa.
“Progress of a sort. But, if they fully accept the mechanistic view, then what motivates continued research?” I respond.
Lisa: “In some areas, utility. In others, beauty.”
Me: “Not fear?”
Lisa: “Of what?”
Me: “Fear of chaos lurking beyond the known.”
Lisa: “No, not fear of chaos in nature. However, there is a fear of professional chaos due to failure to obtain funding and positions.”
Me: “In disputes that rattle the foundations of science, I see the older fear.”
Lisa: “Such as anthropic arguments?”
Lisa says, “Could not resistance to anthropic arguments be driven more by disappointment in absence of beauty than by fear of chaos?”
Me: “If so, it is misplaced. Would the sunset be more beautiful if it were not contingent?”
“You mix subjects.”
“You separate them.”
To be continued.