Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Why we (or I) fight.

So I've been reading a bit lately on the imminent launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the latest and certainly most ambitious project by CERN, at the French-Swiss border. It reminds me of why I do what I do (or at least how I can justify why I do what I do, which may be as good as I can get). Now, one question is "but Nick, you work in Ethics. How does a big-ass atom smasher give you pause about why you do what you do?"

Well, it is partly because of my science background, but also at the sheer scale of this project that CERN is attempting. I mean, in my romantic vision of the function of the philosopher, it is the uncovering of some deeper truths in our world that enlighten the philosopher, the colleagues they work with, and (at least I sincerely hope and my be deluded as a result of this belief) the world at large. Yes, continentals, I hear you sneering and muttering dark saying about the crimes of Descartes. But I sincerely believe that you also have made a very positive contribution to my life, even if only because I spend so much time scratching my head about things you've said.

But, as usual, I digress. While I'm doing so, take a look at some funkay pictures

If philosophy is the seeking out of truths for the noble purpose of raising humanity up, and not merely the sitting about ranting about minor problems with semantic content in papers written by those long dead (although that is also, in some respects, important in its own way), then the women and men who have worked on the LHC are philosophers without compare. Far be it to merely talk about what the deeper structure of the universe might be like, they have instead decided that they'll try and actually find out, by smashing together a set of particles together at such a speed that space and time itself are sundered, and hopefully a bunch of particles will be seen that every individual in the world who has studied particle physics up to (and of course beyond) a postgrad level is hoping exists. And if they don't, so much is the better because unlike (it seems) many aspects of philosophy, physics can be concisely disproved, torn asunder, and left to die. And physicists in general seem to be pretty okay with this. Don't mistake me: they aren't all, and nor is this typical of most sciences. Physics, in many ways, has it easy.

And no, this isn't going to solve world hunger, the energy crisis, global warming, extreme antibiotic resistant tuberculosis, corporate paedophilia, the rampant injustices of the free-market economic rationalist state, vertical power structures, retributive justice and all its worries (good luck to Chuck on his impending thesis submission!), or any of the plethora of terrible problems that plague our world.

But it is, in its own way, very beautiful, and enthralling to those who have seen what has been written on it. And why else is the world worth being in to the point that there are a growing number of philosophers trying to get out of the ivory tower, hit the streets and get some change happening? not that we are doing so very fast, but this is a growth period for the movement, I feel. Still, Clive does it well.

More than people might think, the LHC is the magnum opus of much of current science. It is one of the projects that those who practice, study, or merely dabble in the hard sciences are so keen to see happen. And I think a world where there is less of the above problems, less affluenza, and more experiments that might not even occur because the experiment itself will go back in time to stop itself happening. This thing pushes the edges of human understanding about the limits of our collective power over the universe, the strangeness of the world we live in, and (to this writer), gives me more faith in the wondrous aspects of science enriching our lives than anything Richard Dawkins had to say on the subject. It is my hope that the more of my world will be able to see and appreciate these wonders, and not just the rich white folk like myself (ha, I called myself rich). And that, at least, is one of the many reasons why I do what I do.


xeyr said...

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you've seen

If not, well, there's your link :P

Nick said...

Thanks xeyr, I hadn't. That said, it isn't entirely capturing of the process, in that it the turn on countdown, not the coutndown to when the LHC will actually be used. Still a month away from that, but things look to be on schedule, crazy time-paradox stoppages aside.