The Frontier of Science Is Expansive and Expensive The Higgs Boson and the humble revelation that in fundamental research the truth is priceless, yet so costly
The CERN physicists announced, around mid-March 2013, that the particle discovered a year before, which they had claimed to be the Higgs boson “with 99% certainty”, had gained another “1% of certainty”. That is it, the verdict is in! The particle which bestows mass on us, the source of our weight, has become a factual given. We have found the Creator among quanta, but we still need to search deeply into our souls to find Him, if we want the mystery of Creation to ever be completely revealed to us. The attempt to re-create the Creation remains a costly business.
At the time of Babylon, we pursued the Heavenly God by building towards the heavens, but a communication issue derailed the job. Then we rummaged through space, where we collided with infinity. Our eyes are not good enough to find Him in the Universe, and the Multi-verse really troubles us, we who are so boringly four-dimensional. We have dug towards the microcosmos, splitting matter in order to find there the traces of the Creation, we, who are so talented when it comes to destruction.
The godless demigod Stephen Hawking should pay up. Apparently, he bet 100 dollars that the most sought-after piece in Creation’s puzzle would not reveal itself. But CERN, the world’s largest particle physics research centre, has made an even greater bet. It is a 4-billion euro bet by the financing states, a bet with no certain rate of return, and whose maturity date is the day before the end of the world (which might be brought about precisely by this bet, according to the doomsayers).
Even if the hysteria regarding accidental black holes (Hawking’s favourite theoretical playground) appears to have been just another quantum folklore tale, the theme of black holes in various inter-government initiatives remains a kind of universal constant of the market. Although CERN had an encouraging history of civilisation-changing successes (such as the “www”) before the operation of the “hadron collider”, the latter’s opportuneness remains a legitimate concern. Hawkins once warned that, if the particle accelerator or the space programme are not considered worthy of one thousandth of our GDP, we do not deserve to be called human; do we really not?!
Economics could provide alternative eschatological jokes to those about such experiments as CERN one the French-Swiss border, as there still are quite a few economic policies which play with us, shoving us through affluence-austerity cycles, and which represent real social calamities. Even though there is relative consensus that the physics equivalent of Communism is Oppenheimer’s atomic bomb, some are still testing cynical policies on people’s health and lives.
The CERN researchers’ objective is not modest by any means. They wish to better understand the birth and the structure of the Universe, and to fill the remaining gaps in our knowledge about physics. By recreating the first moments after the Big Bang, the experiment was aimed at clarifying what the Universe was made out of in its depths, and also at predicting its future course. A course we would share, naturally.
Hawking asked those wishing to reap immediate benefits from this very daring experiment to be patient. He stated that, in history, people had studied pure science due to their wish to understand the Universe, rather than for practical applications with commercial benefits. Nevertheless, he continued, their discoveries later proved to have great practical advantages. He claimed that, while at present it is difficult to see any profit deriving from the LHC research, this does not mean that there will never be any.
And yet, his answer to the question “How much science is necessary?” was simple: as much as we can take. In the garage sale market, everything is fundamental, from sub-atomic particles to pedestrian pavement (a perennial Romanian obsession and fiscal black hole), from space programmes to rural gyms. However, there still remains room for understanding that, beyond the billions of years and euro or dollars which stand between us and the beginning and end of time, the fundamental particle is the free human being.