Coded gray.

Friday 8 September 2000


Pic of the day: This could be our world ten - or even five - years from now.

LHC & the end of the world

One of the most worrying things I have read in my life. No kidding. I just today read in the August issue of Scientific American that the Large Hadron Collider will be set to produce microscopic black holes, to test out various cosmological theories. The holes will only exist for a fraction of a second, before they evaporate due to Hawking radiation.

This, of course, provided that Hawking radiation exists. It has so far not been observed, and very few if any people now alive are able to understand Hawking's maths, not to mention prove or disprove it.

If the Hawking radiation does not exist, or is much less than anticipated, there is no way to dispose of the black holes, nor confine them. They - or rather, the first of them - will swallow the earth. Luckily it stops there, as gravity weakens with the square of distance. Even so, it means the end of all known life in the universe. Uncool.


I'm not anti-scientific in general. Quite the contrary. I think reasonable chances should be taken. Genetically modified crops? Fine by me. Radioactive reactors in satelites? A calculated risk worth taking. But the limit goes at risking the only known life-bearing planet in the universe. All of it. Every itty bitty little atom. Not just the destruction of all life, but of all signs of life. All the accomplishments of life from the first cell onward, except a few relics in space. Gone, just like that.

Admittedly, Hawking is a bright fellow. One of the brightest. Even so, I think we should allow a new generation of scientists to look over his formulas. Very few scientists have been absolutely right in the past. Usually there comes some new paradigm that overturns the old. Today we're thinking of gravity in the terms of gravitons (gravity particles) and gravity waves, just like the other 3 fundamental forces. But unlike all of these, no gravitons have ever been observed, and there are no undisputed observations of gravity waves. If we don't even know how gravity works, are we really going to play with it this close?

In 50 years, we could build this stuff on the moon. We might miss the romantic moonlight, but we'd still be here, if worst came to worst.

And remember, it's not like this stuff is going to cure cancer or end world hunger, even if it is successful. Quite the opposite. Even if there should be no black hole in the cosmological sense, there already is one in the economic sense.


I know it's not likely that anyone will be bothered to think about this. The scientists like their super-toys, and are obsessed enough to take a small risk, as they see it. (I'm enough of a scientist myself to understand the feeling, and how hard it would be to resist.) Other people think about what they're gonna wear at the next party and how to revenge themselves on their ex. The end of the world is simply too theoretical. Too abstract. It's not something you want to think about.

But I think that every experiment with even a microscopic potential to destroy the planet, should be taken off-planet. Because we don't have more than this one planet, yet. As for this experiment, we frankly don't know whether the risk is small or large, as no Hawking radiation has ever been observed, nor any of the effects it primarily depends on.

If someone gave you a big jar of candy and told you that one of the candies contained a letal dose of poison, would you start eating until you approached the number where you on average would pick the poison candy? I think not. How much more careful should we not be about risking 6 billion humans, and all the animals and all the plants and the entire freaking planet? This kind of stuff should simply not be done. Least of all with a brand new theory that has never been verified by any observation. And for no significant purpose, except pure curiosity!

I'll likely just go on with my life, the time I may have left. It's not like I can do anything about this anyway. But it certainly ruined my day, it did.

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