Saturday, 14 May 2016

Friedrich Nietzsche and the Large Hadron Collider

The world's biggest machine

There is, apparently, a large circular tube underneath the edges of Switzerland and France. This houses the Large Hadron Collider. It cost about three thousand million Euros and is the world's biggest machine, by far. This is astonishing. How it came to be built should not be allowed to pass without comment. So, what is it, and how did it get there?

The LHC does science. But behind science is scientists, and just as there is a Realpolitik of personal and practical hopes and needs behind the Politics shown to the people, so there is a Real Science behind the outward show of papers and experiments.

Enter Friedrich Nietzsche, the odd-ball German Philosopher of the 1880s, who reminded us, in the endlessly entertaining Beyond Good and Evil;
"To be sure, among scientific men, you may find something like a drive for knowledge, a clockwork that, once wound, works without any participation from the other drives of the scholar. But the real "interests" of the scholar lie usually somewhere else, say, in his family, in making money, or in politics. 
There is a point in every philosophy when the philosopher's "conviction" appears on the stage."
So what's the Real "interests" behind the Hadron Collider? Seems to me it came about for three main reasons, in descending order of importance ...

1. It proves Europeans are Best....
...especially, that they're better than Americans. The USA was very busy building the Texas high-energy accelerator, but Europe got there first, and the Texas one lies in ruins. So hurrah for the Old Countries and Yah! Boo! to the uppity colonials. You don't get politicians organizing payments for stuff unless it's going to make them look good. And the LHC provides physical proof positive of European superiority, and a clear demonstration that European politicians are very clever and know about complicated physics and stuff.

2. It makes money. Lots of Money!
Surely you don't make money out of pure research? Oh yes you do. The LHC cost zillions, which goes into the pockets of building contractors, and surveyors and, of course, a certain amount drips off to politicians and civil servants. Without pressure from moneyed would-be builders, stuff like this doesn't get started.
If anyone had really wanted to just do science, it would have been drastically cheaper to simply finish off the Soviet accelerator near Moscow. It was headed to be a tad more capable than the Euro one, and would have come with ready-trained technicians. But the fall of the USSR stopped it, so to speak, in its tracks and, anyway, using it would have made Russia look Best, negating aim No 1.

The rusting tunnels of the abandoned Soviet particle accelerator
3. It does discovery.
Possibly so. But a poor, and relatively unimportant, third. All the same, 1 and 2 are what you have to do to get No 3. As Herr Nietzsche also said;
"The term "good" has no necessary connection with useful and unselfish actions,"