Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Here Today Gone Today

Photo: Lucas Taylor
In l0 to the l00th power years watch out. Dennis Overbye quotes that piece of exponential data from a paper written by Joseph Lykten, of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Maria Spiropulu of Caltech in a recent article in Science Times, (“Finding the Higgs Leads to More Puzzles,” NYT, 11/4/13).  As Overbye points out, “The idea is that the Higgs field could someday twitch and drop to a lower energy state, like water freezing into ice, thereby obliterating the workings of reality as we know it. Naturally, we would have no warning. Just blink and it’s over.” Not with a bang, but with a blink. Even though l0 to the l00th may seem like a lot of years, those great grandchildren to the l00th power are still flesh and blood and one feels for anyone who goes from living a full and active life to non-existence. Of course, non-existence is the great leveler and the Higgs boson will mete out a kind of poetic justice for those who have entered the sweepstakes, spending their lives vying for the great rewards, only to find themselves continually left in the dust. If the lines from Shelley's “Ozymanidas,” “Look on my works, yet Mighty, and despair" is a source of consolation to these poor devils, then the demise of the Higgs field will help them to reap their ultimate vengeance. If only they were still here to experience it. Beauty, intelligence, cunning would all be for nought. Overbye quotes Prospero, “These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air: and…leave not a rack behind.” Or to quote Ecclesiastes,  “vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”  But is it worth the "50 years and $l0 billion or so” that Overbye’s piece describes as having been expended to tell us this?

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