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Irrelativity: Science and ‘that’s what she said’

Barry Smith
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyBarry Smith
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I don’t know if ignorance really is bliss, but it certainly can make for the occasional good time.

For instance, I know nothing about physics, so when I read quotes from physicists, no matter how dire or serious they may be, my filter of ignorance makes them look like setups for juvenile punch lines.

Like this one: “There is powerful empirical evidence against the possibility of dangerous strangelet production,” an actual scientist said.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Well, unless you’re a physicist, you kinda have to be. You’re thinking: “That’s what she said …” Then you’re re-reading the quote to examine all the double-entendre potential that exists within it, probably unable to stifle a giggle each time you get to the word “strangelet.” Ha!

I have to admit, though, that it’s sometimes hard to maintain this blissful bubble of ignorance, especially when the universe is about to be destroyed.

That’s the gist of the online article where I got the “strangelet” quote from ” that the Universe is about to be destroyed. In fact, it’s right there in the headline: “World’s Largest Supercollider Could Destroy the Universe.”

I look at that headline, which is not intended to be a joke, and I think, oh no … we’re all gonna die! This is bad, right? But then the sweet balm of ignorance kicks in, I read the headline again and I think, “That’s what she said …” even though it’s one of the rare instances where that joke doesn’t work.

Here’s the story: Just outside of Geneva, Switzerland is the 16-mile long tunnel that houses a Large Hadron Collider, a device designed to smash protons into each other at 99.999999 percent the speed of light. A Supercollider. According to the press release from CERN, the research firm building the supercollider, ” … our current understanding of the Universe is incomplete … the theory we use … leaves many unsolved questions. Among them, the reason why elementary particles have mass, and why are their masses different?”

The supercollider is scheduled to be fired up this summer and start giving answers to these big questions. However, some scientists fear that this near-recreation of the Big Bang could create tiny black holes, which would then grow into larger black holes and quickly swallow up our solar system. This would be a drag, even for those who crave adventure. And then there are the “strangelets,” a theoretical form of “strange matter,” which I’m assuming is just what it sounds like. If strangelets are created during the supercollision, they could create a chain reaction fusion process, eventually converting every atom on the planet into “strange matter.” And even a non-scientist knows what that means ” a planet consisting of nothing but “Dancing With The Stars” spin-offs.

So why, then, someone who knows nothing about the topic wonders, is colliding, much less SUPER colliding, such a good idea? Is it because the head scientist of the project used to catch bugs as a kid and put them in jar and shake them up to watch them fight each other? Is it because scientists tried dropping protons out of twelfth story windows with some amazing results, and thought that smashing them together really, really fast would be even cooler?

The whole colliding thing just seems like such a violent way of solving universal mysteries. If the proton does actually know some answers, aren’t there better ways to get them to reveal them to us? Like:

The SuperDistractor ” An underground entertainment center designed specifically with the uptight proton in mind. Playstation, plasma screen, foosball, pool table, trampoline, high speed internet ” when the proton is embroiled in a game of Donkey Kong, it’s bound to blurt out the secret of the Universe without even knowing it.

The SuperRelaxer ” Like a proton spa ” hot tub, sauna, lap pool, hookah. Who’s to say that a couple of protons weren’t just chilling one day and decided, hey, wouldn’t it be kinda cool to get together and form, like, a Universe? Groovy. The SuperRelaxer could simulate these circumstances and allow scientists to do whatever it is that scientists do while it happened ” take notes and get grants and stuff.

Waterboarding ” Maybe a bit of gentle “encouragement” is all that’s needed to get the stubborn, tight-lipped proton to reveal the secret plans of the universe. True, information gathered under such circumstances is not reliable, but it is a bit more humane than colliding.

If you know the answers to any of my questions, please don’t tell me. It’ll ruin the bliss.

Visit Barry Smith’s web site at http://www.barrysmith.com.


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