Well. I'm still enough of a science geek to find this very exciting. The Large Hadron Collider seems to be starting up this time. Cool.
Of course it will be quite a while yet before they can calibrate the thing and run it up to full power to do the real experiments we've all been waiting for. I guess that still gives me time to make my opposing case: that this spells the end of "normal science" within the current paradigm.
I feel so strangely calm about it, not really caring a whole lot if the machine works, or if it breaks down again, but surely hoping that interesting things are discovered and that no-one gets hurt along the way.
As must all people of my generation, I remember the rocket launches of my youth so vividly. We all gathered in school to watch on TV, without any dissenting voices that this was some political stunt. It was exciting beyond imagining, and gave a sense of promise to our future.
I knew I wasn't going up in any spaceships, since that took too much military commitment, so I turned to the inner space of our oceans and took up SCUBA diving. Oh, sure, I thought about becoming a Navy SEAL, when I didn't want to be a secret agent. But for me, the trouble started when Lake Erie, along whose shores I grew up, turned so clouded with death that you couldn't see your hand in front of your face beneath its waters.
And very gradually, I've awakened to the essentially political content of all our boldest moves. These contests and challenges which get us cheering wild. But the war in Vietnam really did put an end to one sort of patriotic ferver. And the shuttle disasters gave some perspective to our outer space explorations.
Now the Large Hadron Collider elicits hardly any collective excitement at all. It's way too geeky and hard to understand. I guess everyone believes that there could be some interesting outcomes from such a huge experiment in basic science. We retain some hope for a renewal of that enthusiasm which Einstein once elicited.
Among other things, Einstein was a first among mass-media celebrities. He was a world-class personality, who became our image of the great discoverers of the modern world.
In our Post Modern reality, these celebrities have been replaced by the uber-geek; a kind of triumph of the nerds, who do stuff which doesn't merit superstar adulation, but which we're all glad for them to do. Since we do appreciate their cool resulting products.
Science has become a plodding massive enterprise, whose superstars now are represented well enough by the Intel ads. Every once in a while, some individual scientist with a populist touch makes it onto PBS or among the bestselling authors. Following on Carl Sagan's legacy maybe.
I liked Sagan's take on making Contact! Where there was no way to determine if the actual contact with alien life was made in reality or in the time-traveler's mind. Where the really expensive machine provided something impossible to distinguish from really dangerous drugs.
I don't think the Large Hadron Collider is in that category at all. We're not looking to make contact with anything other than the limits to what our mind can comprehend. The limits to what we can consider the hard facts of reality.
Whatever happens over there, I really do hope that the machine does work. There is no question that we will learn something important as a result of it firing up successfully.
My prediction has been, and I'm pretty sure will remain, consistent. There will be the somewhat disappointing discovery that there is no real end to the splitting of infinities among the particles which we can detect. This is the Zeno paradox all over again, written as large as it can get.
We will sort-of detect a sort-of particle, all the while continuing to hunt for certainties in the world around us. While, in actual fact, it's long past obvious that there are none at those limits.
At the limits of the ability of human mind to comprehend, there will only be the reflection of our effort to comprehend, and we will be thrown back to wonder what we should do instead to generate the modest agreements which are required for continued life on the planet.
I think it sometimes pleasant to speculate what we could know if our brains were that much more powerful than they are. But it just may be that the limits to intelligence are also the limits to what we can do with mind collectively.
It is my position that conscious intelligence has never been the property of individual minds. And that therefore, the "equipment" on which mind rides is not its limiting factor. Instead, what ultimately limits mind is those same limits in our ability to get along; to agree, to coordinate our efforts.
So, without question, I celebrate the triumph of this CERN collider. Getting it built and funded across cultural and language barriers gives hope also that there is something bigger than these United States, which can gather the best among us in some conspiracy of hope.
I like that this effort is post-patriotic, post-partisan, and the purest sort of science. What I don't like is that only the purest sort of science can engender this level of agreement. We still seem so far away, with anything short of particle physics.
Still - and here's how far out I remain myself - I'm going to keep writing simply because the more I write, the more I discover around me that there is less and less distance between what I say and what the world is waking up to.
Neither you nor I will be able to tell if that's because my own thinking continues to evolve, or if it's because, like Orpheus praying for the sunrise, this type of thinking has to be carried on, even in the absence of anyone paying attention, as a kind of prayer into the non-existent ether.