Category: CERN

A Very Short Introduction to Nothing

Was there a creation or was there always something? Could there even be nothing if there were no one to know there was nothing? The more I tried to understand these enigmas, the more I felt that I was at the edge of either true enlightenment or madness. — Frank Close

I’ve just finished the concise & entertaining “Nothing: A Very Short Introduction” by Frank Close. It’s part of the “Very Short Introduction” series from Oxford University Press. They are generally reliable. The obvious trap is for the author to talk more about his own views/work than his subject in general, but of the 20 I’ve read, only two have made this mistake (Hume & Ancient Warfare, if you must know).

Frank Close, who is a big name in nothing, in the physics of nothing that is, does a nice, very short job of introducing it to us, starting with the Rigveda’s Creation Hymn:

There was neither non-existence nor existence then.

There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.

What stirred? Where?

up through the Higgs vacuum, the idea that the vacuum is not empty but is pervaded by the Higgs fields, which is responsible for giving particles mass. CERN was built partly to check this out & the cernistas are now hot on the trail of the Higgs.

I’m suspicious of the Higgs particle myself; it has a slightly kludgy feel to it, at least to my taste. I think particles have had a good run for their money over the last century & and now it is time for emergent phenomena to have a go. For instance, only a few percent of the mass of the protons & neutrons comes from the masses of their constituent quarks; most of their mass is really from the energy (via the familiar mass = E/c-squared) of the quantum dance of those quarks. If most mass comes from the energy stored in quantum interactions, could all mass be the result of such? Certainly an interesting question & and would leave us with one less variable to explain, with a slightly less massive problem.

In fact, I’d go further myself: space and time are difficult to understand, what if they are merely averages over the quantum wave function of the rest of the universe? and all of our universe is merely the friction of one part of the quantum wave function of the universe against another part. No mass, no space, no time, no vacuum, nothing but interactions.

The Large Hadron Collider — Followup

Paul Halpern‘s talk on The Large Hadron Collider at Philcon on 11/21/2009 came off well.  I’ve since had a chance to read his Collider: The Search for the World’s Smallest Particles since.  The talk was basically the book light or, if you prefer, the book is the talk heavy.   Good jobs either way.

Paul had  a lot of fun with the idea that someone (from the future) is maliciously trying to keep us pitiful humans from building a high energy collider; first the money difficulties the Superconducting Super-Collider had in Texas and then the explosion at the Large Hadron Collider.  But now that the LHC is in fact colliding (if not yet at full strength), perhaps the little blue men have given all this up as a bad job.
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The Large Hadron Collider – Talk Tomorrow

Followup post posted 12/2/2009.

Tomorrow, Saturday November 21st at 7:00 pm,  my friend Paul Halpern will be doing a talk based on his latest book, Collider: The Search for the World’s Smallest Particles:

the Large Hadron Collider

This is at the Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention, in Cherry Hill, PA. Directions and so forth at
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