Because the black holes that the big machine will probably create will decay too quickly to start an irreversible sucking-into-the-black-hole kind of effect.

But wait, there is a glitch in that theory. As being reported by the Physics arXiv blog, Black holes from the LHC could survive for minutes.

In 2002, Roberto Casadio at the Universita di Bologna in Italy and a few pals reassured the world that this was not possible because the black holes would decay before they got the chance to do any damage.

Now they’re not so sure. The question is not simply how quickly a mini-black hole decays but whether this decay always outpaces any growth.

Recalculations seem to indicate that the black holes can last for seconds, maybe longer. This raises two questions:

1) How does that part about how the LHC can’t destroy Switzerland (or more) go again, only this time do it with the black holes lasting, oh, say, 30 seconds?

and

2) What is the change in the basis of confidence for these predictions that would be mandated if in fact the previous assertions are incorrect? In other words, what is the new meaning of “oh really, we’re quite certain, that think you are saying is totally impossible how could you even think it” in the post “impossible” version of this conversation?

I’m not making any assertions here. I’m just asking.

Comments

  1. #1 Doug Alder
    January 25, 2009

    And you’ve outlined the very reason why disciplines that have the potential to cause severe or irreparable harm to the environment need much stricter controls.Whether that be giant colliders such as the LHC or labs investigating the uses of nano materials (grey goo scenario), or agrilabs that introduce foreign genes into plant species only to discover too late that what they’ve released that wasn’t supposed to spread those genes into the wild have in fact done so. IOW science (and scientists) is not perfect, static, if it were it would be dogma not science. Projects like the LHC that have the potential, regardless of how small that probability is, to destroy life should simply not be allowed to proceed until such time as it can be absolutely proven safe. Any other course of action is utterly immoral.

  2. #2 ppnl
    January 25, 2009

    “…absolutely proven…”

    That is a standard that simply does not exist in science. All you can ever do is make probabilities vanishingly small. Looking for absolute certainty is a recipe for total paralysis.

    Events far more powerful than the LHC will produce are happening in nature all the time.

    The probability that the LHC will produce mini black holes at all is itself vanishingly small. If it does the major effect will be that someone will win the Nobel prize for it.

    I have watched the republican party embarrass itself over the last eight years trying to twist science to fit its preconceptions about the world. It is important to understand that liberals can make the same kind of mistake with a somewhat different style. Please try to avoid it. The stupid. It burns. It can burn liberals as bad as it burned conservatives.

  3. #3 Matt Springer
    January 25, 2009

    The danger with black holes is that they pull their surroundings in with gravity. But a black hole made by the collisions of 14 TeV beams can’t have a mass greater than 14TeV/c^2, or about the mass of a fairly hefty protein molecule. And a protein molecule doesn’t have much gravity, to put it mildly. It shouldn’t be running into a lot of other atoms anyway; the classical radius of a black hole with that mass is much smaller than the Planck length. Which is another unknown; quantum gravity is not understood and may make the black hole much “bigger” in terms of interaction scales.

    I also find the “natural cosmic rays are much stronger than anything the LHC makes” argument pretty convincing. I know that’s not mathematical proof, but I think it’s on the same order of safety as the confidence I have that putting on my left shoe before my right won’t cause the earth to explode.

  4. #4 Doug Alder
    January 25, 2009

    That is a standard that simply does not exist in science.

    I never said it did. You missed a point which I thought was rather simple to get. When you have an experiment which, if you have miscalculated, overlooked something, could destroy the planet or wreak havoc with the environment – you should be at an absolute standstill (insofar as that experiment is concerned). Science never knows enough to proceed with something that could destroy life.

    Edward Teller, the father of the H Bomb, expressed his own concerns, at the time, of the remote possibility that exploding the first fusion bomb could set off a fusion reaction in the atmosphere

    Teller also raised the speculative possibility that an atomic bomb might “ignite” the atmosphere, because of a hypothetical fusion reaction of nitrogen nuclei.[citation needed] Bethe calculated, according to Serber, that it could not happen. However, a report co-authored by Teller showed that ignition of the atmosphere was not impossible, just unlikely.[6] In Serber’s account, Oppenheimer mentioned it to Arthur Compton, who “didn’t have enough sense to shut up about it. It somehow got into a document that went to Washington” which led to the question being “never laid to rest”.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Project)

    The fact that the person who was instrumental in the design of the bomb could not rule out the possibility of a fusion reaction in the atmosphere made the decision to set that bomb off the ultimate immoral act. That in hindsight it didn’t happen is entirely irrelevant to the point

    If it does the major effect will be that someone will win the Nobel prize for it.

    so much for no absolutes

    The stupid. It burns. It can burn liberals as bad as it burned conservatives.

    Just as invoking Godwin’s law is a surefire way of ending a conversation so is calling really stupid someone you are discussing something with.

  5. #5 rpenner
    January 25, 2009

    Casadio and Harms have been working on this since 2002. They contradict, without argument, some of the statements in Giddings and Mangano while relying on G&M for other parts of the model.

    The basic incendiary idea of C&H in 2002 was a claim of a physical model where “Hawking radiation is suppressed until a certain mass threshold[.]” (G&M’s appraisal in http://arxiv.org/abs/0808.4087 )

    As of this time, we don’t have a journal where C,F&H plan to publish. Nor do we have comments on it by others in the field. We _do_ have the authors own assessment that they have not found even a hypothetical way for the LHC to harm the Earth.

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0901.2948

  6. #6 Azkyroth
    January 25, 2009

    To simplify slightly, a “black hole” is an object dense enough that its gravitational well is steep enough to produce an “event horizon.” However, gravity is still gravity: at the scales we would be concerned with in a “damage to the earth” scenario, the amount of gravitational effect is directly proportional to the mass of the objects in question and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them – in this regard, there’s nothing special – certainly nothing magical – about the “black hole” state outside of the event horizon. If the sun were to collapse into a black hole but the earth stay at the same distance from it, my understanding is that we would experience no change in gravitational effect (though the loss of solar radiation would be a problem). A 14 TeV/C^2 black hole is a tiny amount of mass in a far tinier amount of space, and that tiny amount of space doesn’t make the mass less tiny to begin with, hence the effect on the earth would be immeasurably small whether it’s a black hole or not.

    Worrying about the LHC destroying the earth by creating a “black hole” isn’t much better than worrying about the “electromagnetic radiation” from computer monitors and cell phones – both are due to irrational fear stemming from an emotional association built up around terms like “radiation” (which a depressing number of people seem to have “learned about” from Godzilla movies) and “black hole,” not to anything that would be rationally predicted from the underlying scientific principles.

    If any actual physicists want to correct me, feel free.

  7. #7 Hal in Howell MI
    January 25, 2009

    For the sake of an end-of-the-world argument, let’s assume that the LHC creates a blackhole and that this blackhole turns out to not be good thing for the planet Earth. What would be the progression of events? What would the effects be? How quickly would the effects be evidenced? Did the Mayans predict this? :-)

    Just curious.

  8. #8 Xavier
    January 25, 2009

    It seems a valid question. What are the black hole scenarios?

  9. #9 rpenner
    January 25, 2009

    What are the black hole scenarios?
    a) Nothing happens.
    b) Nothing dangerous happens.
    c) Something that kills off humanity in 5 billion years or less happens. ( c_1 — it eats the Earth, c_2 — it heats up the Earth )
    d) Something that costs CERN a lot of money happens.

    So far, no one has a physical model for scenarios c or d which would account for the old white dwarfs and neutron stars in the sky. Scenario a is where conventional wisdom has placed the money. Scenario b is often discussed in speculative terms of opening up new horizons in physics.

    I have attempted to enumerate all the LHC physical models (which is a distinct question from scenarios) and find the anti-LHC guilty of a lack of clearness as to the particular model they advocate at any one time, leaving themselves room to shift the goalposts.

    http://sciforums.com/showthread.php?p=2019950

  10. #10 lylebot
    January 25, 2009

    This strikes me as sort of like saying that no one should have a child because there is some probability, no matter how small, that that child will grow up to murder billions of people. Or that I shouldn’t type this comment because there is some probability that it will get sent out into space, picked up by an alien race that just happens to have a language in which every word I’m typing is the gravest of insults, and they decide to come over and blow up our planet in retaliation.

    Just about any action we take could set into motion a chain of events that leads to Earth being destroyed, and even if each one of those chains has infinitessimal probability, the probability that at least one happens is surely at least as high as the probability of the LHC creating a black hole that destroys us all.

    As Scott Aaronson put it:

    Given our present state of knowledge, we simply cannot exclude the possibility that aliens will visit the Earth next year, and, on finding that we have not yet produced a Higgs boson, find us laughably primitive and enslave us. Or that a wormhole mouth or a chunk of antimatter will be discovered on a collision course with Earth, which can only be neutralized or deflected using new knowledge gleaned from the LHC. Yes, admittedly, the probabilities of these events might be vanishingly small, but the fact remains that they have not been conclusively ruled out.

  11. #11 Xavier
    January 25, 2009

    rpenner: actually, no. the question was not what is the non-black hole scenario, it was what are the black hole scenarios. And your answer is “well, we haven’t a clue, but that’s OK because we are banking on there not being one.”

    Who is shifting the goal posts?

    Just about any action we take could set into motion a chain of events that leads to Earth being destroyed

    I certainly hope this is not the opinion of any of the scientists working on this because it is the dumbest thing anyone has ever said across the entire universe, ever.

  12. #12 Azkyroth
    January 25, 2009

    Just about any action we take could set into motion a chain of events that leads to Earth being destroyed

    I certainly hope this is not the opinion of any of the scientists working on this because it is the dumbest thing anyone has ever said across the entire universe, ever.

    Other than the fact that one prospect contains the scary words “black hole”, what meaningful difference is there between the snowball’s-chance “THE EVENT HORIZON IS FALLING!!!onedittyone” lunacy and the snowball’s-chance scenarios proposed by lylebot?

  13. #13 Xavier
    January 25, 2009

    what meaningful difference

    You can not have meaningful differences between things that are not meaningful. Look at the bases of the arguments being made. What is the theory, what are the facts, vs. what are the rhetorical features. Remove the rhetorical features. The arguments are not entirely fact free, but they are very far from fact based.

  14. #14 rpenner
    January 25, 2009

    Xavier — all of the TeV black hole models, including those by the anti-LHC nutters, include parameters which are adjusted to allow for the creation of black holes at the energies of the LHC and not at, say, the Bevatron. Since it is an open question, those parameters represent an unknown threshold which the LHC may not cross, thus scenario a has to form a part of any discussion. Scenarios b, c_1, c_2, and d can be explored where the LHC is hypothesized as operating above the threshold, but in such cases the cosmic ray background gives astrophysical constraints on the models.

    I didn’t say we didn’t have a clue, but specifically the clues that we do have favor scenarios a and b above all the rest. In order to have dangerous black holes, we have to have:
    1) The possibility of black holes many orders of magnitude below the Planck mass — so far we have no tested physical theory here, but we do have GR and QFT and all the models work on the successes of these theories and attempt to paint in the final corner of Okun’s cube. To equate this as “not a clue” is silly.
    2) The hypothetical TeV-scale black holes have to have Hawking radiation strongly suppressed over at least a couple orders of magnitude of mass so that they could grow faster than Hawking demands that they evaporate.
    3) The hypothetical (quasi-)stable, TeV-scale black holes must also shed all charge immediately. Many of the constituent particles of cosmic rays (partons) are charged and black holes formed by collisions would initially be charged. If the microscopic black holes don’t shed their charge, they will be strongly stopped in ordinary matter, and there would be no Earth, no Moon and no stars. But since charge neutralization is just one of those things that you expect to be suppressed along with Hawking radiation, this represents a plausibility problem for model builders that we may overlook for the purposes of this discussion.
    4) Current constraints on gravity indicate the gravity of a TeV-scale black hole will be completely negligible at a range of more than 0.2 mm. Thus even hypothetical self-neutralizing, (quasi-)stable, TeV-scale black holes cannot present an automatic hazard to life and limb, and model-dependent parameters for accretion and radiation rate have to be studied. This is the work of physicists and since it is a narrow corner, Giddings and Mangano surveyed the entire parameter space of completely neutral, completely stable hypothetical TeV-scale black holes. Scenarios c_1 and c_2 look unphysical — we can imagine the physics, but that physics doesn’t seem to be the physics of this universe. That’s not a argument from authority but a summary of evidence presented by those with expertise.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    January 25, 2009

    That’s fine as long as all the Higgs Bosons in the room don’t randomly happen to move to one corner….

  16. #16 ppnl
    January 25, 2009

    “I never said it did.”

    And yet I pulled the phrase “absolutely proven” from your message where you were demanding it. Such a standard does not exist yet you are demanding it anyway?

    “You missed a point which I thought was rather simple to get. When you have an experiment which, if you have miscalculated, overlooked something, could destroy the planet…”

    The problem isn’t miscalculation. They don’t know how gravity works on this scale so they don’t know how to do the calculations at all. What they do have is a family or continuum of theories and they can then ask if we can construct a theory that allows for the creation of dangerous black holes. The answer appears to be no. But even if the answer were yes it does not mean that that theory is the theory that turns out to be correct. And we know from cosmological observations that stars and planets aren’t collapsing into black holes with any regularity. Yet they are being hit by cosmic rays far more powerful than what the LHC will produce.

    “…overlooked something, could destroy the planet or wreak havoc with the environment – you should be at an absolute standstill (insofar as that experiment is concerned). Science never knows enough to proceed with something that could destroy life.”

    You can never prove that you have not overlooked something. No matter how long you fail to construct a theory that allows for the creation of a dangerous black hole that does not prove that there is not one. The only way to know is to do the experiment. There is no shortcut. Unless you can propose some condition that would convince you that the experiment is safe we will be stuck here forever. We will never understand gravity.

    I’m sorry if you don’t like me calling your position stupid. But dude, you are taking a position in opposition to essentially all physicists. This is really no different than a bunch of fundamentalists taking a position in opposition to essentially all biologists.

    At some point you have to call stupid by its name.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    January 25, 2009

    The problem isn’t miscalculation. They don’t know how gravity works on this scale so they don’t know how to do the calculations at all.

    Well, it’s settled then. What could possibly go wrong under conditions of ignorance???????

  18. #18 rpenner
    January 25, 2009

    That’s fine as long as all the Higgs Bosons in the room don’t randomly happen to move to one corner….

    If it happens randomly, then by definition it wasn’t caused specifically by the LHC and could equally be predicated on the pulling off of your socks.

    The simple fact is that we’ve made it 13.7 billion years in this observable universe and hundreds of millions of years as metazoans. Collisions by every measure more energetic than LHC have been happening everywhere in the solar system for its life and in staggering numbers. What possible basis could there be to believe that a few apes adding insignificantly to the banging is going to matter at all?

  19. #19 Xavier
    January 25, 2009

    They said the same thing about fission.

  20. #20 Azkyroth
    January 25, 2009

    The problem isn’t miscalculation. They don’t know how gravity works on this scale so they don’t know how to do the calculations at all.

    Well, it’s settled then. What could possibly go wrong under conditions of ignorance???????

    How much of the earth will be within a 0.2mm radius of any black hole created?

  21. #21 xavier
    January 25, 2009

    It all starts with one atom. Then a second atom. Then a third atom …

  22. #22 ppnl
    January 26, 2009

    “Well, it’s settled then. What could possibly go wrong under conditions of ignorance???????”

    You need to carefully avoid the creationist type argument that since scientist don’t know one thing they don’t know anything. Please, please avoid that.

    Scientists do know that dangerous black holes are hard to produce simply because of the billions of years that the moon has been bombarded by events orders of magnitude more powerful than what the LHC will produce and it has not collapsed into a black hole. Neutron stars offer an interaction cross section orders of magnitude higher than the LHC or even the moon and they also have not collapsed into black holes. This is empirical and so is far more convincing than any calculation from theory.

    And to repeat a question – what conditions would you require before the experiment is done? After all if we were not ignorant of what was going to happen there would be no point in doing the experiment!

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    January 26, 2009

    For me? I’m fine with the moon not collapsing into a black hole. I always like that argument and that is the main reason I am not worried about the LHC. I am utterly unimpressed with the other arguments. Which go roughly like this:

    “We don’t know what a tiny black hole really is, what they look like, how they act, what their properties are. So, we’ve very excited to create some. Oh, and our utter ignorance of them leads us to a number of fairly specific conclusions about what can and cannot happen.”

    Stick with the empirical arguments. They are as likely to be correct as any other, and the arguments drawn on as yet non-extant theory ultimately make you’all look pretty clueless.

    What I don’t like is the way other aspects of this have been handled by the fizzies. We have been dazzled with equations with no attempt whatsoever at an explanation that intelligent non-fizzies can grasp (if that was evolution, the creationists would have you by the short hairs); we have had “X Y and Z are True” arguments quickly undermined because it turns out that X is not known after all, with a lot of backpedaling. (Had this been evolution, the creationists would have had you by the balls). And now we’re getting “If you keep asking questions about this you’ll be like creationists” …. and this leaves me looking for a dull knife to cut your dick off with.

    Seriously, it is not a wonder that people keep asking questions. Physics, the science of all science, has rarely done much to explain itself. Admit that and fix it, that would be my advice.

    At the very least, your arguments have to be as clear and well explained as the arguments being made by the crazy people. There are such arguments out there but I’ve actually not heard it from the physicists. It’s a good thing you have people like Jennifer Ouellette to pull your nuts out of the fire!

    (Chestnuts, that is, in case you were not familiar with the expression!)

  24. #24 Boris Legradic
    January 26, 2009

    Read a very good summary about black holes at the LHC over at Backreaction.

    In short: Even in the (very unlikely case) of mini-black holes being created and having a lifetime of minutes, they would be created near lightspeed, and very quickly punch through the earth (which is nearly transparent to them, so no hole) and leave the solar system.

  25. #25 ppnl
    January 26, 2009

    “We don’t know what a tiny black hole really is, what they look like, how they act, what their properties are. So, we’ve very excited to create some. Oh, and our utter ignorance of them leads us to a number of fairly specific conclusions about what can and cannot happen.”

    See? there you go again. Scientists are not “utterly ignorant” of black holes. A great deal is known about them, their entropy, spinning black holes, spinning charged black holes and even small black holes.

    Conflating the inability to use theory to disprove a very very unlikely theory in a very narrow size range when it makes no difference anyway with “utter ignorance” is exactly the kind of dumb creationist trick I’m complaining about. By theory tiny black holes almost certainly do not exist. By empirical observation they aren’t a problem even if they do. Its that simple.

    I would prefer that they do exist because that means new physics within obtainable energy ranges.

    “Seriously, it is not a wonder that people keep asking questions. Physics, the science of all science, has rarely done much to explain itself. Admit that and fix it, that would be my advice.”

    Asking questions is fine. Most physicists are more than happy to explain their work to anyone willing to listen and learn. But physics is hard and you have to put in the work. And the problem is with people who couldn’t buy a clue if they won the lottery who nevertheless insist they know enough to demand that the LHC be shut down.

    I’m not a physicist but I love physics. It never ceases to amaze me how many real physicists are online willing to explain some detail of quantum physics, string theory or whatever to me. Specifically there has been a great deal of effort put into countering this black hole nonsense.

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    January 26, 2009

    No, we know virtually nothing about these tiny black holes, you are “conflating” (use that word with me once more and I’ll step on your big toe!!!) regular and tiny. Obviously we know a lot about the big ones.

    Most physicists are more than happy to explain their work to anyone willing to listen and learn. But physics is hard and you have to put in the work.

    You have stated and demonstrated my key argument. My point is, and it is nothing other than this: Physicists have not done very much of the heavy lifting in this area. They’ve left that to others, and this is done at their peril. This is a shame because a lot of good physics won’t get done because of this lack on the part of the profession.

    There are of course popularizers and spokespeople out there, but on a day to day level the average person runs into something very different on the average day.

  27. #27 rpenner
    January 26, 2009

    The burden of [this] lecture is just to emphasize the fact that it is impossible to explain honestly the beauties of the law of nature in a a way that people can feel, without their having some deep understanding of mathematics. I am sorry, but this seems to be the case.

    [A paragraph on the conceit that the symbols of mathematics are just a language and that a translation of them into basic English ought to be good enough for the above purpose.]

    But I do not think it is possible, because mathematics is not just another language. Mathematics is a language plus reasoning; it is like a language plus logic. … For I can tell you that the force [of the sun's gravity on the Earth] is directed towards the sun. I can also tell you, as I did, that the planet moves so that I draw a line from the sun to the planet, and draw another line later at some definite period, like three weeks, later, then the area that is swung out by the planet is exactly the same as it will be in the next three weeks, and the next three weeks, and so on as it goes around the sun. I can explain both of those statements carefully, but I cannot explain why they are both the same [statement].

    – Richard Feynmann, “The Relation of Mathematics to Physics” in The Character of Physical Law (1965).

    The heavy-lifting that physicists do is to box nature into as small a corner as possible, but the shape of that box is difficult to communicate in English. In layman’s terms, the physicist is basically unarmed since even the very simple of physics of the Giddings and Mangano paper, http://arxiv.org/abs/0806.3381 , gets twisted by reporters and anti-LHC forces. (One of them conflates primordial billion-ton hypothetical black holes with TeV-scale hypothetical black holes.) The physicist must choose to use the professional tone and language of the report or the seven-plus-or-minus-powerpoint-bullets of the soundbite generation. Having simplified the discussion for the lay audience, the anti-LHC forces then pile on an additional layer of improbability and then the physicist has to explain that those possibilities were already rejected.

    c. 1800s The Earth (and universe) is ancient and expected to continue for a while
    c. 1930s Physics is quantum in nature and conservation laws are local in time and space. Things made unmake themselves in colliders.
    c. 1970s First arguments towards Hawking evaporation of black holes
    c. 1999 4-D GR Black holes are scary — But can’t be made at colliders
    c. 2002 N-D RS Black holes — assume quantum theory + large extra dimensions — might be made at colliders, but would not be dangerous since a) quantum processes are reversible and b) Hawking radiation says they decay fast
    c. 2004 But what if there is no Hawking radiation? (quote-mining early Unruh and ignoring later Unruh.) — Then they would still not be dangerous since cosmic rays would easily form them and there would a background radiation of black holes of all different charges and there would be no Earth and no Moon.
    c. 2007 But what if they were all neutral? Then your precious moon means nothing!
    2008 Then there would be no old white dwarfs or old neutron stars.
    2009 N-D RS black holes with extra large dimensions might live long enough to grow in mass. Does that make G&M wrong? No, since G&M already assumed stable black holes and do not rely on Hawking decay for their empirical demonstration of safety.

    By shifting the goal posts, the anti-LHC forces have never proposed a model or contradicted an observation or even demonstrated that once formed a hypothetical LHC product would endanger anyone. They are organized around two principles — the LHC is big and the unknown is scary.

    Physicists, on the other hand, aren’t organized at all. There is no “defense of physics” group. There is no leadership of the LHC which issues orders. There is no significant funding into particle and GR physics education of the general public.

    Oops — Internet access going away. Catch you later.

  28. #28 Greg Laden
    January 26, 2009

    “Physicists, on the other hand, aren’t organized at all. There is no “defense of physics” group. There is no leadership of the LHC which issues orders. There is no significant funding into particle and GR physics education of the general public.”

    The first of these three facts is probably a good thing!

    The second is terrifying. The people who are going to (maybe) make (maybe) black holes that will (maybe) disappear before they can damage anything (maybe not) are leaderless and no one is issuing orders. I’m selling my Susse Chalet tomorrow!

    The third is a disgrace and I’m afraid that quoting Feynmann does not get you out of it. Not in this day and age.

    I promise you, if we evolutionary biologists acted this way we’d have had our nasty bits handed to us decades ago by the creationists. And we did, and they did and we learned.

  29. #29 rpenner
    January 26, 2009

    That line should have read: “There is no leadership of the LHC which issues orders … to non-LHC technicians.” You know, real academic freedom and freedom of press. One of the conspiracy theories is that CERN issued orders to gag dissent.

    Like the creationists, who deny the facts and logic of evolution under the logical fallacy that harming the public acceptance of theory of evolution helps bolster their pet description of creation, the anti-LHC proponents have many pet descriptions of destruction and are willing to quote-mine, use secondary sources in preference to primary sources, lie, and ignore good science and evidence which often they show not the slightest interest in understanding. Unlike the science of evolution, the work of particle and GR physicists leaves little marks on wider society.

    Living things are extensively photographed for entertainment, people keep vertebrates of all stripes as pets, the facts of reproduction and DNA are popular. Digital information processing applications, such as word processing, are familiar and can be used a model of mutation, reproduction and common descent. The success of the evolution-driven biologist can be as dramatic as brainbow mice, as useful as WHO antibiotic guidelines, and as personal as appendectomy. Indeed, that man and animal can share some, but not all, medicines is a near and dear fact of evolution — But even biologists fall back on expert-only claims when it comes to taxonomy and in-lab evolution experiments leaving them vulnerable to “it’s still a fruit fly” so-what-ism.

    The mathematics of complex numbers and abstract algebra are unfamiliar to accountants and not used by mechanical engineers. The meat-and-potatoes math of functional integration and intrinsic curvature of manifolds are even further removed from the lives of the non-specialist. The interpretation of observations of binary neutron stars and colliding galaxies, very high precision measurements of solar system bodies and particle detectors are needed to even make a case for the success of quantum field theory and general relativity. It’s a strong success but not dramatic (bending of light by thousands of a degree), not useful (atomic weapons and computation chemistry don’t depend on understanding detailed at this level), and not personal (it’s normal to get a physics B.S. without ever doing QFT or GR, although you are likely to hear of them).

    GR has one PR success — black holes, the 1916 prediction which was too startling for Einstein himself to readily accept. Even there, black holes are remote, accessible only in fiction and “artist’s depictions.” QFT’s more modest PR successes are the Casimir force and Hawking evaporation. None of these are readily accessible to the home hobbyist, who has no X-ray or IR telescopes, no delicate balances and certainly no black holes of mass 100 billion tons or less. And since the day-to-day physics of the non-specialist person has no obvious relativistic, quantum, or non-Newtonian gravitational phenomena, high school courses have long focused on the Newtonian picture. While evolution is the core message of biology, physics can be viewed as Newtonian when far from the special cases far from everyday experience.

    (After I post this, perhaps someone would tell me that we now have some specialized electronics where the design or use requires QED, a discipline of QFT, but I am ignorant of it as of now.)

    So, I quote Feynman, not as an authority, but because the way he expresses thoughts which I have long wrestled with. There will always be science (evolutionary biology, physics) and science-flavored crap (creation science, quantum-consciousness double-speak) in the world. Science is successful because of doubt and testing, while a large class of people only want polemics to rest their faith on and reassurance of their own specialness. It is not the job of scientists, as scientists, to educate the latter group. The truths of science are not self-evident and not self-correcting but are built on the evidence of facts and experience, and no one can be versed in all of experience. We will always need scientists, as scientists, to generalize and apply this experience for us. But the meaty limits of the human brain, as the evolutionary biologist should recognize, has left us ill-suited to process predictive models so far removed daily experience. It is the specialized expert (M.D. specialist or GR researcher) to whom we must turn — even in the face of natural arrogance that we are “just as good” as them or our simian desire for comfort. Especially when the evidence is remote and the message is not central to our good-enough understanding of science for our everyday non-specialists.

  30. #30 Greg
    January 27, 2009

    Well put.

  31. #31 Rrr
    January 27, 2009

    (After I post this, perhaps someone would tell me that we now have some specialized electronics where the design or use requires QED, a discipline of QFT, but I am ignorant of it as of now.)

    Sorry, as one of those general publicans I fell I’m stuck far below the horizon here, but: did you by any chance think of tunnel diodes?

    And I’m too lazy and ignorant to find out why mini-blackholes would have near-C velocities upon creation. My simpleton understanding was that they would be the product of a head-on collision between equal particles of near-C v at exactly opposite directions.

    As long as we can be certain the little ones are leaving Earth forthwith, I’m not so worried. But what if one of them has zero relative velocity to begin with and a significant lifetime? That was the original question of this post, AIUI. If it has been answered it must have gone over my head…

  32. #32 rpenner
    January 27, 2009

    It was my understanding that superconductors, tunnel diodes and transistors were, in fact, fully modelled to an approximation good for all engineering use with quantum physics, and not quantum relativistic physics. They have no pair-creation, relativistic velocities involved or vacuum polarization effects involved in their operation. QED predicts these new phenomena as well as giving details about the magnetic moment of the electron and some minor adjustments to some of the calculated energy levels of the atoms. But these details can also simply be measured and used as inputs to a non-relativistic quantum treatment of electronic components.

    Because protons are composite entities with parts (partons) of high momentum, even a perfect head-on collision of protons is going to result in a random momentum for the center of mass of colliding partons with relativistic velocities being the most common result. ( Details in table 12 of appendix F to http://arxiv.org/abs/0806.3381 where the probability of a hypothetical stable neutral black hole created at LHC getting captured by earth varies from 0.0020% to 0.14% for D representing between 4 extra large dimensions and 7 extra large dimensions. )

    And the reason not to worry about hypothetical black holes that might get made at the LHC is that if they could grow to eat the Earth or Moon or Sun even over the remaining life of the Sun as a G-class star, then similar black holes would have eaten all of the older and much denser objects objects in the sky like 120-million-year-old Sirius-B and neutron stars of great age. So either they cannot be made so casually, or they aren’t so catastrophically dangerous as some would have us think. That’s the strictly empirical argument, describe the danger mathematically and ask the question would we see what we would see if that math represented reality.

    Indeed, if you don’t add special assumptions to make all the electric charge of the partons go away, the Earth and Moon themselves would not have survived these past billions of years of us not operating the LHC — life as we know it would never have existed if you assume the possibility of ordinary dangerous stable black holes of TeV-scale.

  33. #33 Pyre
    January 27, 2009

    Faced with the imminent possibility of the world’s destruction, I will bet heavily against it.

    No matter the suggested odds.

    If the world survives, I collect.

    And if the world is destroyed, how could I be required to pay up?

    In any case, I only know of one sure-fire way to create a black hole, and even then it only persists long enough to absorb roughly a two-meter radius of matter surrounding it before it decays, after connecting this circui

  34. #34 Rrr
    January 28, 2009

    Haha, Pyre. We collect! Or… ?