10 September 2008

Miraculous Minutiae


So. They've given the Large Hadron Collider the old test run, and we're all still here. (It drives me nuts, not being able to figure out definitively if it's HAY-DRAWN or HA-DRAWN.) Of course, if in that initial pass somehow we miraculously reprogrammed reality, we'd none of us ever know it, because, well . . . it's reality, and as we've always known it. As far as we know. Anyway, nobody's even colliding anything yet, so we've got a few more hours, days, weeks, bi-annual periods before we have to resort to our emergency blackhole procedures. (That's good, because my patented Blackhole Resistant Skullcap [with NEW Dense-Particle Bi-Weave trim{TM}] is on back-order.) Actually, everything I've read about it suggests that the cause for fear of man-made blackhole is greatly exaggerated. Particles do what we're now doing to them all the dang time. We just get to catch them at it now. Hopefully.

It got me thinking, though, as I watched the news report on BBC-America this morning. It's a curious winnowing down from "large" things and ideas and efforts that leads us to a profound effect that's instigated on a profoundly "small" scale. I don't know a whole lot about CERN and particle colliders (though this offers a pretty good overview), but from what I understand, this is rather a project that's been in the making in one sense or another for decades, and requires huge amounts of facilities of all kinds. Yet it all comes down to getting one of the smallest things we can identify to behave in a specific way. And the result?

Specificity is important. Making distinctions is, after all, sort of all there is to abstract thought, and it has led us to so many important discoveries and interesting perspectives. I like to believe there's a unifying aspect to abstract thought as well, something that exists purely for the purpose of combining things and finding commonality, but that's a little harder to cite, much less prove. I can show you how you define "good" and "bad" using a binary code similar to . . . uh . . . binary code, but arguing that going beyond concepts of good and bad is both necessary and desirable only holds up until you have to apply it to choosing between eating a fresh sandwich and one that's been sitting in the sun for a week. In the arts, it would be nice to say we're all doing the same thing, different paths to the same goal, and it's all Zen (or whatever substitute you prefer) but it just ain't true. There's good art. And there's bad art. And there's a lot in between, about which we make many distinctions.

I digress, because this is not my point.

No, my point has to do with how insignificant a person can feel, said person particularly so when he or she is an actor. "Oh, boo-hoo-hoo," you may say. "We've all got it rough." True enough, and I don't mean to single out actors in particular for a pity party. They're just what I know best, and that familiarity piques the effect of everything. As actors (or directors, or painters, or nuclear physicists [or, okay: accountants]) we can very easily lose a sense of purpose because, well, what does it all add up to really? I mean, even the movie stars of yesteryear, with huge, global success, fade into obscurity faster than most. Here we are puttering about with this project and that, producing work that occasionally gets notice, but never quite wide enough notice, never quite profound enough impact on the world at large. And there are so, so many of us. Actors come and go and often get treated as a disposable commodity, and why not? There will always be more actors . . . just as I suppose, barring catastrophe, there will always be more and more people. So where does it all lead? What great or -- hell -- even small significance does the greatest thing we may ever accomplish with our lives, lead to? None, it would seem. We're dropping water into an ocean, one drop at a time; our actions are that minute.

A hadron is actually a subatomic particle made up of quarks, one the smallest objects we can reasonably identify. The science people (those in the know call them "scientists") are pretty worked up about the LHC because for the first time they have a technical possibility of proving the existence of the Higgs boson (the "scientists" inform me that a "boson" is another subatomic particle). The Higgs boson -- to hereby insult the intelligence of every physicist reading this -- is essentially an imaginary thing. They imagined it, not in the sense that it doesn't exist, but in the sense that they used their imaginations in theorizing it. See, the "scientists" basically came up with the Higgs boson (using an understanding of physics, the universe and everything so infinitely beyond mine that there's no analogy to properly satisfy this insertion) to fill the gap in an otherwise balanced explanation of physics, the universe and everything. This explanation is playfully named the Standard Model. (One can not help but picture one of these. You know: just your standard model.) In other words, when you hear the news reports about reproducing the Big Bang, they don't mean annihilating everything everywhere (intentionally, anyway), nor creating a whole new universe (intentionally, anyway), but rather understanding how EVERYTHING came into being. Yes: EVERYTHING.

EVERYTHING, potentially = the result of an interaction on the smallest of scales imaginable. Reaching out from the interaction of two subatomic particles -- the very force of that interaction, mind; not even the particles themselves -- is the potential for consequences that not only affect everything . . . they are everything. This is imaginable to me. It's crazily conceptual, but imaginable. I can also imagine -- though I have to be in just the right mindset -- that the least of my work in this world may go on to have untold repercussions, reaching far into the future and influencing people of similar degrees of diminution and growth both far and wide for ages. In fact, I've already seen some small, yet unexpected, returns on work I've done in my life. Even when all memory of my existence has passed, the ripples of my life will live on and on. Perhaps unrecognized. Perhaps even without the least understanding of their actuality. Yet there they'll be, moving through everything.

I believe the scientists will discover they were all wrong about the Higgs boson, and have an incredible amount of work to do to make the model work again, possibly including throwing out the model and starting fresh. Do I have the physics to back this feeling up? Hell no. I can't even grasp centripetal force; not really. It's just that they seem so certain of it, they just have to have it all wrong. No, I believe this because I believe that our searches have to go on. That's a force I recognize. Imagine, if you will (and why not), the universe as an infinite song, played by an infinite number of instruments and voices. Who wouldn't want to join in? Who wouldn't want to create and contribute the most beautiful music they (and only they) possibly can?

2 comments:

Patrick said...

I've always loved the image of life, existence, or even the human brain as an orchestra. Where others tyically like to see machines, I prefer the joyous but no less meticulous and specific workings of a musical ensemble. (It no doubt helps that I played in one all through school.) Yes, we each have an instrument to share, it may not be like anyone else's, we may not get a solo, but it's necessary to the creation of the whole. Thanks for the reminder.

Jeff Wills said...

It was a long way 'round, the way I got to that image. I suppose every section of my orchestra had to pass the melody before it was ready for conclusion.

More from the woodwinds!