Large Hadron Collider: Science Or Mysticism?

Now, look.  We know virtually nothing about quantum physics and whatnot.  And so we have an open mind, and $3 billion doesn’t seem like a lot of money for a facility and project like the Large Hadron Collider.

Have at it, we say.  And it certainly looks way cool:


But the whole thing doesn’t sound so much like “science” as some weird 21st century form of mysticism:

Our guide introduced herself as a researcher of dark matter. Like a United Nations for science, more than 10,000 researchers from over a hundred countries work at CERN. They are collectively tackling questions like: What is the universe? What is it made of? How did we come about? How did life begin? How does it work?

As we said, we’re open minded.  But when “science” expressly endeavors to exceed its traditional boundaries there is cause for skepticism, and maybe even a little concern:  We wouldn’t be the first:

Prometheus was also a myth told in Latin but was a very different story. In this version Prometheus makes man from clay and water, again a very relevant theme to Frankenstein, as Victor rebels against the laws of nature (how life is naturally made) and as a result is punished by his creation…Prometheus became a figure who represented human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, and the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences. In particular, he was regarded in the Romantic era as embodying the lone genius whose efforts to improve human existence could also result in tragedy: Mary Shelley, for instance, gave The Modern Prometheus as the subtitle to her novel Frankenstein.

The question “What is the universe?” isn’t really different in substance from “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  The latter has traditionally been the concern of philosophy, not science.  The former is just a science-y way of putting it.

Perhaps all areas of inquiry run out to their extremes….meet.  Do you think CERN would give us $3 billion or so to test that hypothesis?



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14 responses to “Large Hadron Collider: Science Or Mysticism?

  1. ideas4change

    Of the Manhattan Project tests, it was withheld from the President (as detailed in the author’s autobio piece by Glenn Seaborg) that our 1st try at the big bang – could have been our last (something akin to “but for nitrogen – we would’ve been poof”).

    IMO – Solar power is okay; but if the whole world goes solar – there MUST be some cause n effect repercussions on the swallow up of that much sunlight / energy; which will not be known until we start getting there.

    Same here. Matter v Anti-Matter v Dark Matter.

    All Gone!


  2. Neil

    I disagree with your assertion that the question “What is the universe?” is a science-y way of putting the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”. I think this claim leads to the same kind of problems that you pointed out in your article on “Touchy-Feely Theism”.
    I think the distinction between these kinds of questions are made most clear by Stephen Barr, who is both a professor of Physics and a member of the Academy of Catholic Theology in his book ‘Modern Physics and Ancient Faith’.


    • Well, this is an interesting comment that will require no small amount of work to really respond to intelligently. Like for instance, I would have to read Professor Barr’s book, or certainly parts of it.

      But briefly, if the universe is defined as everything that exists then to ask what “it” is could hardly be different than seeking to know what existence itself is all about. So I’m not sure at this point I can concede that I’m wrong-headed in the way you suggest here, but I’m open to seeing what Professor Barr has to say about it all.

      The point of my touchy-feely post was to point out that the theistic position certainly can be and in my opinion ought to be regarded as the product of rigorous intellectual inquiry, not emotional concerns. Don’t see how I’ve undermined that thesis by taking on the LHC in a limited way, but perhaps you could explain a little more why you think so.

      In any case, thanks for the comment.


      • Neil

        Your definition of the Universe is too broad, for instance it may be regarded as including my mind, your mind, the products of our minds (pink unicorns in our imaginations) and other immaterial entities ( God? ).

        The more common understanding of ‘Universe’ is everything that is made of matter. That ‘matter’ is a necessary, but not sufficient component of life. So a question you propose as mystical, ‘How did life begin?’ can be a proper topic for science as long as we remember that we’re only pursuing the question in regard to how matter contributes to life.

        Implicit in many people’s view of science is that it requires a philosophy of ‘materialism’ – the view that the only things that exist are those things made of matter. This denies the existence of things such as minds, justice and god. This philosophy of materialism has many problems that surface in surprising ways, because the philosophy itself is rarely stated directly. If you adopt your definition of ‘Universe’ in a conversation with a materialist, confusion may result, given the materialist’s position on what actually exists.

        This philosophy of materialism is often the bedrock of faith for those who hold it, and as such it is unexamined. I think that’s why elements of mysticism can creep into ‘scientific’ discourse amongst materialists. They’ve begged some very basic questions, only for those questions to come back to bite them in their more developed arguments. I think Stephen Barr does a great service in sorting out the various kinds of questions we can pursue through science and theology, and to not confuse progress in one field (science) as definitively answering questions in another (philosophy, theology).

        I agree that theistic positions can be the product of rigorous intellectual inquiry. I’d claim that everything you quoted as potentially mystical can also be a field for rigorous intellectual inquiry. It’s very likely that the author of the quotation only intended to refer to the materialistic aspects of the topics touched. This implied materialism can leave a lot of room for mystical speculation on the topics brought up by the questions. When that mystical speculation surfaces, you’ll be in the position to tackle it the same way the Touchy-Feely theists are tackled.


        • ideas4change

          Definition of the Universe – “too broad”!




        • Well, in general I agree with you. Or, I think I do.

          There’s a fine line. A certain discipline is involved in empiricism, but I’d say the discipline is breached when the empiricist offers to explain something that isn’t empirically verifiable.

          Then you have the LHC attempting to expand the category of what can be empirically verified. I mean, that’s what it’s about, right?

          Maybe you can do that, although I suspect that it’s a bottomless inquiry, kind of like when we thought that the atom was the irreducible particle of matter only to later conclude that there were all kinds of subatomic particles. Will we ever reach the end of them? Will the LHC get to the absolute irreducible particle or simply take us a little further down a road that has no end?

          To me, consciousness is real, both yours and mine, whether there are particles involved or not. But that’s not my idea; I’m just echoing what thinkers had concluded many centuries ago.

          The effort to improve or expand the scope of the empirical is fine with me, and maybe it improves our understanding of things but we also have to be open to the idea that it doesn’t, or can’t. Observation is one thing; reason is a higher thing; and ‘faith’ is higher still.

          Maybe that’s the way things are. Thank you for the thoughtful comments.


  3. ideas4change

    Being a Jew for Jesus sort of guy who went, last night, to encore showing of “Four Blood Moons”; I find myself (often these days) – to be vexed terribly. As an actuarian, most insights seek corroboration.

    Is g0d an invention of administrative minds, or a nym for all in the universe?

    Hence, one can say g0d created the earth in 6 “periods” of time – as a day does not exist until the world is created and spins. Thus the universe (that is the entirety of all things being “the g0d”) – created the earth.

    Do we need our sand castles to acknowledge we made them?

    Is there to be a major event in September 2015 (next Blood Moon)?

    If the sun goes nova, the Earth gets hit with a meteor, or Jupiter’s gas vaporizes (cause n effect of massive meteor hit years back); and its molten core magnetizes/rushes to the sun (running over the Earth in its pathway)

    What does any of our banter mean – in the billions of banters – extinct!


  4. Consciousness. .be it particle collectiveness…or assemblence of choice over instinct (arguably one being the 1st stage of the other)

    You can’t prove there’s a soul
    Much less that it be eternal ( immortal)


    • What would proof of a soul look like to you? Or of eternity?


      • There are premises theoretical that lay beyond mankinds ability.

        Soul, Big Bang, eternity, how small or how large, black holes, love, etc., etc.

        One argues for Big Bang, another simply asks…”where did the mass orginiate that collects and expands”…End of theory.

        If you argue for the existance of a “soul”, it is not dispositive that your empirical proof is qualitative and quantitative; because many others ” believe” such exists.

        Similarly, the banter about eternity of the universe runs into mankinds need of origin (Alpha n Omega of all things)

        If the Universe is eternal going forward, then is it eternal from its beginning…or is there no such thing as a beginning?

        Could all religions simply be the oligarchs of all (purported) known 5775 yearsas a lay down of Law n Religious concepts for the sake of instilling civility?

        Laws, goverments, kings, corporations, affairs of state have no soul/ moral compass. They are all given as dicta via their ability to force compliance or arrest for lack thereof.

        It is written that “greater love hath no man than this, as he who lay,s down his life for another”

        Such purported sacrifice presumes eternal reward, a soul and love; which are all premises of states of being beyond finite mankind ability to prove that any such exists


        • I don’t know that it presumes eternal reward and a soul. But love? I should think so. If that matters.

          We don’t really get eternity, not even theoretically. A little thinking shows that. But this much we know about it: no beginning and no end. That’s practically the definition.

          The fact that we cannot conceive of any particular thing with no beginning and no end doesn’t mean there is no such thing. Arguably there has to be such a thing. But then if there is, it transcends not only observation (i.e., the universe) but also reason.

          And re-reading the last two paragraphs, I can only recall what it’s like to study metaphysics. For many it’s tedious and arcane, but for me it’s enjoyable. Don’t know really what to make of that, either.


  5. Let us try to rock the rocker via another question.

    If there are souls, when do they ” begin”?

    Is there a 1/2 soul in egg n sperm, or is it given birth only at birth of breathing air?

    For…what if (accepting g 0 d as true) the soul is created first an it hunts for a unification to create its entrance into ” this” world?


  6. You enjoy, as an attorney at law, the pursuit of truth; and absent the issue of g0d, or with such, the pursuit of truth is both arguably and ubiquitously a proper

    Hence, query of meta, scence, religion (in most senses of th word meaning tradionalism), is also.proper.

    Truth is inflexible and immortal.


  7. The issue of mysticism and the Large Hadron Collider is certainly worth examining. C S Lewis foresaw a convergence between some aspects of science and mysticism and some contemporary have actively promoted it:


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