Science will be left back in a "nightmarish wilderness" if the Large Hadron Collider fails to find the elusive Higgs Boson, warns a rebel physicist. Former Harvard research scholar, professor Shahriar Afshar said that failure to find the particle would bring current scientific theory tumbling down like a house of cards with nothing to replace it. The controversial physicist, whose Afshar experiment has already found a loophole in quantum theory, said that unless the scientific community starts contemplating a "plan B", failure could lead to "chaos and infighting". He said failure will undermine more than a hundred years of scientific theory and undermine some of the mainstays of scientific thinking, the Standard Model, a general theory of how particles fit together to create matter. – UK Telegraph
Dominant Social Theme: Chaos looms?
Free-Market Analysis: We long ago warmed to the idea that the universe was in a sense electric – as electricity not gravity (whatever that is) could be the binding and organizing force. Of course, we are not scientists, so we do not know for sure, or even understand it that well (though there's plenty on the ‘Net about it). But the idea that science has led us to a place where we need to build multi-billion dollar machines the size of small countries to search for sub microscopic particles with an evanescent half-life never really seemed to make much sense. It was all too … convenient. It brought all the usual players back into the scene – the mealy-mouthed UN types, the large bureaucratic academies and their public sector enablers, the organized scientific community itself – which is never more unified than when it is absolutely wrong.
And so … we are fairly sure that the tiny particles the LHC has been built to expose will never be found. Or more likely something will be glimpsed that may or may not be what the builders expect, and there will be a Controversy that will go on for maybe a decade, allowing those who built the thing to slink off into the sunset.
But like central banking, just like global warming, today's physics is not what it once was. The promotion in this case has all but collapsed. We're not sure – though we read it three or four times – exactly what Afshar has accomplished, but apparently in a fairly recent experiment he was able to disprove a component of modern-day physics (see above), or at least its observation. And it is Afshar, obviously a brilliant, free-thinker, who is calling the bluff of those who would keep the gravy-train going. He has even tried to make a bet predicting that the particle being sought will never be found.
The Internet brings us close to these courageous and interesting souls. And, in an observation we offer regularly, it is the Internet that is upsetting the "established wisdom" in so many areas, broadcasting alternative views, and discomfiting the iron rice bowl of university-academic-government entitlement. (And no, we don't think government ought to be in the business of funding any kind of research – it just distorts the process and fixes common – often wrong – wisdom into place because of funding considerations.)
What is another area that is undergoing tumult right now? Anthropology. Without the Internet we probably would not know, but it turns out that there may have been THREE (and maybe more) distinct types of human beings way back about 10,000-40,000 years ago. There were the Neanderthals (they died out about 30,000 years ago) and then there were "modern" humans – us – and then there were "Cro-Magnons" named after a cave in France where their remains were initially discovered. (Today, scientists call Cro-Magnons "early modern humans" but we'll stick with Cro-Magnon for purposes of this article.)
Many in the scientific and popular press have continued to portray Neanderthals as backward savages – though recent discoveries of Neanderthal tool-kits show them to be as sophisticated as modern humans of the time – and now it is beginning to seem that the Cro-Magnon picture needs revising as well.
Did you know the cave paintings in such places as Lascaux and Altamira were the work of Cro-Magnons? (Modern humans never apparently produced images of such exquisite beauty and sophistication, or not on cave walls anyway). The tool kit of Cro-Magnons was impressive. Cro-Magnons themselves are said to be of taller stature than more modern humans and with the biggest brain-cases by far – perhaps something of a separate species, though as pointed out above, this is debatable.
But it is in the cave paintings themselves that one begins to get a sense of the depth of this unique people. There are the cave-paintings themselves, which can fairly be compared to the best artistic creations of any era, suffused with vitality and genius. And then there are divots in the rock that show various caves were apparently wood-beamed. There are shallow lamps that contained a substance that was apparently burned for light. Here is a description of the Cro-Magnon from Wikipedia:
Surviving Cro-Magnon artifacts include huts, cave paintings, carvings and antler-tipped spears. The remains of tools suggest that they knew how to make woven clothing. They had huts, constructed of rocks, clay, bones, branches, and animal hide/fur. These early humans used manganese and iron oxides to paint pictures and may have created the first calendar around 15,000 years ago.
We draw your attention to the remarkable statement that these "stone age" peoples apparently knew how to make "woven clothing," "huts" and "spears." (It is found elsewhere in the literature as well.) In fact, there are apparently drawings of women and men in caps and hats looking remarkably like modern people. And the cave paintings, a number of them are perhaps CALENDARS, of a very complex and unique kind. They also represent, in their positioning and size, various constellations. The art, science and certainty in the composure of these magnificent paintings reconfirm for us the possibilities of human aspiration. Here's something from the BBC on the calendar aspects of the cave paintings:
With eyes becoming adjusted to the half-light, I entered the Chamber of the Bulls and stood there in amazement. Anyone who has seen the paintings on the walls can be left in no doubt that they represent some of the greatest works of art ever created. The animals were painted on to the walls of the chamber by Cro-Magnon man, one of our close relations, 15,000 years ago. He thrived in a temperate valley in the Dordogne while the rest of Europe was held in the grip of an ice age. As I marvelled at the spectacle, Dr Rappenglueck moved ahead of me. "Here it is," he said, as he headed down the passage. He was pointing to a line of dots painted half way up the wall. "Count them. Count them." Below a stunning painting of a deer was a row of 13 dots, ending in a square. "Why 13?" I asked. "It's half of the Moon's monthly cycle," Dr Rappenglueck said. "One dot for each day the Moon is in the sky. At the new Moon, when it vanishes from the sky, we see an empty square, perhaps symbolically representing the absent Moon.
Modern anthropology (unlike the ‘Net in all its variety) has apparently been reluctant to address the Cro-Magnon issue head on. The idea was that human intelligence arose gradually out of the bog of pre-history and found its expression finally in the city-states of Sumer et. al. during the Neolithic about 7,000 years ago. But when we write of the Cro-Magnons, we are writing of a culture (and apparently a people) that in at least THREE separate incursions arrived in Europe, starting 40,000 years ago, possibly with a fully developed tool kit, woven clothing and agricultural know-how. (Modern anthropology apparently calls these episodes a "false dawn.")
Modern anthropology, it seems to us, is ducking a good deal of what increased evidence is telling us about the past, that ancient human civilizations of a sophisticated kind may be far older than 7,000 years. And modern physics is ducking increased evidence that the laboriously constructed theories of the past century may not be the final word in the way the universe works. Change will come to these sciences as evidence emerges – as it always does. But for those of who enjoy the excellent menu of intellectual choices on the ‘Net, these are most interesting, if not gratifying, times.