MENTAL COLLAPSE MORE OF A PROBLEM THAN GRAVITATIONAL COLLAPSE
More wild attacks on the Internet against science. Some against vaccines, some against experimental physics (one of them partially reproduced below). Just what we need, if we want to die like flies, soon.
Science means knowledge, remember. If people do not want knowledge, what do they want? Faith? Faith in what, if it is not in knowledge? Well, faith in ignorance: what else? Why to fight the Taliban then? Just join!
Non-knowledge is called ignorance, and that is the opposite of science. Saint Paul, the first author of Christianity, made wild attacks against intellectuals, and knowledge, versus "faith". Those attacks worked, after three centuries, because they went hand in hand with Plato’s mysticism. It was an interestingly esoteric causal chain of moods: Plato became dominant for centuries, among the intellectuals, as the Roman empire became ever more mystical. Roman civilization became ever more mystical, in turn, because mysticism was better than criticism, as far as the Roman emperors were concerned.
Now, agreed, attacks against the H1N1 vaccine are understandable, because that vaccine may have cut corners, especially regarding adjuvants. Adjuvants are irritants to the immune system added to the pieces of lethal organisms one wants to vaccinate against, to make sure the immune system will react against the pieces of the lethal organism, through guilt by association, with the irritant. An early adjuvant was plain old fashion soap. The danger would be that the immune system would not notice the obnoxious pieces of intruder it is supposed to learn to react against. Vaccinating without adjuvants is often in vain.
It was not reassuring to learn that in some countries special versions of the vaccine without adjuvants were prepared (for delicate subjects such as pregnant women (Canada), or… politicians (Germany!)).
Granted the H1N1 vaccine is rushed. But then critics ought to notice that, someday, someday soon, an extremely fast and deadly epidemic will happen, thanks to air travel, not to say an enormous world population, and that the only way to stop it will be to rush a vaccine into production (thus plans are afloat to prepare vaccines much faster, in a few weeks). So critics ought to be made aware that they are of the opinion that it would be best to do nothing against deadly, massive, epidemics. We are talking here about maybe twenty times more people killed than in Auschwitz. People thinking that sounds smart and morally correct, are pretty weird.
It does not matter if those who are fanatically anti-vaccine do not hate all those who would die in such an epidemic. Nor did the average fascist German hate the Jews: they just let the preconditions for Auschwitz be… The devil is not just in the details, it’s mostly inside the cretinism. Cretins are not just cretins, they are devils.
The "plague" of 1348 CE spread throughout Europe, killing around half of the population, in roughly a year. And please do not say we know more: without vaccine, we would not be much smarter, or, more exactly, more capable. If you do not want vaccines, you want the Middle Ages.
People in the Middle ages knew how to stop epidemics through quarantines, which could be rather drastic. During the "Plague", communications between neighboring cities such as Aix en Provence and Marseilles got outlawed, and the penalty for trespassing was instant death. Military archers stood at the ready, and bows threw lethal arrows hundreds of meters away. The archers shot on sight. (Thus, indeed, some European villages and cities escaped the "Plague" all together.)
Without vaccine the (sort of) avian flu of 1918 killed around 20 million, about 1% of the world population. That would be 70 million today. And 1918 was just a flu.
Now still another wild attack against CERN. Not exactly the first one. Some Hawaiian (not the scientifically minded Barack Obama) last year sued CERN. For risking the destruction of the world, supposedly.
According to Mr Chris Snuggs (reproduced in the notes), "CERN is the most humungous and nonsensical waste of money"… The billions spent on this rather esoteric and ridiculous research would be better spent on practical steps to save people and the planet. And, “yes”, I do know that basic research can lead to useful “products”, and I have nothing against research into, for example fusion power…"
Well, Mr. Snuggs does not seem to have noticed that CERN (Geneva) and ITER (Cadarache) are both located in the same place the Romans used to call "Provincia". CERN and ITER are not neighbors by accident. Fusion power uses elementary particle accelerators, and is all about elementary particles, which it emits in such profusion, that besides being a major solution, this pro-fusion is a major problem (floods of high velocity neutrons damage all known materials).
Fusion power is all about mastering the fourth state of matter, the plasma. In the center of the sun, plasma is at 10 million degrees Kelvin (or Celsius), and reactions happen rarely. When they do, they produce photons that take a million years to escape the inside of the sun.
We don’t have a million years. Hence, in a man-made thermonuclear reactor, reactions have to happen frequently, so that collisions between hydrogen nuclei have to be much more frequent, which means much higher speeds. Speed, at the atomic level, that’s a form of agitation, in another word: heat. The heat in the man-made reactor is very high, because it has to overcome the electric repulsion of positively charged hydrogen nuclei. It will reach 150 million degrees Kelvin. In a medium of such extreme violence, electrons are torn off from atoms, which are left positively charged: what we call a plasma. A cold case of plasma is what we call a fluorescent tube.
150 million degrees, that is 30,000 times (roughly) the temperature of the surface of the sun, about 50,000 times greater than the most resistant solids can take (such as pure crystalline carbon). In these conditions, the plasma cannot be allowed to touch the vessel that contains it (once, in Princeton, a thermonuclear plasma touched the vessel, and the whole assembly lifted by one foot, all the 10,000 tons of it…).
The solution is to keep the thermonuclear plasma away from the solid element of the wall (made of a beryllium blanket backed up by special steel full of water ducts, to carry the heat away, preventing the steel to melt). Keeping the plasma away can be done, because electrically charged particles follow a magnetic field, so, by creating an immensely strong magnetic field in the form of a bottle, one can make the plasma go around in circles, never to touch anything solid.
Such immensely strong magnetic fields can be made with immensely strong electric currents, so strong that no solid can carry them for longer than a fraction of second without melting… Except if the state of superconductivity can be achieved in such a solid. Superconductivity is actually a slight misnomer: what is achieved is ZERO RESISTANCE. It requires very low temperatures. close to absolute zero, where helium is liquid.
Now, of course CERN, for somewhat similar reasons, keeps its particles on crazy loops, at close to the speed of light, no touching the walls, thanks to immense magnetic fields, using that exact same technology of superconducting magnets, that was pioneered in particle accelerators. The particles in CERN are even hotter than in ITER! CERN is actually the world’s premier magnetic superconducting facility, and it is exactly what failed in an expensive accident last year.
Some soldering work was poorly done, and the immense electric current volatized it, and then the safety mechanisms failed, creating a liquid helium leak, overpressure as the helium volatilized, and an enormous chain of violent explosions that ruined many multi-tons, very expensive magnets, torn off their moorings. Fortunately, nobody was around.
In the future, many hope to use superconductivity in everyday life, and it’s important that it works safely (a brief superconducting line exists in New York City). Such a pushing of the technological envelope, as made at CERN, with the best minds, screwdrivers in hand, allows to progress that way. It forces the topmost physicists to solve very practical problems that engineers would have met in the future anyway, as they tried to put advanced science to practical use.
Unfortunately, common physicists do not explain these things clearly. Typically they refer instead to the "Big Bang", a fishy theory not so far removed in mood from the genesis of the Bible. They claim then that big accelerators will help with getting to know the Bang. Here is Mr. Snuggs again: "But why we really have to know what happened in the universe one millisecond after it blew up is beyond me, especially given the cost."
Well, in truth, not so. I personally think the Big Bang has a high probability to be false (for highly scientific reasons). Still, I am interested by CERN physics. That physics is all about understanding some aspects of what is really going on with the INFINITELY SMALL (not all of those aspects, but many). Or about making a theory of forces that makes sense (we are far from this). And so on.
Another canard has been the worry about Black Holes: CERN would create one, gobble the Earth. As Mr. Snuggs puts it, expressing once again common misapprehensions: "And if you have read anything about black holes then you’d surely conclude that the last thing you should be trying to create on Earth is a gigantic collision between fundamental particles that just might create one, that could – in theory – swallow up the Earth in half a second… Because black holes [...]never get any smaller and their growth is irreversible …."
Now Black Hole theory is somewhat fishy, but one thing is not in doubt, namely knowing what we know about Quantum Field Theory (QFT), tiny Black Holes evaporate. Steven Hawking discovered this, and it’s his greatest feat. (It’s ironical that Mr. Snuggs, apparently a British citizen, does not know this). So small Black Holes do not always grow. In any case, and this, once again points CERN in the direction of practicality, much more powerful explosions (from cosmic rays) occur in the atmosphere continually, especially now that the sun magnetism is down. Otherwise said, CERN will mass produce natural events, albeit at an energy, orders of magnitude lower than the most powerful ones ever observed. (And a question is: what in the world produces such powerful elementary particles in naturally occurring cosmic rays? We don’t know. Another thing to learn. Such natural events could wipe out the Earth)
Black holes are also just a theory which tends, the way it is usually deduced, to ignore Quantum effects (there are Quantum gaps in the mathematical logic of Black Holes, the present author determined, long ago, and became somewhat unpopular for doing so).
Clearly, gigantic objects that look like Black Holes seem to exist astronomically, but it is not clear than anything less than colossal astronomical circumstances, could generate them (the sun is too small to make a Black Hole, says stellar theory!) The devil is in the details of Quantum mechanics, which we do not understand. Conventional Black Hole physics should be viewed as a worst, and simplistic, possible case (once again, moderated by Hawking radiation).
Amusingly, although a lot of Anglo-Saxon ire has been directed at CERN, not much was directed towards the accelerator in Chicago (which reaches the highest energies at this point, and is within the max of CERN by a factor of only 3). Is it because one speaks French, and the other does not? (Just asking obnoxious questions, to relax.)
OK, a bit of perspective is in order here, in the realm of cognition.
We do not need ignorance back in power. It has been in power, and was there much too long, thanks to fascism, Plato, and Saint Paul’s spiritual children. It was called the Dark Ages.
Christians destroyed all the libraries, killed the philosophers, closed the schools, and the academies, on the ground that all this lack of faith could only put off the return of their great deity, the Crucified. Think Taliban.
The Taliban does not want girls to go to school, because it reads the Qur’an literally, and believes it means girls should only be sold as slaves, but as Muhammad said, one can have sex with them right away, even before selling them (I am not making this up: when I want to have fun, I re-read the Qur’an). So the Taliban considers girls should not go to school (probably because they may then outsmart their masters). In the Dark Ages, the old fashion Christians also wanted boys not to go to school. Think of the Taliban as a diluted version of Dark Ages Christianity. Old fashion Christians wanted the Apocalypse ASAP, because "scripture" said that then, and only then, the Crucified would return. (They called it "scripture" because that was the only writing they had not burned.)
The West was created AGAINST such obscurantism. Even before Charlemagne was born, the Franks passed a law forcing every single Christian establishment to secularly teach their local community. Charlemagne would have toured CERN, and asked for more (superior technology allowed the Franks to defeat the Muslims in battle, in 721 CE, up to the present… Not exactly my fault if that war has lasted 13 centuries…)
Knowledge is good. More knowledge is better. Just the knowledge of the technology of CERN will be civilization saving (because low temperature superconductivity has the potential of saving at least 10% of the world’s energy; CERN is the largest industrial machine of the superconducting type, worldwide, followed by Fermilab; soon ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, will come up with even larger magnetic fields).
There is a lot to be learned. Although Einstein did not like Quantum Field Theory (neither do I), I recognize it has enormous industrial applications in this civilization already, and nearly infinitely more is coming soon, if we feed it. Vacuum energy has a lot of potential, to crack up a joke that will make anyone, with enough of a physics education, laugh.
Since ever, the argument has been used that the entire energy of the species ought to be used to feed stomachs, and not to figure things out. Cows subscribed to it, all too long. That is why they are our things, and not our peers.
Nevertheless, even cows, know better. The other day, I encountered a herd of cows in the mountains. They had a whole mountain to themselves. It was very cold, well below freezing, the night was coming. I had been running for hours. I slowed down, got my camera out, took a few flash pictures of magnificent queen cows with their enormous bells, munching the frozen grass, while very furry calves warmed themselves by huddling on the ground. Some queens looked at me from a few feet away, trying to think deep at what that lonely human was up to. They knew I had the smarts. They looked me in the eye, and they seem to say: "What do you suggest we do?"
It was desperately cold, my hands were freezing, I started my run again, in a hurry to reach down into the valley to find relative warmth. I punched it. After a few minutes, I heard impressive mooing from down valley: cows lower down were calling their fellow species, up and away. To my amazement I heard the same in my back, much louder. I stopped on a dime, turned around: so did the entire herd, I had seen earlier, which had been stampeding behind me, following my leadership, down the cold mountain.
The cows had decided that the human knew better, and it was best to follow.
Even cows have a notion that those who have too much faith are deprived of: there is such a thing as common sense, and another thing called knowledge. They rule. Even cows.
But humans with faith, and only faith, do not know this. They do not want to.