Friday, August 15, 2014

"Particle Fever"

This is a great documentary on all levels, (even though I discuss it narrowly. )

In particular, this film does a great job of documenting the contemporary PR effort necessary to garner the vast amounts of money needed to experiment and test the current theories about how our universe works. The very telling moment about this PR is when scientists actually consider doing their experiments in secret in the middle of the night, in order to make sure the experiment, portrayed as the actual experiment for the press, will go well the next day. I think this actually occurred though I did not find that part clear in the documentary. Even in simply considering this, portraying essentially falsehood as truth, is mind boggling. One scientist suggests that the press will want to know the real moment something is actually discovered... well, yes, I suppose. :)  They might want that truth, history might want that truth. Give the film credit for documenting this incredibly bizarre moment.

Also, I learned that "experimentalists" (as opposed to the "theorists")  must think Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. There is an apt comparison be made that the press was not called in until something actually worked. Imagine them reporting on each of hundreds of failures. Invention is tedious.

However this Edison idea is a confusion of technology (the experimentalists' bailiwick of sorts) with science that the CERN project is supposed to be.

Wikipedia: " Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, but instead invented the first commercially practical incandescent light. Many earlier inventors had previously devised incandescent lamps, including Alessandro Volta's demonstration of a glowing wire in 1800 and inventions by Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans. Others who developed early and commercially impractical incandescent electric lamps included Humphry Davy, James Bowman Lindsay, Moses G. Farmer, William E. Sawyer, Joseph Swan and Heinrich Göbel. Some of these early bulbs had such flaws as an extremely short life, high expense to produce, and high electric current drawn, making them difficult to apply on a large scale commercially."

One of the flaws of an earlier inventor was the high expense to produce an apparently otherwise working light bulb by the wording. It is not as if the expense of going to the moon is considered in that accomplishment. Whoever makes it cheap will not get the full credit (yet sometimes I wonder just how much Steve Jobs did to be more idolized than the earlier pioneers of the technology he utilized.)  I sometimes find insight in the smallest of things. Or perhaps I am just sarcastically picking apart things. However, when the light bulb was mentioned as invented by Thomas Edison, I talked back to our TV. 
"Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb!!!" I brusquely said as my wife wished once again that I was watching "Prime Suspect" or something else. Edison developed technology from science and experiments that others had done. He perfected things for the marketplace. He was the epitome of what Monsanto, cigarette companies, some trial lawyers in court, and CNN pundit quests rely upon: scientists interested in profit over ideals.
The Edison analogy is adept in more than one way.
For instance, do the political and commercial (public monies) aspects of this giant project (compared to the Great Pyramids by the scientists involved) make it more susceptible to discovering something that pleases rather than the tells the truth?
The "supersymmetric theory" is preferred over the "multiverse theory" by the theorists interviewed. Multiverse theory is basically the idea that there are multiple universes in pure chaos except for our one universe which seems distinctly suited for human life. We are the one in a billion billion billion universe that has the right characteristics. The variances are just so in our universe. The chances of human life rest on odds the size of, say, 10 people winning the lottery in the same room who all have red hair, a limp, and a cat named "Bo." Multiverse theory handles this nicely and says that there are a lot of possible existing universes and we happen to be in the one where life was created. If we were not we would not be here.

But why do they cheer lead for "supersymmetry?"  Well, as I understand it, this theory gives them more things to do in the future with the CERN supercollider in the future, whereas the multiverse theory makes the odds of finding more things higher in other universes we may never know. To me, this is precisely the point. Unless there is some careful plan, one would think we are absolutely fighting the odds if we think things will necessarily be discoverable by a random limited species in a random world.
One scientist seemed to link his career into discovering things with correct timing, no less. If not, he would be retired and not be part of it. Another scientist is correct in responding that even if retired, the knowing was more important thing.
In one way this group scientific effort is refreshing. I think the scientists lost out over the technologists at NASA for quite some time. Here in CERN, the theorists are an essential part of the mix.
My understanding of the multiverse and supersymmetric theories was certainly elevated by watching this. There was even a fairly good but concise representation of intelligent design (which is not your local tea party Texas schoolbook concept) but a construct that is fairly difficult to get away from given the unlikely nature of our universe being the way it is by chance. I was stunned to see this discussion. Stunned and very happy. Regardless of politics, this is an actual theory that can be pointed to as the most likely unless it is almost properly ruled out at the beginning as not being science. Again we are not talking about Christianity or any other religion but the simple idea that everything is so incredibly precise.. too precise for random existence.
And honestly, I wondered why the scientists were pushing for the supersymmetric theory over the multiverse theory at all. This was their stated preference in the documentary. Obviously, truth is truth, but in my younger years studying psychology we understood the massive effect that the scientist's preference can have on experimental outcomes. When you also mix in the vast expenditure of public monies and the career trajectories of all the team involved, it is definitely something to consider. It is not as if I feel that they fudged the results but the whole thing seemed a bit orchestrated... and the presentation... completely orchestrated, complete with Dr. Higgs, as touching as that was.
The multiverse theory, or complete chaos, seemed to me to be the more likely answer. Why should humanity's thoughts and wishes come into it? Even art, a most human endeavor, has expressed itself with chaos at times.
I really don't doubt I am the only person who might review this movie in this way. I am just hopeless.
Here is an interesting sentence from Wikipedia about the project as it played out following the discovery of the Higgs particle documented in this film (the "God Particle" for the press, admirers, and out of pocket citizens.)
"After the discovery of the Higgs particle in 2012, it was expected that supersymmetric particles would be found at CERN, but there has been still no evidence of them."

(By the way, this is available on Netflix... and probably Apple I-tunes and Amazon.)