Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Big Bang

Well, I've had a quick look out of the window, and I'm happy to report that the world's still there - madder than ever, but there nevertheless. It seems that today's on-switching of the Large Hadron Collider totally failed to bring about the end of the world.

That's probably good news, but did anyone really think the outcome would be any different? Tales of nuclear explosions and insatiable black holes springing into existence to consume the Earth - and mankind - were always going to be just that - tales! Scaring ourselves witless is one of humanity's most enduring traits, as the eternal popularity of ghost stories shows.

Once stories were of lost lands, mysterious continents where monsters roamed the Earth and the streets were paved with gold. But, in the 21st Century, very little of the Earth's surface remains unexplored and the chances of finding anything more monstrous than Gordon Brown-Trousers are slim. So we create new frontiers, new places for the unknown to terrify us, and, thanks to the education system, science is one of the biggest, scariest unknowns of all for many people.

It's easy to imagine a bunch of crazy boffins digging out a tunnel 17 miles long just so they can lose the whole planet into a black hole, and the total lack of understanding present in the majority of people means that they never get past the imagination stage. In the real world - which, admittedly, isn't inhabited by as many people as one might like - even the craziest boffin doesn't spend millions on making a black hole machine that's going to suck him in too.

But the number of people searching the web for things like "the world's gone end" is a pretty clear indication of how the public thinks - if it can be called thinking! Whether they would be more or less likely to find some useful information if they learned to spell is open to debate, of course, but when you consider that various loonies have been making death threats against the LHC scientists in a bid to "save" the world, it seems unlikely.

I slept soundly through the LHC activation, in the perfect certainty - bred of understanding - that I would not be hurtling over any black hole's event horizon today. Not so Rob Shaw and Laura Morris, who, according to the Sun, staged their own Big Bang to coincide with the big moment. There's nothing wrong with Bangs, and the Bigger the Better, to my mind. But I'm a little suspicious of Science student Rob's explanation:"We heard rumours the machine could wipe out the planet. So we thought we’d make the most of our last moments."

Awww, cute, what a way to go etc etc. But wait. Rob's a SCIENCE student. The Sun doesn't say what SCIENCE he's a student of, and it may well be that the British education system has sunk to levels where even SCIENCE students really don't know the difference between fact and fiction. But I'm still suspicious. Could it be that this wily boffin-to-be saw the opportunity for a little extra time with the lovely Laura, on the basis that the world was going to end? Does it really matter? Probably not, and, in any event, they seem to have enjoyed themselves - good on 'em, say I!

Billy Seggars.

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