Apocalyptic Speculation

07Sep08

The Large Hadron Collider – the largest particle accelerator complex in the world – nestled beneath the earth’s surface and running for miles under the border of Switzerland and France, is currently undergoing cooling and final maintenance checks and is set to be activated on September 10th although collisions will not take place until October. The LHC is expected to not only discover the elusive Higgs boson, but to reveal multiple dimensions curled up in the emergence of tiny particles as well as unravel other mysteries of physics. Concerns have been raised over the possible unintentional results of the collider such as the creation of small black holes and strangelets – tiny bits of strange quark matter which could, theoretically, change all matter into strange matter or the collider could also create monopoles which could destabilize all the atomic nuclei on earth.

The written dismissal of such potential events has been less than comforting in terms of evidence and candor. The discussion of ‘certain theoretical assumptions’ and the necessity of ‘monitoring’ encircles a set of rhetorical vaguenesses which are more than slightly disquieting. What is particularly interesting is the fact that several defenders of the collider describe their approach as phenomenological. This is interesting since nothing about the LHC is experiential – its very design is to discover the unseen – super symmetrical particles, the aforementioned boson as well as dark matter/energy. This does not mean that the defense of the collider is un-scientific or weak, only that the strategy of defense is philosophically odd. While it can be compared to pre-existing colliders, its defenders are quick to point out how the LHC is in a different realm all together.

My aim here is not to dissect the doomsday potentialities of the Hadron Collider but to explore its implications for speculative thought. If, as Ray Brassier argues, philosophy is the organon of extinction, what is the noetic responsibility of philosophy in regards to the risks of science? Clearly, as Graham Harman points out, experimental physics sees the world as a weird realism – a world with radical depth, but is there an ethics of speculative exploration – a Copernican ethics? Such an ethics however could lead to an anthropomorphism creeping in which, would only be detrimental.  Perhaps this is why Wall-E fell apart.

Anthropomorphism has, unfortunately, hijacked many interpretations of quantum physics especially Hugh Everett’s Multiple Worlds Interpretation (MWI). Frank Tipler and John Barrow are prime examples of how the radical anti-humanism of quantum physics is turned on its head and argue that the universe was made for sapient life and that the ultimate fate of the universe will not be molecular decoherence but the creation of an omega point – a singularity which would function as a kind of god computer.

So the question becomes how to avoid such nonsense while pursuing the possibility of a Copernican ethics, one in which speculation is not outright disregarded but where the bounds of science are at least partially respected. This is all meant as an opening into the edge of reason and this is why I am greatly awaiting the next issue of Collapse.

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