What Should I Say if Someone Asks Me, "Will the Large Hadron Collider Destroy the World?"

By Sean Carroll | April 16, 2008 11:49 am



CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and the Media
  • http://albatross.org Albatross

    On the other hand, anti-scientific bigotry and culturally-sanctioned ignorance really COULD destroy the world.

  • prometheuz

    Haha good one although I doubt they will be reading your blog :)

  • http://meadowsweet-myrrh.blogspot.com/ Ali

    Perhaps a better answer would be to explain how it works…. Otherwise, aren’t you just expecting people to take your “no” on (::gasp::) faith? 😉

  • Ben

    “I suppose I could part with one of these [doomsday devices] and still be feared.”

    –prof Farnsworth

  • Ruth Ellen

    I thought the LA Times scenario of a black hole being created and slowly swallowing up the earth was sort of fun. Plenty of science fiction fodder, there.

  • rk

    yay Girl Genius!

    I wasn’t aware that people here read that excellent webcomic. I’d love to see a post or two on it from you all.

    Also – what else along those lines do you read?

  • http://eponymagain.blogspot.com eponymagain

    The correct response to the question is, “What do you mean by ‘the world?'”

  • http://whenindoubtdo.blogspot.com/ Eugene

    My favourite response to this would be to earnestly begin by explaining how the LHC have been in the works for the past 20 years, and is designed and built by a huge cadre of scientists….

    and then detour into a dark conspiracy theory about how it is really secretly funded by a evil shadowy organization (which depends on my target audience, although I find the politically incorrect “Nazionist Triad” the most entertaining) as tool of world domination, as it has the capability to selectively create miniaturized black holes at any given spot and time, destroying their enemies’ past, present and future….one by one.

    Do you know whatever happened to those few brave scientists who tried to raise the alarm about the LHC’s ability to destroy the world? They no longer exist….muahahahahahahhaha!

  • Kenneth Moody

    I thought the LA Times scenario of a black hole being created and slowly swallowing up the earth was sort of fun. Plenty of science fiction fodder, there.

    Larry Niven, “The Hole Man”, although that was Mars not Earth.

  • jeff

    It could destroy the physics world if Higgs isn’t found.

  • Count Iblis

    If the LHC were to blow up the Earth, then that would mean that the world’s existence is incompatible with operating the LHC. Few people believe that this will happen.

    However, the results from the LHC will eliminate/constrain certain theories. Arguably, those eliminated theories describe alternate realities. So, the LHC will effectively “destroy” those worlds for us in the sense that they become incompatible with the LHC results.

  • http://blog.domenicdenicola.com/ Domenic

    “No. The calculations are very precise in their indication that we will destroy the whole universe. Stop being so anthropocentric!

    On the other hand, it’s still an open question whether or not it will destroy the multiverse.”

  • Elliot


    OMG they got him too…..


  • http://www.twistedphysics.typepad.com Jennifer Ouellette

    I’m honestly divided about how to address this issue. My feeling is that — tempting though it may be — you can’t just respond “No — because I said so!” People don’t like being treated like children, as a general rule; they want to know why they should trust you. And as another commenter pointed out, we’re always telling them not to take stuff on “faith,” but to look at the evidence. When do you demand proof, and when do you opt to trust greater expertise?

    The problem is that the evidence in this instance is pretty esoteric in nature. These are not issues that can be easily grasped by anyone lacking a PhD in particle physics or related area. For that matter, the average person’s grasp of “probability” isn’t quite up to snuff, either: a non-zero possibility for a physicist is pretty much equivalent to “none,” but John Q Public just hears “small probability.”

    The cosmic ray argument has proven ineffective, in part because we have to explain what cosmic rays are (they sound scary! we’re being bathed in radiation! Eeeee!). Thus far, these are best examples I’ve heard on equivalent probabilities: about the same as winning the lottery 1000+ times in a row, and dropping a pencil and seeing it fall straight through the floor rather than bouncing off it.

    I’m not sure there’s an easy answer. Maybe “No” with one or two pithy examples like above?

  • Brian Mingus

    “Only if it’s part of God’s plan.”

  • http://quantumnonsense.blogspot.com/ Qubit

    The Titanic was unsinkable, the Titanic sank! Or was it the Olympic? Don’t open Pandora’s box, the theory of the universe is a burden you are not ready for!

    Do not look at me for I do not exist! I am a ghost! It was a Whale that sank the Titanic, It was a torpedo that sank the Olympic and the Britannic split into two.

  • johnmerryman

    No, but it will destroy some gold ions.

    A thousand years ago, science was trying to turn straw into gold, now we are trying to turn gold into what? Strings? What has happened to our priorities? There is no funding for strings.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Giving an explanation, if people are interested, is obviously a good idea — I would never argue against telling the whole truth, or just relying on authority. My point is that the correct answer is “No,” not “Probably not,” or “We’re not sure, but it seems unlikely.” Nothing empirical is ever metaphysically certain, but that doesn’t stop us from saying “that won’t happen” when appropriate (and in this case it is).

  • Moshe

    Jennifer, we rely on authority and expertise of others all the time. To give just one example, when facing a medical problem, it is nice to get explanations and educate yourself, but ultimately you will decide to go through some medical procedure in large part through your trust in medical practice in general, and in your doctor in particular. Many medical facts and practices sound no less esoteric than particle physics to an outsider.

    So, the issue is not so much that people are not inclined to trust authorities, it is that for some people scientists are not trustworthy authorities.

  • Al

    Hi, I know I should have more faith in the consensus of the expert scientific community rather than in a few (crackpot) doomsday foretellers, but to ease my mind can someone please confirm whether my understanding (in layman terms) of why you guys aren’t concerned is correct?

    A phase transition into a lower vacuum state is most certainly ruled out by cosmic ray collisions. Many collisions of as high or higher energy have occurred in our past light cone so if such a phase transition were possible it would have already occurred.

    The production of strangelets is highly theoretical and speculative. No known mechanisms for their production exist, nor is there any evidence for stable strange matter in the universe. In addition theory suggests that strange matter would be unstable and that its most stable configuration is positive, which does not pose a threat. The most convincing argument not to be concerned about it though is that under “reasonable assumptions” for strangelet production cosmic rays colliding with molecules on Earth firmly rule out that any catastrophic event could occur.

    Do I understand it correctly though that our confidence in our not being in any danger of stable microscopic black holes is based purely on theoretical grounds?

    Doomsday foretellers argue that cosmic ray arguments do not put any constraints on the danger of stable microscopic black holes (MBW), since in a cosmic ray collision with a molecule in our atmosphere the resulting black hole would go flying off nearly at the speed of light and would pass right through earth, whereas over the lifetime of the LHC a significant portion of MBW would be captured by the earth’s gravity and slowly accrete matter.

    Is it true that cosmic rays don’t provide any constraints on the creation of stable microscopic black holes?

    Of course the creation of stable MBW in the first place is considered nonsense by most physicists, since Hawking radiation, although never experimentally confirmed, is based on very robust physical assumptions and would ensure the evaporation of the MBW almost immediately. Not to mention that the theories predicting their creation are highly speculative and according to most calculations a MBW would take millions of years to consume the earth (although I believe that the German mathematician O. Roessler came up with an estimate of only 50 months – can someone here comment on the validity of his work?)

    Anyway, I would be very grateful if someone could clarify for me if we are just relying on theoretical grounds when talking about our safety from black holes, or whether the cosmic ray argument does hold for some reason. Sorry to bring these questions up, I’m just someone with a limited background in physics struggling to understand why we shouldn’t be concerned


  • Ellipsis

    Jennifer — the problem is not that saying something like “less than 1 chance in a billion” or “less than one chance in 10^100” are things that the general public couldn’t understand. People can most certainly understand those numbers. The problem is that any limit that is set here is dependent on whatever set of “reasonable” assumptions you want to make. When you have a crazy idea, you can always make a set of essentially equally crazy exceptions to sets of assumptions. Let’s say we base our limit on the undisputable fact that the Earth has been struck for billions of years by cosmic rays with energies billions of times greater than anything the LHC will ever create. But — wait — those have a center-of-mass that is relativistically boosted with respect to the Earth! But then, um, wouldn’t we have noticed the micro black holes eating objects not necessarily on Earth, but also in space? Maybe we have coincidentally missed all evidence of this! The Sun and stars are struck by cosmic rays too, wouldn’t we have noticed at least a few of them being swallowed? Well we’ve never detected high-energy cosmic rays on anything but the Earth, how do we know absolutely for sure that they are also hitting other stars and planets?! You can see how 10 different scientists would come up with 10 different extremely tiny limits on contrived scenarios here.

    Ultimately, there is no tested theory of quantum gravity yet, so as far as anyone knows, when you get out of bed tomorrow you could fall into a black hole that has nothing to do with the LHC. Surprise!: we don’t have any great way of calculating what the chances of that are either. You could use that as an excuse to sleep in.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Moshe, I think that there may be an issue about whether or not people trust scientists as authorities, but the issue that I was getting at is simply one of language. When experts say “There is no believable model in which this would occur, and we can bound the probability to be less than 10^(-x),” they mean the same thing as when most non-experts say “That won’t happen.” And when talking to non-experts, experts should try their best to use words in the same way that non-experts are used to hearing them used.

    Al, I think it’s like Ellipsis says. It’s a bit misleading to say we are “just relying on theoretical grounds,” as there is no theory that predicts the disaster scenario — just a set of words that use sensible theories to predict that there will be black holes, but then ignore the implications of sensible theories to ask what would happen if they didn’t decay. Cosmic rays can’t be too much help — what if the kinds of black holes that are produced at the LHC are different from those made by cosmic rays? There’s no theory that predicts that, but there’s also no theory that predicts that the black holes would be stable, either.

    More realistically, the existence of cosmic rays (and, even better, the high-temperature early universe) convinces me that there’s nothing we can do at a particle accelerator that the universe hasn’t done many times over. Of course we can cook up possibilities that have not been covered, but not within any well-defined model. If someone asks, “In a world where 2+2=5, would Pythagoras’s Theorem still hold?”, what do you say? If you can start making stuff up, anything goes, but it’s not a basis for sensible risk assessment.

  • Moshe

    Oh, I see, agreed completely. I even think that a matter of principle the expression “probability less than 10^(-x)” should be replaced by “never” for x large enough (exact value depending on context).

  • http://www.website.com Amanda

    This question has been investigated in a very interesting paper:


    Read it before making over-confident statements about this question. But before reading it, ask yourself: what probability of disaster do you think is acceptable? You may be surprised by the correct answer…….

  • eric gisse

    The correct answer is “Cosmic ray collision energies are 5 orders of magnitude larger. Shut the hell up.”

  • Ian B Gibson

    Okay, we’ll trust you. But if the world does get destroyed after all, we expect a full and unreserved apology.

  • Elliot

    I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that any damage done by the LHC will be on the order of 10^9 – 10^12 less than the collective damage that the Bush-Cheney regime have done in Iraq.

    Is it time for international war crimes tribunals yet?


  • Bottlerocket

    Come on. It probably won’t destroy the world. Murphy’s law is wrong–most of the time bad things don’t happen. Besides, you know how people are, we apply a technology first, and then decide whether it was a good idea later. And, the bottom line is that science is so specialized, probably only a handful of physicists in the world could reasonably address this issue–and I bet they wouldn’t all agree. Ever read any of those math books about real life risk? We would more profitably worry about pollution, auto accidents (and war of course).

    In the world of physics, I’d worry more about the risks of nuclear reactor accidents (remember them?). This is not an anti-nuclear polemic; the risk is negligible, but not zero. I’d recommend people read the book, “Normal Accidents” by Prof. Charles Perrow, who was a consultant to the TMI commission. That will give you something to think about.

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    Who has time to worry about nuclear accidents when 2-4 million people die from air pollution every year?

    If you are the sort of person who is worried about catastrophic events, you best bet is to wear a motorcycle helmet every time you get in a car. That will reduce your risk of dying in a freak accident more than turning off nuclear reactors, hardon colliders, or anything else sciency and strange.

  • Arun M Thalapillil

    On the bright side….this has created a lot of interest/discussion about particle physics in general. I had a friend of mine from the “arts” recently ask me all these interesting questions about what particle physicists do, that I was like WOW! I hope the funding agencies start getting excited about the field too..pretty fast..before it’s too late 😉

  • chris

    and even if you happen to be wrong, nobody will blame you anymore :-)

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count blis

    Amanda, the crucial point is the last objection mentioned on page ten about dominant risk. Kent uses an emotional argument to dismiss this objection, but from a purely objective point of view, it doesn’t make any sense to worry about a probability of global wipe-out of 10^(-15) per year or less if you know that the probabiliy of being wiped out by a 10 km asteroid is 10^(-8) per year.

  • Eric

    Thanks, Sean, for your pithy response. It’s the same answer I’ve been giving people (and they have been asking).

    I’ve been puzzled about the actual physics of this issue, though. Positing for a minute that a microscopic black hole were to be created, and that our theory of Hawking radiation is wrong so that it wouldn’t evaporate instantaneously, what’s the posited mechanism for “destroying the world”? One thing I emphasize in teaching introductory astronomy is that black holes aren’t giant vacuum cleaners – a solar mass black hole in the center of the solar system would no more suck in the Earth than the Sun itself does; the gravitational force at a given distance is exactly the same. So why is a proton-mass black hole more dangerous than, say, a proton? (I don’t know what the posited range of masses would be – up to the beam energy I guess – but that’s the gist of my question.)

    Clearly there’s a piece of the picture here I’m missing. Is it the black hole mass? Or is there some other effect? Thanks for any clarification anyone can provide.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I think the difference is that the black hole can continually grow via accretion, unlike a proton. But once you’ve chosen to ignore some laws of physics, it’s not clear to me how you decide which ones to keep.

  • John R Ramsden

    Jeff (#10) wrote:
    > It could destroy the physics world if Higgs isn’t found.

    Chortle! It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good – Some of us are hoping the Higgs won’t be found, myself in particular as I have a $500 bet with a certain string theorist that neither hide nor hair of it will be found by 2012-12-31 😉

  • KR

    When trying to make a decision that has both costs and benefits, probabilities are multiplied by those perceived costs and benefits. 10^-X multiplied by infinity (my perceived cost of the physicists being wrong) is infinity, no? And seeing as the post stopped at ‘no’, the perceived benefits, from the perspective of John Q Public are 0. Although I support the implementation of the LHC, I also think that the patronizing tone of the post was neither helpful, nor written with any cognizance of how lay people are evaluating this effort.

  • http://letsgogetsometacos.blogspot.com April

    Yeah, I replied to a post on a blog crying that the LHC could destroy the earth with some reason and facts, links to actual science articles about it. The response (from a well-educated person, mind you): “Well, I’d rather be safe than sorry.” ?!?!?!? I don’t get it.

  • The Almighty Bob

    I hope you replied with “if the world is swallowed by a black hole, you’re unlikely to be around to be sorry” or some such. (“,

  • Chris

    KR, I strongly doubt that you actually place a value of infinity on the cost of being wrong. Suppose I said ‘hey! KR, I’ll pay you 10 billion dollars in exchange for letting me run the LHC”, your argument remains unchanged for determining the expected pay off, and you would still say “No.”

    Feel free to postulate the response of John Q public, which evidently you have a keen understanding of.

  • Randy

    I’m not too worried about the LHC, but according to Richard Rhode’s book on the making of the atomic bomb there actually were some concerns before the Trinity test that the chain reaction started there could spread uncontrolled. Somebody (Edward Teller maybe??) did the calculations to demonstrate that that couldn’t occur.

  • Lawrence Crowell

    There are of course some theories which involve how a quark-gluon plasma or condensate have a duality on a brane to a black hole interior. So there might end up being some tiny amplitudes or channel processes corresponding to a quantum black hole. However, even if so the BH will decay. These BPS-like black holes will not eat the planet Earth. Cosmic rays slamming into the atmosphere and other bodies would have turned the Earth and everything into black holes otherwise.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • http://www.scottaaronson.com Scott Aaronson

    I would fight questions with questions: “How do you know not building LHC won’t destroy the world? How do you know the specific way you brush your teeth tomorrow won’t destroy the world?”

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    I recommend the answer, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

  • KR

    Chris, now you’re changing the rules. Add 10 billion dollars to the mix changes the perceived benefits considerably, don’t you think? I’m now weighing infinity against 10 billion dollars, rather than 0. And 10 billion is going to be multiplied by my perceived value of being that rich, which could be so large, it amounts to infinity.

    I don’t actually believe the LHC is dangerous, so infinity multiplied by zero is still zero, but my point is that people weight small probabilities by their perceived costs and benefits. Scientists should consider this fact when they pooh-pooh non-scientists worries about the LHC. If by infinitesimally probabilities, you mean zero, say zero. But if there is still a respected scientist out there who says it’s anything more than zero, be prepared to empathize with John Q Public, because condescension doesn’t win any friends.

    BTW – my actual perceived value of 10 billion dollars is zero, which is why I am still a behavioral scientist.

  • Richard E.

    I think the key point about this particular scenario is that collisions with much higher energy happen every day in the upper atmosphere (of both the earth, and the other planets), and if we could create a planet eating black hole with proton-on-proton collisions, it would have happened long ago.

    It would be an amusing calculation to compute the number of >10 TeV protons that have hit the upper atmosphere in the last four billion years (assuming a constant cosmic ray spectrum, which may not be wise over that timescale, but is probably conservative) relative to the total luminosity we expect the LHC to deliver over its lifetime.

    These collisions are not something that has never happened before in the history of the earth — what the LHC does is to control when and where they happen, and thus surround the interaction region with fancy instruments.

  • KR

    Thanks, Richard E. THAT was the response I was looking for.

  • http://www.cgoakley.demon.co.uk/qft/ Chris Oakley

    (Answer to the original question)

    Don’t say anything, just knock them unconscious, tie them up and bundle them into the back of the van, along with the other OBSTRUCTIVE FOOLS who would forestall the Nzargs destiny of galactic domination.


  • http://quantumnonsense.blogspot.com/ Qubits

    The LHC might not actually destroy the world, but what is discovered might! It is impossible to hide what is found and the man can already destroy the world without the LHC, in more ways than one. Hope is under the lid and the box will never open far enough for hope to escape. Leave it closed, we don’t need to look.

  • http://quantumnonsense.blogspot.com/ Qubit

    Thats should Qubit not Qubits, the “s” seems to have leapt out of my email address and into my name.

  • http://quantumnonsense.blogspot.com/ Qubit

    And take “the” away.

  • Paul Valletta

    “will the large hadron collider destroy the world?”..No but it may destroy the Universe the world resides within!

    The LHC is recreating the instants or moments of the Big-Bang,,therefore if its succeeds in igniting hadrons and other particles into a fireball of intensity similar to what created our Universe, then one can state that this Universe ends and the next Universe (the new one created inside cern)..begins.

    Of course it could be that most of what science thinks occured at the big-bang instant may be way off and incorrect, and if that be so, then all the money that went into proving science wrong, by experiment, would actually be money well spent, as we survive to laugh about it?



  • JMan

    Thanks, Richard E.

    I was under the impression that the LHC proton collisions would be significantly higher speed than what occurs around the earth on a regular basis, but if they are not, then your explanation is a good, solid, way to explain to the lay-folks.

  • http://LHCConcerns.com JTankers

    CERN predicts the creation of up to 1 micro black hole per second in the Large Hadron Collider and references the 1999 RHIC safety study as proof of safety.
    (Rebuttal: But the 1999 RHIC safety study only ruled out any possibility of colliders creating micro black holes based on knowledge at that time.)

    CERN’ predicts that micro black holes will evaporate.
    (Rebuttal: But Hawking Radiation has been disputed by no less than 3 peer reviewed studies that found no basis in science for such conclusions.)

    CERN’ and Steven Hawking state that much greater energy cosmic ray impacts with Earth prove safety.
    (Rebuttal: But higher energy cosmic ray impacts with stationary particles have net collision speeds less than the speed of light and send all particles created safely into space, while head-on collider collisions have net collision impact speeds at almost twice the speed of light and are designed to focus all the energy to a single point in space and particles created may be captured by Earth’s gravity.)

    CERN promised to create and release an new safety report before the end of 2007.
    (Rebuttal: CERN’s LHC Safety Assessment Group has concluded that particles created by cosmic ray impacts with Earth’s atmosphere are safely ejected into space and that micro black holes will evaporate, but CERN never released any safety reports created by their LHC Safety Assessment Group.)

    CERN asserts that there is no risk to the planet, even though the Large Hadron Collider will create conditions not seen in nature since the first fraction of a second after the big bang.
    (Rebuttal: But the legal action contends a 75% probability of risk with very high degree of uncertainty calculated by a scientist with a masters degree in statistics, and alleges that Chief Scientific Officer Mr. Engelen passed an internal memorandum to workers at CERN asking them regardless of personal opinion to affirm in all interviews that there were no risks involved in the experiments, changing CERN’s previous assertion of minimal risk.)

    Professor Otto Rossler calculates that a single micro black hole could accrete the Earth is as few as 50 months and Dr. Rossler is world recognized as one of the most prestigious, most eminent, award winning scientists alive.
    (Rebuttal?: But CERN has not scientifically refuted his calculations that I am aware of, CERN only promised Dr. Rossler that if they create stable micro black holes that they will stop the experiment. Will that be too late?)

    The World might prevent a catastrophy if we delay the experiment until the promised safety studies are completed and peer reviewed.
    (Rebuttal?: But then some scientists may not be the first to discover new science and some Nobel prizes may be lost.)


  • http://LHCConcerns.com JTankers


    CERN promised to create and release an new safety report before the end of 2007.
    (Rebuttal: CERN’s LHC Safety Assessment Group has concluded that particles created by cosmic ray impacts with Earth’s atmosphere are safely ejected into space and that [LSAG does not assume that] micro black holes will evaporate, but CERN never released any safety reports created by their LHC Safety Assessment Group.)

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com Stefan

    I don’t know whether Otto Rössler is world recognized as one of the most prestigious, most eminent, award winning scientists alive. But his preprint about black holes is here, and I guess most readers of CV can judge for themselves what to think about it. His petition to stop the LHC is here.

  • http://www.cgoakley.demon.co.uk/qft/ Chris Oakley

    … head-on collider collisions have net collision impact speeds at almost twice the speed of light …

    JTankers, where did you learn Special Relativity? At your grandmother’s knee?

  • http://quantumnonsense.blogspot.com/ Qubit

    Chris, back holes defiantly have a relative speed of at least twice the speed of light (It breaks no rules to have such a relative speed). Singularities cannot form in present day space-time, gravitational collapse occurs before a singularity can form. The horizon that then forms has to take on the role as singularity (much time after initial collapse and after one hell of a ride for the object that created it). Then a 2 brane forms across the diameter of the horizon which is opaque, this is mirrored on the outside of the horizon which forms a 3 brane (but its still really a 2 brane) in different degrees of transparency, which is naked but still has an horizon. Only the object that created it can see the information that’s leaving this brane, as it flows out unobserved by any other object. The whole thing will then evaporate into space creating a single massive potential for the object that created it, if the object is not observed in its full potential a real super nova will occur. It looked like that to me anyway, “I did not I could do that kind of thing”. It’s not my fault I wiped you all out of existence, anyway that’s all in that past now. I found this universe and put us all into it, I think the owners were a bit peeved but I really did not have anywhere else to go. So what can I say except “Sorry!”

  • http://www.cgoakley.demon.co.uk/qft/ Chris Oakley

    It’s not my fault I wiped you all out of existence, anyway that’s all in that past now

    If there are closed timelike lines then it will all be in the future as well. So you will have to apologise for wiping everyone out again and again and again. That could get boring – but then, like someone with Alzheimer’s, you would not remember the “previous” times you wiped everyone out so maybe you would not notice.

    I hate to be serious (seriously: I really do hate being serious), but if a journalist had interviewed (say) Feynman in (say) 1969 about the dangers of the next generation of colliders producing mini black holes that would eat the world up he would have made a joke about it. It is only because theoretical physics has launched itself into a Brave New World of Bullshit since then that such considerations are taken seriously.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    Perhaps we’re overlooking something and the world will be destroyed by the LHC. Then an intelligent observer will always find himself in a situation where the Higgs and supersymmetric particles have not yet been discovered. Experiments to search for them will either not have been carried out yet, been canceled (e.g. like the SSC) or delayed by freak accidents (e.g. the break down of a magnet at the LHC). :)

  • http://www.cgoakley.demon.co.uk/qft/ Chris Oakley

    If we destroy the universe with the LHC it would, scientifically speaking, merely be embarrassing as we would have no real idea how we did it.

    And God would then feel obliged to create a new, tamper-proof universe in order to fulfil his Plan.

  • http://quantumnonsense.blogspot.com/ Qubit

    If there are closed timelike lines then it will all be in the future as well. So you will have to apologise for wiping everyone out again and again and again. That could get boring – but then, like someone with Alzheimer’s, you would not remember the “previous” times you wiped everyone out so maybe you would not notice.

    Maybe that’s the first time I apologized, and yes it could be in the future as well, I could go back and there is a good chance I will. Then it will not me who wipes everyone out, seen as I would have already seen what happened next time round (in fact I would have seen each time round). I don’t know about you, but I prefer a world that has Dragons to a world that knows everything. You could hide the truth and you will, but the truth is I know who I am, this is not my life and I cannot change the fact that you dont know what happened that changed it. That means it will still become the life I should have lived. The loops will only occur in soft time and time has a hard deck, it’s not a place you want to reach; its hell picking yourself up from such a place!

    I know because, it was me that had to live my life and non of you had to do that. No man should have to do what I had to do, but how else do we get here?

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/whatremains.shtml James Gallagher

    Let’s apply some relevant scientific observation here.

    There are no known intelligent entities in the universe apart from us. Why is that?

    Is it possible that every time a universe is formed, intelligence develops but (inadvertently) destroys the universe (not just the world!) before other intelligences can develop (sufficently to communicate)

    I don’t think the LHC will destroy this universe but possibly the next generation or so may have the capabilty. After all, these contructions are creating “unnatural” environments, probably enabling interactions that have not previously existed in the universe. And they are “experimental” – no one really knows what the outcome will be (We hope for new particle discoveries)

    I don’t think we’re at energies that can cause concern now – but the simple argument that cosmic rays are far more energetic and a lot more exotic stuff has existed in the universe previously without causing its destruction is not completely convincing to me.

    Why no other intelligent civilisations? – Are we the only ones in this universe to be developing these physics experiments?

    At the very least, it would make a neat sci-fi movie franchise – suppose we discover an extremely subtle condition that can cause the destruction of the universe – then even if we prevent it ourselves, we would then have to seek out future civilisations in the entire universe and ensure they don’t overlook the condition in their own experiments.

  • Paul Valletta

    Interesting James, there is another argument, which places our species as the fundamental Universe Creation “Operatives”?..we exist, to evolve, to destroy and to create? Universe’s, or specifically the NEXT Universe is reliant upon “us” and the LHC!

    By default, what we dont know, is the inherent automotive reasoning process, which brings us closer to the Universal goal of our form function and existence?

  • http://www.builtonfacts.com Matt

    Perhaps this is the resolution of the Fermi Paradox. They build particle accelerators and collapse their planets into black holes.

    Kidding, kidding! 😉

  • James Blodgett

    Most collider advocates say that colliders are safe. However, their reasons keep evaporating. In 1999, the reason was that black hole formation required energy beyond the reach of any collider. Then the multiple dimension people began predicting creation of black holes at colliders. I concede that their theories are speculative, but when there are multiple published papers with more or less reasonable theories, we have to assign at least a small probability to the possibility that they may be true. In 2003 the reason not to worry was Hawking radiation. Then published papers pointed out problems with the fundamental theory behind Hawking radiation. This does not prove that Hawking radiation will not work, but again we must assign some reasonable probability to that possibility. Now an analogy between colliders and cosmic rays is supposed to demonstrate safety. Collider opponents have pointed out ways in which that analogy is inexact. You can assume that they must be wrong, but Michelangelo Mangano, a member of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider Safety Analysis Group, at a recent talk at Berkeley, discussed problems with using “cosmic rays hitting the Earth” to rule out black holes and agreed with many of the points made by collider opponents.

    If you want to say that colliders are safe, it seems appropriate to have good reasons for saying so. Mangano’s group will issue a report soon. Let us hope that they have good reasons this time.

  • http://www.thegoogleopinion.blogspot.com Larry Blumen

    What God has put asunder, let no man join together.

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  • Nikita F.

    As many sources have said that no immediate black holes will occur, though the Hadron Collider will not be amped to full force until October 21, 2008. But this is what is getting to me, that its said that even if a black hole threat occured it would take 50 months atleast for the hole to swollow the Earth and take us with it. Flash forward 50 months and to the day from when the full fource of the collider takes place, its December 21, 2012. The exact day which the Mayan’s predicted that the world would end thousands of years ago. On the date known as ‘Doomsday’ 50 months before the collider used full force and if a black hole had occured.


    Sorry, but this is really getting to me. If anyone has any thoughts or anything; please email me at


    .. or post comments.

  • Duncan

    Will somebody please adress Al’s commetns above. #20.
    His comments pretty much reflect what I want to know.
    1. Is there a theoretical reason that the possibility of the LHC creating a stable microscopic blackhole is ridiculously tiny? Or is it just simply outside of scientific understanding at this point to put a probability on it.

    And 2. If there is a non ridiculous possibility (say greater than one in a million over the projected life of the LHC) of a stable microscopic blackhole being formed and falling into an orbit around Earth’s center of mass, why is this not a horrible scenario? It seems to me it would grow exponentially pretty quickly if it was stable.

    I am not anti-science in the least. I am excited about the LHC. I just want someone in the know to address these questions, which seem to be beneath scientists to address, but over the heads of folks who create science media for laymen.


  • Duncan

    Oh, and I havn’t read any ridiculous ideas on this topic. Just a short Sci Fi story by Larry Niven about a microscopic blackhole destroying Mars, many many years ago.

  • nick

    i feel like some one needs to go over there and smash the most importent parts. theres a reason why life is a mystery and people need to stop trying t figure them out. thats why its a mystery if we figure every las mystery out then theres no point in living. so in my opinion this a really bad idea

  • Colin

    Nick, I find your comment the scariest remark on this whole thread. Someone once said that lack of curiosity is the true illiteracy.

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  • nick

    So Colin what you are saying is that people should want to know what the out come of this is? Well we all know what’s going to happen with the science part. There going to make a black hole that dissipates in a short second…nothing is going to destroy earth… but what about all those people that believe god created everything??? Anger? Fear? The fact that their whole belief is wrong. That’s what im more worried about then a black hole destroying the earth…the over all out come is what I fear.

  • Mike

    There’s a vote started about this topic –

    Currently majority think it will not destroy the earth :)


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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