Thursday, October 15, 2009

Time-Travelling Higgs Sabotages The LHC. No, Really

Could the Large Hadron Collider be sabotaging itself from the future? That's the suggestion of a couple of reasonably distinguished theoretical physicists, which has received a fresh airing in the New York Times today. Actually, it's the Higgs boson that is doing the sabotage. Apparently, among the many singular properties of the Higgs that the LHC is meant to discover could be the ability to turn back time to stop its cover being blown. Or as the New York Times puts it:
"the hypothesized Higgs boson... might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather."
That is the ultimate reason, suggest the duo - Danish string theory pioneer Holger Bech Nielsen and the Japanese physicist Masao Ninomiya - why Congress stopped the funding for the USA's Superconducting Super Collider in 1993, and why the LHC itself suffered such an embarrassing meltdown shortly after starting up last year.Reading the first paper from a couple of years ago and the follow-up last week, it's not quite clear to me how or why the Higgs contrives to influence the minds of Congressmen, or cause LHC magnets to overheat from its point of discovery some time in the future. Even trying to consider how it would achieve such feats makes my own magnets overheat. The authors clear up some of the mystery by describing their model as starting with "a series of not completely convincing, but still suggestive, assumptions". Some more excitable corners of the physics blogosphere have been considerably less polite about the theory. Even more fun is Nielsen and Ninomiya's suggestion of how their theory might be tested: with a card game. First, take a million or so cards, each scribbled with a future fate for the LHC. Make them overwhelmingly read "carry on", but add just one or two saying "shut the thing down". If you pull one of the "shut down" ones at random, you have pretty good proof that the Higgs is trying to tell you something from the future. I don't know what happens if you disobey the warning: perhaps that's where the thing with the black holes that eat the world come in. I'm not sure anyone in charge needs my advice on this, but I'd be tempted to go ahead with the LHC restart anyway, just on the off-chance Nielsen and Ninomiya are wrong. If the thing keeps on failing to work, at least you have the perfect excuse: it wasn't me, it was the Higgs.