Today, I watched a documentary on the Large Hadron Collider called Particle Fever. Besides being an incredibly well done and fascinating documentary, one particular moment struck me. It wasn’t something with a lot of fanfare. In fact, I would imagine it wouldn’t have sounded the same to most people – or stuck out like it did for me. It was a great thought by Savas Dimopoulos after just finding out that his thirty years of work in particle theory might NOT have been completely in vain.
I’m paraphrasing, but in effect, Dimopoulos says, “It is amazing that with our tiny human brains we can theorize and then prove out things on the smallest levels. Even down to something thousands of times smaller than an electron. That is the power of the human mind.”
Okay, so that is pretty great, right? I mean, it’s just a guy overcome with emotion expressing his amazement at what humans can do, right? What jumped out at me was the phrase “of the human mind”. I often find myself in complete wonder at what humans can do – both good and bad. But the proving out of a “god particle” was not done with the power of the human mind. It wasn’t even done with the power of thousands of human minds over the twenty-plus year process that led to the experiment (Each of the four projects going on in the documentary had thousands of people working for them).
No, this moment was the product of “the power of the minds of humankind”. No one person. No thousands of people. But, in a way, all people of all time. This moment exists on a continuum that includes discovering fire, the best recipe for coq au vin and the apple that purportedly hit Newton in the head. The chance of listing all of the thoughts, discoveries, engineering feats, and ah-ha moments that led to this moment is lower than that of finding the “god particle” in the first place.
I’m not belittling Dimopoulos’ thought. The thought behind the thought is true enough. His amazement is well founded. But what is actually back there, lurking in the inherent history of this moment – hell, any moment – is even more amazing.
I mean, there is nothing we do today that could not – on a technical level – have been done by cave men. Our iPhones are made from stuff that is made from stuff that is made from stuff that naturally occurs and always has, right? Okay, I’m getting off track but let me use my favorite terrible analogy: My friend Yuri Lane is an incredible human beat box. And when I watch him perform I am struck by the fact that Julius Caesar had the same physical traits that would allow him to beat box, but (I assume) he never did. He had the ability, but it wasn’t that place on the continuum yet. Okay, back to your regularly scheduled program.
SPOILER ALERT – In the documentary, you get to see Peter Higgs be present at the press event where they detail the discovery of the particle he theorized a half-century ago. That is an emotional moment. And it just deepened my feelings at how much actually went into this. If any number of a vast millions of very particular things hadn’t happened leading up to Peter Higgs’ life, we might not know about the particle today. If he had decided to eschew physics, or had a deadly accident before his theories, we might not know about the particle today.
Not only is this moment a product of “the power of the minds of humankind” but it is also a product of countless “accidents” and “serendipities”. And that, to me is the underlying greatness of this film. As the central struggle of the film emerges between the beauty of Supersymmetry and the random, cold chaos of the Multiverse we find that, as in Cyprianism, both are true. The film doesn’t go so far as to say that, but the deep message is clear: humans are (or can be) powerfully beautiful, but we are also subject to so many things beyond our control that it is a miracle anything worthwhile ever gets done.
It is, then, our responsibility – especially those of us who claim Cyprianism as a guiding Philosophy – to serve, create and defend Beauty at every turn. To speak it back into a world that is Beautiful and terrible at the same time. To leave things not only better than we found them, but to strive with vulnerability and technical mastery to add our masterpiece to the immortality of the Current.
“We are words in the epic poem of the Current.” – Aspasian Letter from The Seed.
If this post didn’t strike you as “sexy enough”, it may help to know that before watching Particle Fever, I tried to watch The Libertine. Not the Johnny Depp movie, but the almost equally terrible 1968 Italian romp.