News and brain candy for the philosophy community
The New York Times recently published an essay about a new theory in physics, according to which the Higgs Boson is so abhorred by the universe that the future is conspiring to prevent the Large Hadron Collider from going online. The physicists Holger B. Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya argue that what looks like simple bad luck (or the expected complications with such an enormous project) is really evidence of the future arranging itself so as to prevent the experiment from testing for the Higgs particle.
Nielsen and Ninomiya point out that the fundamental laws of physics (at least those of Einstein and Newton) are time-symmetric. They argue that this symmetry allows for influences from the future as well as the more familiar influences from the past. We can contrast their view with that of David Albert, according to which influence is only to be found in macroscopic laws, which are asymmetric in time.
Nielsen and Ninomiya’s view is mysterious in at least two respects. First, it is unclear how the mechanism of backwards causation is supposed to work. While Dennis Overbye, author of the Times essay connects it to time travel, one thing is clear: the mechanism must have effects as diverse as an Al-Qaeda operative’s attempted sabotoge, a decision to cancel the Superconducting SuperCollider with $2 billion (of $11 billion) already spent, and the much-publicized electrical failure that caused a six-ton helium leak and damage to the magnets last fall. Furthermore, it is unclear why the future need be involved at all. Surely a universe bent on thwarting the LHC could do it from the past just as well?
Second, it is puzzling that the Higgs boson, which, according to the Standard Model, is ubiquitous, permeating the universe and giving mass to other particles, should be despised by the universe, or, as the authors say, even God “rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.” Perhaps the authors mean that observing or creating the Higgs is what is really problematic. Indeed, the Higgs boson has never been observed by scientists, due to the energies involved. But that merely pushes the question back one step: why does the universe want to keep the Higgs bosons hidden from us?
One good feature of their theory is that there is an inexpensive test: simply pick a number between one and ten million. If a random number generator selects the same number, cancel the LHC, if not, go ahead as planned. If the future is really conspiring to prevent us from building the machine, you can bet the same number comes up. Nielsen and Ninomiya argue such a test would save countless lives lost to disasters; if only experimentalists would take their theory more seriously.