Monday, July 9, 2012

Of Cathedrals and SuperColliders - Thank you Dr. Krauss!

As someone who really loves science and the scientific method, I suffer from a very serious problem. I am not, in even the slightest sense, scientifically literate. As much as I love reading about scientific advances and improvements, when I go to talk about them later, the specifics I just read will have already flown from my mind. Instead, I end up stumbling to remember words and concepts that, moments earlier, seemed to enlighten my entire worldview.

Contrast that with the fact that I can remember, at a moment's notice, the words and chords to songs I learned on the guitar or sang along with on the radio forty years ago with unerring precision, and you can see pretty much how my mind is wired. I’m a words and music kind of guy; math and science, not so much.

I often find myself wishing that each scientific breakthrough came with a set of ‘talking points’ aimed at people like me – people who want to understand the basics of what is being discussed and why it's important, but who don’t have the training or expertise to sort through the actual science.

Which is why an article as brilliantly written as this one by Lawrence Krauss on the Higgs “particle” discovery, it makes me feel very happy. Dr. Krauss is, of course, appropriately renowned for his brilliance, but here he manages to make a bafflingly complex scientific principle understandable to the common man or woman.

I mean, talk about ‘talking points': here is his summation of why the Higgs discovery is important:

·   First, it caps one of the most remarkable intellectual adventures in human history — one that anyone interested in the progress of knowledge should at least be aware of.
·   Second, it makes even more remarkable the precarious accident that allowed our existence to form from nothing — further proof that the universe of our senses is just the tip of a vast, largely hidden cosmic iceberg.
·   And finally, the effort to uncover this tiny particle represents the very best of what the process of science can offer to modern civilization. 
That’s brilliant, simple, almost poetic.  Krauss goes on to explain the physics behind the discovery in terms that are accessible to anyone with a high school degree who wants to try to grasp what he’s saying. And he likens the CERN supercollider to the great Cathedrals of Europe. Both are “works of incomparable grandeur that celebrate the beauty of being alive.”

He finishes with the following bit of inspired analogy:
 …last week’s discovery will change our view of ourselves and our place in the universe. Surely that is the hallmark of great music, great literature, great art ...and great science.
Amen to that, Brother Krauss!

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