CERN* is alive with the sound of Quantum physicists.
While it doesn’t quite have the ring of the opening line of The Sound of Music, the place really is abuzz these days with pinging particles singing from the same hymn sheet.
The reason for it all is a minor “breakthrough” in the seemingly age-old quest for that most elusive of objects: the Higgs Boson, also called the God Particle.
“The Higgs,” as it is universally known — after British scientist, Peter Higgs — is thought to be a kind of field which matter, in its disassembled quantum state, passes through. The drag on particles by the field gives mass — or the appearance of mass — to the bits that are said to constitute matter.
You may think the above paragraph is filled with enough caveats to drag any particle down, but that is how the experts themselves tell it. Though even they can’t really believe they will achieve this crucial step towards verifying the Standard Model of the Universe as imagined (theoretically) during the age of Albert Einstein.
The Higgs is now thought to occupy a narrow segment of the giga-electron volt spectrum defined as 125 GeV. All else has been more or less checked and eliminated. It’s a bit like a gambler with one throw of the dice left to secure his winnings — all or nothing.
Psychologically, some of the players are preparing to be disappointed, saying: “If the Higgs is not found, it will be even more exciting!” Yeah, right.
But you’ve got to hand it to them for their energy and enthusiasm, not to mention their zeal for spending copious quantities of our money. Quantum expenditure is something they have yet to master. Let us hope it is less elusive than the Higgs.
In his Royal Institution lecture on Quantum Mechanics over the Christmas holidays, Prof Brian Cox claimed that Pauli’s Exclusion Principle demonstrates that “everything in the universe is connected to everything else” — the mystics’ Unity of Being, perhaps?
He then rubbed a very large uncut diamond, thus “increasing the energy level of all the electrons within it”. At that moment every other electron in the universe apparently adjusted its energy level because it can’t occupy the same level as any other, according to Pauli.
Think about it: all movements on Earth, or anywhere else, “cause” a maelstrom of frantic activity around the universe. Could the universe actually be alive, as genuine mystics have always asserted? It sounds very much like Indra’s Net to me — a very ancient idea that everything in the universe reflects everything else.
Did those early physicists get their ideas from ancient mysticism (“hippy stuff,” according to Brian Cox)? Discuss.
Similarly, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, much used by Cox in his lecture, has the unmistakable whiff of free will in action. Again though, it’s spoken of as a driver of events, not the result of intelligent action.
With the Higgs all the rage right now, it’s not easy to squeeze in an alternative view of the universe. But as this column is Midweek Mysticism, an attempt must be made to inject some sanity into the “will we, won’t we” debate that’s boiling over in Geneva.
Last week I chanced upon hints of a fascinating book published in 1901 by Dr Richard Maurice Bucke, a 19th-century psychologist and medical doctor: Cosmic Consciousness — A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind.
Twenty-nine years earlier, Bucke had experienced a shattering and life-changing expansion of consciousness in which he “saw and knew that the Cosmos is not dead matter, but a living Presence, that the soul of man is immortal, that the universe is also built and ordered. That without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love, and that the happiness of everyone is in the long run absolutely certain.”
The content and breathless nature of that statement bears all the hallmarks of countless mystical experiences down the ages.
Dr Bucke believed there are three stages in the psycho-spiritual development of man: Simple Consciousness, which is shared with animals; Self Consciousness, which is the normal state of human beings; and Cosmic Consciousness, which only the illumined attain.
He cites nine examples of such beings: the Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Dante, the Spanish mystic John of the Cross, Jacob Boehme, William Blake, Henry David Thoreau and, interestingly, the American poet Walt Whitman, whom he knew personally. There would also be many unknown people with such insights not made public.
He suggests that they are the beginnings of a new race of man increasingly inhabiting the Earth. The marks of this race are: “moral and intellectual elevation”, a clear conception of the meaning of the universe, a good character, and having passed the “age of illumination”.
In time, all humans will possess this faculty, he writes. “The same race and not the same; for a Cosmic Conscious race will not be the race that exists today … The simple truth is, that there has lived on [Earth] appearing at intervals for thousands of years among ordinary men, the first faint beginnings of another [superior] race … breathing the same air with us, but at the same time walking another earth and breathing another air of which we know little or nothing. … This new race is in the act of of being born from us …”
As an antidote to the Higgs/CERN excitement, I recommend this book to you. I spent a while last week trying to lay my hands on a copy. Amazon didn’t have any, although they acknowledged its existence. Library stacks have long ago pulped it to make room for rows of computers and shelves of DVDs.
As is often the case, though, serendipity, in the form of the “Library Angel” came to the rescue. It’s obtainable from the Kindle system.
What would we researchers of arcana do without Amazon’s Kindle? Downloaded in seconds for a pittance, there it is, fully formed like Hydra, a voice of sanity from the past.
It’s just a pity that the file is not editable. It would be great if out-of-copyright books at least, had a cut and paste facility from Kindle to Word. It would be easy enough on Kindle for PC, a free online app.
Never mind, many thanks for not so small mercies.
* CERN in Geneva, home of the Large Hadron Collider and the European Laboratory for Particle Physics.
… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.
Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.
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It is the centenary of Ernest Rutherford’s development of the “planetary” model of the atom in an experiment with gold foil, now known as the Rutherford scattering. Six years later he was involved in splitting the atom, bequeathing to us all the vagaries of Quantum physics.
Since those distant days, similar experiments have continued using bigger and better equipment. The latest is CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which propels “particles” around a 17-mile tube in opposite directions until they crash and destroy each other. The explosive trace on a graph is said to reveal newer, unknown particles which advance our knowledge of the universe.
Demonstration: put a bottle on a wall and shoot it with a gun. The bottle shatters producing a cloud of shards. Examine the shards. They are all bits of glass with randomly differing shapes.
Question: would you assign each shard an exclusive name, claiming to have discovered a “new” building block of the universe? Your answer will reveal a lot about you, and your place on the spectrum of Asperger’s Syndrome.
However, one interesting aspect of Quantum physics is its discovery of the “emptiness” at the heart of matter. A solid-looking wall is nothing but empty space held together by a string of energies.
What, then, is to stop us walking through the wall as ghosts are said to do? The answer is probably quite simple: we are not meant to.
Who or what decides this? Ah, thereby hangs a tale.
Around 2500 years ago, a wandering mendicant, known to history as Gotama (or Gautama) Buddha, sitting under a tree, underwent an “enlightenment” experience in which the world dissolved into gossamer insubstantiality revealing everything to be of one substance. That substance was much closer to mind than to matter, for crucially it exhibited intelligence. It is sometimes known as spirit or, in modern times, consciousness.
I’ve spent much of my life documenting hundreds of cases of this particular experience, so much so that I was permitted to taste its fruits personally, if that’s the right word, (see HERE and HERE).
Now, what is the difference between the Buddha’s famous “emptiness” and the “empty space” of Quantum physics? I humbly suggest there is none. Both the mystic and the boffin are looking at the same phenomenon but from different baselines and with divergent interpretations.
While the scientist uses a vast panoply of expensive equipment, the mystic relies only on the mind. More pertinently, science has yet to discover the “intelligence” in the void. Its instruments are not sensitive enough to pick up the living nature of apparent nothingness. Only the human soul can detect it. Modern humanity’s “nausea” and despair at mortality arises from the very real nihilism of science.
Various authorities, including early Christians, also shied away from Buddhist emptiness as if it were a plague. They proclaimed it nihilistic, the rejection of life, a world-hating reductionism. They thought that Gotama had flinched from a whole-hearted acceptance of his existence and the beautiful Earth he was born into.
None of that is true. The Buddha, or “awakened one,” was simply expressing what he had experienced during his enlightenment. It was no different from the fruits of Christian mysticism as described by Dionysus the Areopagite, John of the Cross, and the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas: “See what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you.” Plato’s famous story of prisoners shackled in a cave facing a wall, is of similar genre.
When scientists “split” matter and claim to have found new particles, they begin with a mathematical model of what they are looking for. At the LHC it’s Higgs boson — the “God Particle” — which “gives mass to matter”. Doesn’t it strike you as peculiar that after a century of work, they still don’t know what gives mass to matter and have to invent a blob to explain it?
I suspect the Buddha would say: matter is an illusion of the egoic mind. All matter is spirit, or, if you’d prefer, consciousness.
After the £10 billion plus spent on the LHC, it really is time for scientists to pay attention to the insights of mystics. Some do, of course, but they tend to be drowned out in the stampede for ever larger grants from governments and corporations to fund extravagant fantasies and support very adequate lifestyles.
The difference between genuine mysticism and its physical equivalent: science, can be measured by the wall of money that separates them. But walls are just empty space.
See that, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you.
John Evans is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.
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Harriet Harman, or “Wor Hattie” as she’s probably known in some parts of the country that talk like that, was on Andrew Marr’s show this morning. Actually, it was temporarily the Stephanie Flanders show.
Whenever Wor Hattie appears on TV, the phrase “life’s too short” leaps to mind. I’m trying to recall anything she said that 1) I didn’t know, or 2) was remotely interesting. Another 20 minutes of life wasted, then.
Why don’t these top-ranked political shows (Today is another) find guests with the imagination and insight to say something different, and who at least engage our intelligence?
Stephanie has a brain and education three times the size of Wor Hattie’s, yet restraints and “guidelines” prevented her from even denting the Harman body armour.
It was like trying to get orange juice from a lump of coal.
* * * * *
A term we are going to have to get used to in the future is E8. And that’s not a postal district of London.
It’s a shape, apparently found in nature, with eight dimensions, that has 248 points, or intersections where the planes meet. You’ll need to remember that.
A description of E8 in very small print would cover an area the size of Manhattan. It’s now part of a new Theory of Everything — Albert, what have you started?
Yes, we’re into particle physics again.
The computer model of E8 predicts 20 new particles, mainly because there are 20 points on E8 that can’t be fitted up with ones “we” know about. It seems the Large Hadron Collider may well throw some light on these.
This is the same collider in Geneva that broke down earlier last year soon after it was turned on for the first time. Some predicted it would destroy the universe. So far, the only thing destroyed is its budget, with scientists asking for an even bigger collider since the £5bn one they’ve got is not up to the job. The current model will not now be cranked up again until next year.
To save them the trouble, here’s the Syntagma Theory of Absolutely Everything:
All is mind, so nothing physical or energetic is fixed absolutely. Big Mind (the whole of it), or little mind (each of us, including particle physicists), can alter anything locally or generally to fit new circumstances that arise out of the evolution of consciousness across the Mindspace — which is the whole purpose of existence.
Because we (little mind) exist in a tiny segment of time, we don’t notice the bigger, long-cycle shifts that take place and imagine that things are always as they are now — give or take a Big Bang or two.
Any theory that computes and extrapolates from current conditions is not worth the Manhattan it’s written on.
You have not heard the last of the Syntagma Theory. Come to think of it, there’s something rather similar in the ancient Upanishads, and in many other cosmogonies that don’t rely on telescopes, colliders and computers, but on human experience.
Heck! shouldn’t I get a Nobel Prize or something?
* * * * *
A few political obsessives have written about the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson’s, moonlighting spree on Newsnight. In particular, his interview with the indestructible Peter, now Milord, Mandelson.
I agree with everything Iain Dale wrote in his blog. It was feisty and right on target. Mandy’s Godfather expression at times said it all. Robbo was getting through the star wars defence shield.
On this form, Nick is emerging as The Man Who Can Save Newsnight From Oblivion.
Like many, I’m guessing, I rarely watch it now unless prompted by a comment in some medium or other. Newsnight’s current political editor remains a comedian, its economics editor is sound theoretically, but hopeless in a live studio.
Remember the days of Martha Kearney and Stephanie Flanders?
Take the plunge Thompson. Give merit its due. Or, I predict, a Draft Robbo movement will soon emerge.
* * * * *
What is it with the modern Post Office? Why does it try so hard to compete with flashy private companies when most of us preferred the shabby, slightly shambolic, but dedicated, and mostly reliable, older version?
Take Exeter’s central post office, now part of the Princesshay shopping and leisure complex.
Inexplicably, it has converted itself into a kind of airport terminal, with bucket seats, four kinds of ticket to queue up for even before you wait your turn, and ceaseless announcements of ticket numbers and letters of the alphabet.
Not surprisingly, elderly people, who use it most, seem rather bemused with the whole set-up. They may well exclaim, “I only came in a for a stamp, not to fly to Malaga.”
However, try to avoid the airport experience and you’ll find almost all the comfortingly familiar sub-post offices have been closed down.
Over decades, governments have feather-bedded them with subsidies but are now withdrawing from the marketplace at the speed of a scalded hand.
Such is the chaos at the new model Heathrow-style Post Office, I predict we won’t have any at all within five to 20 years.
Adapted from my piece in: Devon & Cornwall Online
* * * * *
So now we have a whole month of minimal political activity.
Gordon is up in storm-lashed Scotland watching videos of old sporting occasions, while Dave is flitting around Europe having a good time.
Who would you choose to be Prime Minister?
* * * * *
What am I doing for August? Thanks for asking.
I’m about to launch a new website — tomorrow, actually, since you enquired — covering Devon and Cornwall.
I’m embargoed until then (self-imposed, I might add) so can’t tell you anything about it. However, if you’d like a press release, just email:
And I can promise you that, unlike Jeff Randall’s email newsletter link on Sky News, this one really does work.
* * * * *
And finally … have a great August. The Met Office is rarely right about hurricanes and rain storms.
Happily, as it is one of the world’s principal proponents of catastrophic man-made global warming, we should give thanks for the human frailties of this Exeter-based national institution.
Remember, all is Mind — and in the mind.
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This has been a year of portents. We’ve had so many “end of the world is nighs” that we’re probably into “the end of the end of the world is nigh” by now.
It clearly isn’t the end of the world though, just the end of our picture of it as a booming sybaritic paradise.
A new Great Depression was well trailed this year and last, despite scornful voices to the contrary. Those of us who knew it was coming are now fearful it may be even worse than we thought. Portents do sometimes come true.
The prophesies surrounding the Large Hadron Collider were probably the most entertaining, especially when it spluttered to a halt before it ever got going. It’s still in the repair shop, naturally, and the universe has not been sucked into a Black Hole caused by a few lengths of pipe and wiring in Switzerland. How arrogant to imagine it would.
However, a scientist now believes that our galaxy, the Milky Way, is revolving around a Black Hole 4000 times larger than the sun. He can’t prove it of course, it’s just a possibility thrown up by his mathematical modelling.
Frankly I’d rather believe an astrologer. At least the planets are visible to the naked eye and the results of the predictions are clear for all to see. So it interests me, as a student of the ancient and arcane, that today an almighty Grand Cross is forming in the sky around us.
Jonathan Cainer describes it thus on his astrological website:
“The rare ‘grand cross’ culminates today with the full Moon in Gemini. As you watch it rise in the sky, look towards the setting Sun. You’ll see Venus and Jupiter, beaming in the twilight. Also near the Sun is Mars — too low to view but in a position of great significance. Half way between the rising Moon and setting Sun is Uranus, invisible without a telescope. Opposite Uranus, halving the sector of sky beneath our feet, is the planet Saturn. You can’t see it but you can easily see the impact of this ‘grand cross’. Just look at how strangely people are behaving!”
I like that last bit. To my eye, people are always behaving strangely, especially politicians and scientists. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for bringing to our attention this majestic astral configuration.
It’s the grand culmination of … something. The apogee of … infinite possibility, perhaps. If you are about to rush to the supermarket to stock up with cases of baked beans and bottled water, stop! It’s way too late. The tentacles of strangeness are already encircling you. You never know, you may enjoy the experience.
So if my Saturday Ramble column on this site tomorrow appears a little…er…strange, how could you tell the difference?
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It probably hasn’t escaped many people’s attention that on Wednesday an important event is taking place in the rarified world of Big Science.
At Geneva, CERN is to fire up its new Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a massive particle accelerator which is the child of the aborted American version in Texas.
This multi-billion dollar project may give an assorted band of scientists insight into what happened one-billionth of a second after the Big Bang, or so they claim.
That, of course, begs a number of questions. Was there a Big Bang at all, or do we have a Steady State universe, as the British astronomer Fred Hoyle asserted, in which matter is continuously created?
Again, if space and time are illusions of the mind, as many scientists and philosophers believe, isn’t it likely that matter also is a figment of the mind’s buoyant imagination?
Strange that quantum physicists have no idea what gives matter mass. To fill the void in their knowledge they have plucked a new particle from thin air, so to speak. It’s called the Higgs Boson after its proposer, Peter Higgs.
Some commentators have jumped on this exquisite piece of fiction and named the new arrival, the God Particle. The Collider’s main mission is to discover traces of this elusive little bit of stuff.
And that’s where we’re at. Billions of European taxpayers’ money has been spent on trying to find Winnie the Pooh.
Naturally, they will come up with something. But will it be yet another fiction, arising from yet another mathematical model, and simply explaining the inexplicable by filling in the gaps with a bit of cartoon wizardry? We just don’t know, but can guess with a fair degree of confidence in the outcome. However, CGI is no substitute for the truth.
The end of the world is nigh
Most of the press and other media are concentrating on a more exciting aspect of this story.
That the forces unleashed inside the great particle accelerator will create a small Black Hole which will suck the Earth into it, and progressively, the rest of the universe bit by bit. As disaster scenarios go that must take the gold medal by a mile.
Others believe there’s a chance the reaction could change the fabric of space and time itself. It could speed it up, slow it down or even cause it to stand still. Result? We could all start saying or doing the same thing, over and over. Groundhog Day on acid.
Naturally, the Prophesies of Nostradamus are never far away from some people’s thoughts, especially the one that mentions Geneva.
So what is the most likely result when the big beast is finally switched on early Wednesday morning GMT?
How do I know that? Well, consider: the Earth is one vast particle accelerator, dwarfing even the great chunk of engineering buried beneath the French landscape. Countless cosmic rays are hitting the planet’s atmosphere every moment, colliding with all kinds of matter. So far, no Black Holes have been spotted lurking in the Van Allen Belt.
Indeed, the more honest of the scientists involved gave the game away when he admitted that the H.G.Wellsian machine may be much too small. “We may have to go back and ask for more money to build a bigger one,” he let slip. One wonders how safe his pension is.
The problem with all this peering into the soup of life is that it’s alive, just like us. The great Albert Einstein asserted that human observers affect the processes we observe. In other words we are co-creators of the universe. What we expect to see, we often get. The boffins want a Higgs particle that gives mass to matter. They will surely conjure up something like it.
But what, I’m inclined to ask, gives the property of mass-accumulation to the Higgs confection? Yet another particle? Where does it end?
The argument goes on and on, an infinite regression in human minds that can’t see the simple truth: that the universe is made of infinitely-adaptable mind-stuff, not hard lumps of rock floating about in a void with consciousness as “a disease of matter”.
One good thing may come out of this — with any luck. The new religion of Scientism may go into retreat when the last vestiges of the seven veils it holds up to the world are finally divested from the naked body of the universe and we find a mind looking back at us.
But I doubt the LHC is big enough even to make a start on that.
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