What is the probability of the Large Hadron Collider destroying the universe?

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will create conditions “last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.”  A lawsuit has been filed to prevent the LHC from being turned on for fear that it might destroy the earth or perhaps even the universe.  Some scientists associated with the LHC have stated that the LHC is safe to operate.

But, as the Dilbert Blog points out, should we trust these scientists’ stated opinions?  Scott Adams writes:

“And who exactly ran the numbers to decide it wasn’t that risky? After all, the whole point of the Large Hadron Collider is to create conditions that are not predictable. If someone already predicted what would happen using nothing but his laptop and Excel, and determined it was safe, I don’t think we’re getting our $8 billion worth.

I can’t see the management of this project spending $8 billion, realizing it was a huge boner, and then holding a press conference suggesting it be turned into a parking garage. I’ll bet a lot of people in that position would take at least a 5% risk of incinerating the galaxy versus incinerating their own careers. I know I would.

If the lawsuit succeeds, imagine trying to get another job with that project failure on your resume.

Interviewer: ‘So, you spent $8 billion dollars trying to build a machine that would either discover something cool or destroy the universe. Is it fair to say you are not a people person?’”

Some of this blogs’ readers and writer seem to know a lot about physics.  Here is a question for you:

(1)  What is the probability that the LHC will destroy the visible universe?

If you think the answer is zero please don’t bother posting a comment since your knowledge of probability theory is insufficient for your comment to be informative. 

And here is a question for everyone:

(2)  For what answers to (1) should the LHC be prevented from operating?

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  • Dave

    For 1) So I understand the objection to saying p = 0, but is it acceptable to say p = (essentially the same probability that we are living in a simulation, and all of the physical laws we know are contingent on the goodwill of an uncommunicative hyper-intelligence). I’m no physicist, but it would seem that any other answer would imply human uniqueness in the universe, something whose probability can only be vanishingly small, based on our current priors. Otherwise, aliens a thousand galaxies away and a billion years ago would have blown the universe up while we were still horseshoe crabs. Or maybe I’m missing something.

    For 2) Frankly, any chance to annoy the “precautionary principle” suck-tits makes me happy. I’d say anything less than 2% is worthwhile, just to see ‘em gibber. If I catch the downside of that bet, it’s not like I’ll notice it.

  • Ari

    The NYT should be ashamed of this shoddy reporting. Here’s the blatantly false “scare” quote early in the article (and picked up in the summary): “the Large Hadron Collider … will recreate energies and conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.”

    Here’s the truth buried in the middle of the article: “The Large Hadron Collider is designed to fire up protons to energies of seven trillion electron volts before banging them together. *Nothing, indeed, will happen in the CERN collider that does not happen 100,000 times a day from cosmic rays in the atmosphere*, said Nima Arkani-Hamed, a particle theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.”

    The article goes on to talk about a much more subtle hazard, in that the collisions are much more stationary (in the laboratory’s reference frame) than cosmic rays. But this scare-mongering about the LHC recreating big-bang-caliber collisions here on earth is simply ridiculous.

  • Roland

    Can anyone confirm the following:

    When the first atomic bomb was finally ready for the test detonation some of the involved scientists were worried that detonating it might cause a fusion chain reaction that would explode the whole atmosphere and/or all the sand in the desert. The military simply decided to take the risk and did the experiment anyway.

    Now is this a myth or not?

  • Roland
  • MZ

    I saw a documentary on Discovery HD, or HD Theater, whatever it’s called, about the development of nuclear weapons. They said the same thing: that some scientists thought the bomb could start a runaway fission reaction.

    There was also wild-eyed speculation about what microgravity would do to the human body in the early of space flight. Doesn’t mean it was well-informed.

    As for being a myth, it’s probably not a myth.

  • Nick Tarleton

    I’m no physicist, but it would seem that any other answer would imply human uniqueness in the universe, something whose probability can only be vanishingly small, based on our current priors.

    I don’t see why. Actually, I would bet on this. If they existed, we would see them.

    Otherwise, aliens a thousand galaxies away and a billion years ago would have blown the universe up while we were still horseshoe crabs. Or maybe I’m missing something.

    Anthropic principle: our observing anything at all is conditional on our not having been destroyed, so that can’t be evidence (at least if we live in a multiverse).

    Frankly, any chance to annoy the “precautionary principle” suck-tits makes me happy. I’d say anything less than 2% is worthwhile, just to see ‘em gibber. If I catch the downside of that bet, it’s not like I’ll notice it.

    No. Just… no.

  • http://don.geddis.org/ Don Geddis

    @Dave: “Otherwise, aliens a thousand galaxies away and a billion years ago would have blown the universe up while we were still horseshoe crabs.”

    Right, so it’s unlikely that the experiment will destroy the visible universe.

    But what about something smaller, like the complete destruction of our planet? Because keep in mind that there’s still the Great Filter to explain. Something like the LHC is probably feasible for most civilizations, well before robust interplanetary colonization. If running the LHC experiments results in something (like a black hole?) that destroys the planet, that may well be what happened to all the other advanced civilizations that don’t seem to be around.

    Perhaps we’re about to meet the Great Filter first-hand…

    @Roland: the fact that earlier fears of other technology were overblown, is not really good evidence that this new technology is necessarily safe.

  • Jack

    Did the Discovery Channel also mention that the Manhattan Project, after the possibility occurred to them, undertook a rather complicated analysis of the question, whether or not the atmosphere would be ignited?

    It’s rarely brought up; it’s much more entertaining to think that the physicists were playing happy-go-lucky with life on Earth, merely guessing it was safe (as safe as a nuclear bomb can be, anyway). But the physicists were actually quite cautious: they took a remote (albeit bad) possibility, and carefully determined that it wouldn’t happened. Once they had eliminated that possibility, they proceeded.

    Cautionary tales where caution was properly exercised and then nothing bad happened aren’t quite as exciting as they could be.

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    (1) What is the probability that the LHC will destroy the visible universe?

    If you think the answer is zero please don’t bother posting a comment since your knowledge of probability theory is insufficient for your comment to be informative.

    I like this guy.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/simon112/ simon

    If the LHC had a large probably of destroying the universe, cosmic rays would have a high probability of destroying the universe. This would strongly suppress the number of civilizations expected to arise late in the history of the universe. The fact that our civilization does not seem to have arisen as early as possible (eg. habitable planets likely existed before ours) is evidence against the universe having a much shorter half-life than its current age, which suggests that the probability of the LHC collider destroying the universe is low.

  • http://dl4.jottit.com/contact Richard Hollerith

    Frankly, any chance to annoy the “precautionary principle” suck-tits makes me happy. I’d say anything less than 2% [chance of destroying the visible universe] is worthwhile, just to see ‘em gibber.

    That is a truly despicable sequence of thoughts. I challenge you to a duel, sir!

  • Jack

    I think the Correct way to calculate #2 isn’t to focus on the single experiment, but on the entire line of experiments we’re going to need to do to figure /everything/ out. Taking a 2% chance of destroying the Earth per major experiment is kinda risky in the long run.

    If we want a 90% chance of not having destroy Life, the Universe, and Everything by the time it’s all done, and we assume we’ll need no more than 1000 LHC-grade experiments to figure it all out, then we shouldn’t be willing to risk more than a 0.01% chance of destroying ourselves with LHC. If we only need 100 LHC-grade experiments, 0.1% chance of destroying ourselves is tolerable. Ten will get you a lee-way of 0.6%. You really need to get down to a mere handful of such risky experiments, 5 or 6 maybe, before a 2% chance of death and destruction becomes sane in the long run.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Simon: Oh, of course! So I was wrong about the anthropic principle.

    Richard: seconded.

  • Roland

    @Don Geddis:

    @Roland: the fact that earlier fears of other technology were overblown, is not really good evidence that this new technology is necessarily safe.

    Don, that’s not the point I was trying to make. The Trinity test is just evidence that it’s not the first time that risky things where done for the sake of science. And if it happened in the past it could happen again in the future(ie now). In other words: don’t trust that the scientists took all necessary precautions.

  • Cyan

    I think the Correct way to calculate #2 isn’t to focus on the single experiment, but on the entire line of experiments we’re going to need to do to figure /everything/ out.

    We don’t need to make the decision to try to figure out *everything* right now — we just need to decide whether or not to risk this one experiment.

    Frankly, any chance to annoy the “precautionary principle” suck-tits makes me happy. I’d say anything less than 2% is worthwhile, just to see ‘em gibber.

    That’s… quite a high value you put on annoying people you don’t like. I think I’d rather consider the value of the potential gain in information.

    If I catch the downside of that bet, it’s not like I’ll notice it.

    Yeesh. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!

  • Adirian

    Undefined. You can’t assign a probability to something when you don’t know the variables, the formulas, or even whether or not the question is meaningful. “Will the universe be destroyed?” presumes the universe is a destructible thing, and indeed a thing at all. The question can more meaningfully be formulated about the planet, a thing we know can be destroyed – and because the energy levels surely aren’t sufficient, and even if it produced a black hole it wouldn’t have sufficient gravity to maintain itself, the primary option remaining is some form of viral particle or energy form which converts everything it encounters into either itself or something else which then re-emits itself. (I/e, possibly turning all carbon into hydrogen, or vice versa.)

    In either event the question is irrelevant. Every major experiment ever run could have had the same question asked of it. This is, bluntly, an assault on reason, an assault on attempts to identify the unidentified – because we don’t know what it is we’re trying to identify. The probability of swinging your hand through the air and destroying the universe by colliding two previously unknown particles is also nonzero – but it’s not a meaningful thing to suggest.

  • http://dl4.jottit.com/contact Richard Hollerith

    If we want a 90% chance of not having destroy Life, the Universe, and Everything by the time it’s all done . . . you really need to get down to a mere handful of such risky experiments, 5 or 6 maybe, before a 2% chance of death and destruction becomes sane in the long run.

    5.2 to be exact, and if your 90% becomes 50% then the 5.2 becomes 34.3.

    Clarification: I am not opposed to every project with a 2% probability of destroying the visible universe. What I found despicable was the willingness to run a 2% risk just to cause an emotional response in an opposing faction in a human political debate. If 34.3 people run a 2% risk, the cumulative effect would be a 50% chance of destroying the visible universe.

    BTW, I have no opinion on this particular human political debate.

    I am using the term “visible universe” because that is what the OP used. I assume the OP and Dave (the guy who put the very high value on annoying people he doesn’t like) meant the future light cone (the part of the universe we can affect).

  • http://dl4.jottit.com/contact Richard Hollerith

    I have no opinion on this particular human political debate.

    I mean I have no strong opinion (and I lean toward the proactionary faction).

  • http://www.LHCFacts.org JTankers

    I co-administer LHCFacts.org, and I will try to estimate the odds in layman’s terms.

    At this time, depending on what odds you assign to each of the possibilities below, you could calculate the odds of danger from a micro black hole as between about 1 in 8 or about 1 in 4000, or other odds depending on what probabilities you assign each of the possibilities below.

    Some scientists want to prove that the experiment is safe by turning the experiment on and “showing the world that it is safe”. But that might be similar to pointing a gun to your head and pulling the trigger without knowing if the gun was loaded or not and without knowing if the gun was a toy pellet gun or a deadly weapon.

    Trial in US Federal Court in Hawaii has been scheduled to begin June 16, 2009 to require that reasonable proof of safety be proven before potentially dangerous collisions begin.

    CERN is the company that built and will run the Large Hadron Collider, and CERN thinks that the Large Hadron Collider might create micro (tiny) black holes at a rate of one per second. Some scientists have predicted the odds of creating micro black holes at 1 in 1000, other scientists have predicted the odds at closer to 50%. But we don’t know.

    Some scientists think that micro black holes would evaporate, just disappear so they would be safe. But other scientists believe that micro black holes might not evaporate and might be dangerous. These scientists use wording that generally suggests that the odds of evaporation might be estimated at about 50%.

    CERN’s Dr. Michelangelo Mangano plans to try to prove soon that micro black holes would grow so slowly that they would never become large enough to eat all of Earth. But Dr. Otto Rossler published a paper calculating that micro black holes could grow quickly and become large enough to eat Earth in just years or decades. The odds of either can probably be estimated at 50%.

    You can learn more at the Wikipedia Article on Large Hadron Collider Safety at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_Hadron_Collider#Safety_concerns

    I hope this helps,
    JTankers,
    LHCFacts.org

  • Roland

    Q:

    Why did they wait till now to start all this debate? Was anyone here aware of those hypothetical dangers years ago?
    Did they have to wait till they almost finished this thing?

  • Will Pearson

    “(1) What is the probability that the LHC will destroy the visible universe?

    If you think the answer is zero please don’t bother posting a comment since your knowledge of probability theory is insufficient for your comment to be informative.”

    Is it higher or lower than the chance of me eating porridge on thu 19th of jun destroying the visible universe?

  • Tiiba

    The answer is 100%.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/simon112/ simon

    JTankers: hmm, so it seems the main concern is micro black holes. Now I see the relevence of less momentum in the laboratory frame. Still, I would suggest you ask those scientists who “use wording that generally suggests that the odds of evaporation might be estimated at about 50%” what they actually think the probability is – I would be very surprised if they actually thought it was that small.

    I was unable to find any such article by Otto Rossler on Google scholar. I am curious as to how you estimate a 50% probability here.

    I think the probability of nonevaporation is very low, so I would estimate the danger as much smaller than the 1 in 8 to 1 in 4000 range.

  • Tim Tyler

    One in a billion? All the concerns I have read about seem pretty ridiculous.

    What about the costs of remaining ignorant of physics? Are they not at least as likely to lead to our demise?

  • ThinkAfrica

    What is worrisome to me is the evidence of the subsumption of smaller black holes by larger black holes at different points in the universe. If miniture black holes are generated spontaneously outside of the LHC they have little oppurtunity to play pac-man with one another due to their non-correspondent proximities, but in a small focused area (where the holes may not leave immeadeatly due to the temporal distortion from the massive gravitational forces involved)this could very well be a different kettle of fish if the CPT symmetry is expressed strangely. I would be sad to see (figaratively) little bits of Switzerland slamming through all of our brains quasar style…

    http://chandra.harvard.edu/resources/faq/black_hole/bhole-78.html

  • http://profile.typekey.com/simon112/ simon

    Whoops, found the article via wikipedia. Looks pretty crankish to me.

  • ThinkAfrica

    … Allow me to spell check myself. I have been awake for too long.
    ——

    What is worrisome to me is the evidence of the subsumption of smaller black holes by larger black holes at different points in the universe. If miniature black holes are generated spontaneously outside of the LHC they have little opportunity to play pac-man with one another due to their non-correspondent proximities, but in a small focused area (where the holes may not leave immediately due to the temporal distortion from the massive gravitational forces involved) this could very well be a different kettle of fish if the CPT symmetry is expressed strangely. I would be sad to see (figuratively) little bits of Switzerland slamming through all of our brains quasar style…

    http://chandra.harvard.edu/resources/faq/black_hole/bhole-78.html

  • http://profile.typekey.com/simon112/ simon

    ThinkAfrica, in order for the black holes to have a significant gravitational effect on each other, they would have to be extremely close to one another, far closer than the size of an atomic nucleus. So it would be very unlikely for there to be many collisions. Nor would gravititational effects prevent them from leaving a small area, etc.

  • Vladimir Nesov

    The simplest strong argument seems to be that the analogous events happen all the time from cosmic rays, so risk is constrained by the observation that universe is still here, after billions of years of such experiments. ;-)
    Also see this post on Backreaction blog.

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    I would like to clearly state that I am for scientific research and against the destruction of the universe. I look forward to politicians making their views on this position equally clear.

  • Unknown

    I think the Great Filter comment was the most reasonable. This suggests that there is a probability of more than 99.999% that the earth (maybe not the visible universe) will be destroyed either by the LHC or by some similar experiment. The anti-universe bias, masquerading as pro-science, displayed in the comments will ensure this destruction.

  • Tim Tyler

    Lack of observable aliens does not imply a high probability that we will fail to expand through the galaxy – the idea is a fallacy.

  • Stefan King

    2. Way less than 1 in a billion. You have to set the knowledge gains against the value of 6 billon human lives, all future human life, and all other future life in the universe.

    So you have to be very sure the difference between cosmic rays and these experiments is only quantitative. Very, very sure.

  • http://www.LHCFacts.org JTankers

    Simon Writes: “I was unable to find any such article by Otto Rossler on Google scholar”

    Dr. Otto Rossler writes: “ …after 50 months the earth to a centimeter would have shrunk. It would be nothing more there, not only no more life, there but also the earth would be… a small black hole.”

    His academic paper calculating micro black hole growth rates is available here: http://www.wissensnavigator.com/documents/OTTOROESSLERMINIBLACKHOLE.pdf

    “scientists odds of evaporation”

    Dr. Adam D. Helfer writes in his paper: Do black holes radiate? “no compelling theoretical case for or against radiation by black holes“
    Dr. William G. Unruh and Prof. Ralf Schützhold write “whether real black holes emit Hawking radiation or not remains an open question“
    Prof. V.A. Belinski writes “…the effect [Hawking Radiation] does not exist.“

    References are posted at LHCFacts.org

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    “But Dr. Otto Rossler published a paper calculating that micro black holes could grow quickly and become large enough to eat Earth in just years or decades. The odds of either can probably be estimated at 50%.”

    An LHC seems to me to be a possible Great Filter. Particularly if unpredicted (or unacted on predicted) results would lead not just to planetary destruction, but destruction of signals sent out by a planetary civilization in the time period before its construction of an LHC.

    I think it’s a possible Great Filter, because it seems to me to be the type of fundamental scientific inquiry experiment any type of intelligence developed in our universe would create. However, for it to be a perfect Great Filter, I think it would be of the catch-22 variety. If we build X, it will destroy us. But if we don’t build X, lack of knowledge about Y, that we could only learn from building X, will destroy us.

    It’s reasonable that some portion of intelligences in the visible universe might self-regulate and not build X. Since we don’t see any evidence of those intelligences, it’s reasonable to think that Y destroyed them. Like Nick points out, this line of reasoning becomes particularly salient if we discover any type of pre-intelligent life that has independently evolved in nearby space.

  • http://www.LHCFacts.org JTankers

    Simon writes: “black holes… would have to be extremely close to one another”

    User LF1975 posted the following explaination at LHCFacts.org (paraphrase):

    “Dr. Rossler’s theory is that when an MBH (Micro Black Hole) accretes (eats) a charged particle, say electron, this will not go straight into the MBH, but will circulate around the MBH for a while, and by doing this, a magnetic field will be created which will attract positive and negative charged particles, each at the opposite poles of the MBH, thus accelerating the accretion rate.”

    In plain English, Dr. Rossler believes that micro black holes would have powerful magnetic forces so they would grow quickly.

  • mitchell porter

    100,000 times a day for 4.5 billion years is about 10^17 events. The number of planets in Earth’s past light-cone is liable to be at least 10^21.

    So one may suppose that a reasonable upper bound on the probability that collision of Earth with a cosmic ray will destroy the planet is 1 in 10^17, and that it will destroy the universe, 1 in 10^38.

    These numbers should be rounded down considerably if Tokyo is ravaged by a giant walking plant-woman first.

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: “You have to set the knowledge gains against the value of 6 billon human lives, all future human life, and all other future life in the universe.”

    Knowledge gains affect our chances of being wiped out by asteroids, aliens, warfare, overcrowding, etc. IMO, the /value/ in those areas seems very likely to outweigh the risks. It would be great if we really had nothing better to worry about than failed science experiments, but science experiments are waay down on the list, in my view.

  • Ben Jones

    Answers I’ve seen so far:

    * If the universe could be destroyed, someone else would have done it by now.
    * If the universe is destroyed, we won’t be around to worry about it, so meh.
    * The atom bomb didn’t kill us all, so the LHC probably won’t.
    * We don’t understand what we’re playing with, so we can’t calculate a probability, so we might as well get on with it.

    I wasn’t worried about the thing until I read this page. Now I don’t think I even want to cross the road any more.

  • RCH

    This was all covered in the scifi show Lexx. Earth is a type 13 planet which will shrink to the size of a pea from Higgs Boson research.

    http://8128.org/_a009.php

    This page containing 5 one-page explanations of the Higgs boson reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite television shows, LEXX:

    790: “This is a classic type 13 planet, which typically destroys itself at this stage of its development.”

    Xev: “How?”

    790: “Sometimes through war, often through environmental catastrophe. But more commonly, a type 13 planet is inadvertently collapsed into a pea-sized object by scientists attempting to determine the mass of the Higgs boson particle.”

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Following Eliezer’s example I will stick my neck out and predict the chance of destroying the universe is less than the chance of destroying Earth.

  • atheist

    “I’d say anything less than 2% [chance of destroying the visible universe] is worthwhile, just to see ‘em gibber.”

    Please, God Almighty, do not let this guy have any decisionmaking power, anywhere…

  • Unknown

    Along the lines of Robin’s comment, some of the arguments that have been made might well establish that destroying the universe is very unlikely. But I don’t see anything establishing a calibrated estimate that the odds of destroying the earth (not the universe) are less than one in a million. And I would suggest that until someone establishes such a calibrated estimate, it should not run.

  • http://cumulativemodel.blogspot.com aaron

    What the opponents fail to consider is that the uncertainties they worry about exist regardless of whether or not the LHC is built. Particle collisions happen, even head-on ones, in the vicinity of earth.

  • gwern

    Roland: it’s not a myth. They actually went as far as writing up their findings into a technical report; I know this because I was reading some of the early comprehensive nuke books and I tried to get my library to get a copy of the report. Unfortunately, it seems ILL doesn’t cover technical reports from Los Alamos National Laboratory. :(

  • Drac

    aaron, I’ve read in multiple places (although considering it’s on this topic, who knows how accurate the mainstream media is) that if cosmic rays impacted the upper atmosphere and created a stranglet/micro blackhole/other nasty thing it would be affected by the energy imparted to it by the cosmic ray and have a velocity that would take it away from the earth. Although, considering the LHC accelerates particles up to near-c, wouldn’t phenomena produced by it have a similar energy and thus velocity to those produced by cosmic rays? If so, it seems to me that, at least if we ignore the anthropic principle, the odds of the LHC destroying the world are 1 in however many cosmic rays have intersected the volume of the earth in the past four-billion or so years, and the odds of destorying the universe are 1 in however many times cosmic rays have impacted the baryonic matter whose light cone has intersected earth.

  • http://www.iphonefreak.com frelkins

    Following Robin’s example, I will go further, and say less than the likelihood I will personally spontaneously combust. I can’t find the actual probability of this on the web so far. But in all of human history there appear to be less than 200 cases. I’m sure someone here can do the math.

  • Julian Morrison

    To be fair, you’d have to compare the expected number of lives lost because we don’t switch it on. That can’t be discounted either. Computer chips, lasers, and GPS satellites are all applications of high physics. People would have died but for them. New knowledge in physics has in the past been important.

  • komponisto

    But, as the Dilbert Blog points out, should we trust these scientists’ stated opinions?

    Yes, unless we think we have better information than they do.

    “And who exactly ran the numbers to decide it wasn’t that risky? After all, the whole point of the Large Hadron Collider is to create conditions that are not predictable.”

    “Not every aspect being predictable” is not the same thing as “totally unpredictable”. One may presume that running the LHC is not going to result in the creation of a giant pink teddy bear levitating in the sky over Scranton, Pennsylvania. A scientific experiment, by its very nature, is set up so that most of the unpredictability is circumscribed into a restricted space of possibilities. (This is what “controlled experiment” means.) The LHC scientists surely know, to within certain well-defined degrees of freedom, what to expect when they turn the machine on.

    So there is no particular reason to doubt that the LHC scientists would be able to predict the safety of the experiment before actually running it.

  • Dirac

    I worked it out in a long complicated post but then my browser crashed. Lost all my citations, but I’ve still got the numbers. I’m just considering the destruction of the Earth here, using very hand-waving order of magnitude arguments.

    We would expect about 5 billion cosmic rays per year to hit Earth where the centre of mass energy was the same as the LHC’s. But the Sun is much larger than the Earth and so proportionally more cosmic rays must fall on its surface. In fact, the Sun’s surface is 10^10 that of the Earth (-> 5 * 10^19 collisions per year), so even if the LHC were running 24/365 it would still only produce collisions at a fraction of the rate the Sun does. Note that at these energies, cosmic rays come from way beyond the Solar System and are far too energetic to be meaningfully deflected by the Earth or Sun’s magnetic field.

    Any of the proposed existence failure modes apply equally to the Sun as they do to the Earth – black holes, strange matter, false vacuum transitions – and the Sun has been around for 5 billion years without any problem – so since such an event has not happened to the Sun in that time, I set its probability over that timescale to 1/2 for the sake of argument. That’s 1 in 10 billion per year, or 1 in 5 x 10^29 per collision.

    While the LHC is running at full luminosity, 800 million proton-proton collisions are expected per second. This leads to a probability of 5 x 10^-14 (1 in 2 * 10^13) per accumulated year of run time (this will be longer than an elapsed year because the LHC will not operate 24/365). That remote enough for you? And that’s not even to take account of all the other planets and stars we can see, none of which have undergone a gratuitous existence failure as far as we can tell (such an event would leave a very distinctive remnant) – making the event even less likely.

    (LHC’s own site for collision rates, Wikipedia and Pierre Auger Observatory for cosmic ray stuff)

  • http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/archives/003407.html elearnspace

    Overcoming Bias…and the Hadron Collider

    Overcoming Bias is an interesting blog exploring an mix of philosophy, futurism, and obscure concepts/ideas (or is that an oxymoron when used in the same sentence as “philosophy”?). Recently, they posted on one of lawsuits around the Large Hadron Colli…

  • Ambitwistor

    JTankers,

    It seems no one has pointed out to you that Rossler’s document is a bunch of crackpot nonsense.

    First he claims that his result is based on a re-interpretation of conventional general relativity. Then he realizes that the theory he’s working with can’t actually be general relativity, since it gives different physical predictions.

    The natural question is then, “Where does conventional GR go wrong?” He completely sidesteps that question, claiming that it is counterproductive to re-work the old equations, since the mathematical derivations have “stood the test of time”. (A classic hallmark of the crackpot: “I can’t find any problem with the existing theory, but I’m nevertheless certain it’s wrong”.)

    He says that the only way forward is not to find the error in any existing mathematics, but to proceed in a “round-about” way. True to form, he then presents some convoluted and bizarre “logic” which leads to the conclusion that black holes evaporate because they can’t form in the first place. (Then why is he worrying about them in CERN??)

    If you examine his argument in more mathematical detail, he starts by writing down an expression for Schwarzschild coordinate time, and multiplies it by c to get a distance. He then claims that the distance to the horizon is infinite, therefore it takes infinite time for a black hole to form, therefore black holes can’t form.

    The problem is that coordinate time is not the proper time measured by an infalling observer, and you can’t multiply it by c to get proper distance either. Both the proper time to fall into a horizon, and the proper distance to the horizon, are finite. This is a typical exercise in an introductory graduate course on GR, and requires one merely to demonstrate the convergence of a single integral. You can show this in any coordinate system which is well behaved at the horizon, such as Kruskal-Szekeres; I think you can find it worked out in either Misner, Thorne and Wheeler or in the problem book by Lightman et al.

    To prove his claim, Rossler needs to show that this integral is actually infinite. Instead, he redefines the meaning of “distance” and “time” and then presents many pages of irrelevant calculations of quantities which have nothing to do with the time measured by an infalling observer.

    Promoting such “theories” does not really help the credibility of your website or your cause.

  • W

    II. Other Risk Factors

    The CERN study indicates that strangelets and monopoles could be produced and present no danger for earth. [Ref. 1]

    We will present arguments of possible danger.

    1. Strangelets

    Strangelets are only dangerous for earth if they are not moving rapidly through matter. If only one strangelet is at zero speed there would be danger. We have seen for MBHs that the cosmic ray model is very different from the LHC where particles with opposing speeds collide. We have seen that, given the impact of opposite speed particles, the distribution of speeds of resultant particles indicates the probability of very low speeds (0 m/sec < speed < 4 m/sec) and this could mean dangerous strangelets. We estimate a minimal risk for strangelets on the order of 2%. We might estimate as high as 10 % if we want to be wise because the danger is primary!

    2. Monopoles

    Monopoles could be produced in the LHC. [Ref. 1] .CERN’s calculations indicate that one monopole produced in LHC could destroy 1.018 (US notation 1,018) nucleons but it will quickly traverse the earth and escape into space. However, we know that photons produced in the center of the sun need thousands of years to traverse the sun and escape into space because of the numerous interactions. If the speed given to the monopole after interaction is a speed in a random direction, we can imagine that the monopoles produced in the LHC could stay a very long time in earth and be dangerous. 3. Estimate of danger due to our ignorance of ultimate physical laws: We have not exhausted processes that might cause danger. There are other particles, black energy, black mass, quintessence, vacuum energy, and many non definitive theories. We estimate this danger ranging from a minimal 2% risk to 5%.

    III. CONCLUSION

    The CERN study [Ref. 1] is a remake of a similar study for the earlier Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven (RHIC) [Ref. 6] adapted to the LHC.

    It is important to notice that: The study for the RHIC had concluded that no black holes will be created. For the LHC the conclusion is very different: “Black holes could be created!” !

    The main danger could be now just behind our door with the possible death in blood of 6.500.000.000 (US notation 6,500,000,000) people and complete destruction of our beautiful planet. Such a danger shows the need of a far larger study before any experiment ! The CERN study presents risk as a choice between a 100% risk or a 0% risk. This is not a good evaluation of a risk percentage!

    If we add all the risks for the LHC we could estimate an overall risk between 11% and 25%!.

    We are far from the Adrian Kent’s admonition that global risks that should not exceed 0.000001% a year to have a chance to be acceptable. [Ref. 3] .Even testing the LHC could be dangerous. Even an increase in the luminosity of the RHIC could be dangerous! It would be wise to consider that the more powerful the accelerator will be, the more unpredicted and dangerous the events that may occur! We cannot build accelerators always more powerful with interactions different from natural interactions, without risk. This is not a scientific problem. This is a wisdom problem!

    Our desire of knowledge is important but our desire of wisdom is more important and must take precedence. The precautionary principle indicates not to experiment. The politicians must understand this evidence and stop these experiments before it is too late!

    —————————————————————–

    References:

    1.. Study of potentially dangerous events during heavy-ion collisions at the LHC: Report of the LHC Safety Study Group. CERN 2003-001. February 28, 2003.

    2.. E-mail exchange between Greg Landsberg and James Blodgett, March 2003, http://www.risk-evaluation-forum.org. (No longer posted. Request a copy. Risk Evaluation Forum, BOX 2371, Albany, NY 12220 0371 USA.)

    3.. A critical look at risk assessment for global catastrophes, Adrian Kent, CERN-TH 2000-029 DAMTP-2000-105. Revised April 2003. hep-ph/0009204. Available at: http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/hep-ph/pdf/0009/0009204.pdf.

    4.. High energy colliders as black hole factories: the end of short distance physics, Steven B. Giddings, Scott Thomas. Phys Rev D65 (2002) 056010.

    5.. CERN to spew black holes, Nature October 2, 2001.

    6.. Review of speculative disaster scenarios at RHIC September 28, 1999 W.Busza, R.L. Jaffe, J.Sandweiss and F.Wilczek.

    7.. Trous noirs et distorsions du temps, Kip S. Thorne, Flammarion 1997. ISBN 2-08-0811463-X. Original title: Black holes and times warps. 1994 Norton. New York.

    8.. Centre de la Terre, Science & Vie N 1042. Gallate 2004.

    9.. Results of several Delphi groups and physicist questionnaires, James Blodgett, Risk Evaluation Forum, forthcoming.
    http://www.risk-evaluation-forum.org/anon1.htm

  • http://profile.typepad.com/halfinney Hal Finney

    The interesting question for me is the meta one: how do we resolve this issue? Should we, lay people, read Wikipedia pages and web sites and come up with our own opinions and judgements on the matter? Or should we trust the evaluation of experts?

    Scientists clearly have disincentives to destroy the earth. If the dangers are real, they should be concerned about their own survival. But are there institutional mechanisms that prevent scientists from objectively evaluating the evidence and presenting the results?

    Some scientists are closely involved with the experiments. They have a personal incentive to see the reactor operate.

    Others who are not personally involved may nevertheless perceive personal costs in endorsing what many of their colleagues see as a crackpot view. If they advocate for caution, and then the reactor operates without problem nevertheless, they may be penalized in the future.

    Unfortunately this is one kind of question where an Idea Futures market would not work too well, because people who correctly bet that the reactor will destroy the earth may not be able to collect their winnings. This would cause the market to under-estimate the risks.

    What kind of institution could we or should we create to evaluate experiments with potential existential risks?

  • Drac

    But what if the LHC produced a stable MBH or stranglet? Would CERN tell the world to prepare for a possible apocalypse? If it escaped their detectors without evaporating I wonder what would happen on the PR-side of things, it’s an interesting moral question.

  • Constant

    Is the LHC the Great Filter? I think not. Some significant fraction of civilizations must achieve planetary exodus prior to the LHC. In order for the LHC to wipe sufficiently many of those out, the LHC would need to be extremely powerful – powerful enough to leave visible effects in the universe. Well, where are they?

    A biological disease might wipe out a civilization without leaving large-scale traces, but the means by which an LHC would wipe out civilization is presumably by some massive explosion or implosion, and if it’s big enough to wipe out a spacefaring civilization that would presumably leave a big mark.

  • Tom Crispin

    With a similar chain of probabilistic reasoning, Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons will with probability P, non-zero by definition of the problem as per LHC, cause the extinction of human life. [A nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel escalates, nuclear winter ensues, whatever]

    Per the OP:

    (1) what is the probability that Iran having nuclear weapons will cause the extinction of human life?

    (2) for what values of (1) should Iran’s nuclear ambitions be supressed?

    (3) if the precautionary principle is appropriate wrt the LHC, should it also apply to this problem?

    (4) if you object that intervention itself is risky, do you also accept that ignorance of physics is risky wrt the LHC?

    Head of pin, meet dancing angels.

  • Phillip Huggan

    “And that’s not even to take account of all the other planets and stars we can see, none of which have undergone a gratuitous existence failure as far as we can tell (such an event would leave a very distinctive remnant) – making the event even less likely.”
    Dirac, this is a powerful argument. We haven’t mapped that many planets yet, but I assume you mean that all LHC failure modes have at least a low level probability of also messing with stellar processes in a way that should be observable via weird x-ray and gamma ray signatures that we just don’t observe?

    Question #2 could be framed as taking the safe path to colonizing the universe versus an aggresive path. There are many simplifications…assuming the mass of the visible and dark universe is 10^52 kgs, and a closed-system future human can live indefintely using 1000kg of matter, that is 10^48 people. I’ve noticed R+D intensity is strongly correlated to economic growth (take away R+D and we are cavemen waiting for the next ice age to wipe out civilization) which is in turn moderately correlated to quality-of-living gains. So a $8 billion dollar physics investment is ammortized about $400 million against $800 billion (?) spent annually on R+D. The odds are 1/5(?) this money would otherwise go to some other R+D-less expense? So, the LHC represents 1/10000 of what could be termed human progress.
    At some point, either with computer modelling or with a GUT, we’d probably know for sure whether to build the thing. I’ll say 25 years for the computer modelling and 125 years for a GUT without these sorts of particle experiments. This yields about 75 years as the “safe” LHC construct timeline.

    75 years where scientific progress is retarded at a 1/10000 rate translates into about 3 days lost. Assuming people in the far future have 122x the quality-of-living as us, that is 10^48 person years lost, in about 10^38 years (when protons decay) by not building LHC. The hard part is in estimating how much taking the safe path to colonizing the universe affects the odds of colonizing the universe…**post 1/2**

  • Douglas Knight

    Survey:
    which way did you change your assessment of the odds when JTankers came around and called your attention to micro black holes?

  • http://econoblag.blogspot.com/ Daniel Reeves

    Can we assume that, in the case there is/was other intelligent life out there, because the universe is currently not destroyed, that at [i]least[/i] it probably won’t destroy the universe?

  • http://econoblag.blogspot.com/ Daniel Reeves

    Sorry. Never mind tha last one. I should read the comments more. Thanks, Nick Tarleton.

  • Jotaf

    There’s this prevalent argument that, if anything goes wrong, we will never know and simply puff out of existence without suffering — this makes some people feel safe. They forget that in the event that a MBH starts accreting matter in the center of the Earth there would be earthquakes right from the beginning; it would be a slow death, rather than a quick one. And that’s scary enough.

    I’m addressing this topic since enough was already written about the actual probability of something happening or not, but no one talked about what it would mean for humankind in that event. Could it be that Switzerland and France simply blow up and survivors around the world are thrown back to the stone age? It’s one thing to destroy everything in one go, another is the moral implication of the suffering that this might cause.

  • prase

    I’ve never understood why are people so concerned with the miniature black holes. Even if they don’t evaporate, still their size would be so small that thay couldn’t catch anything. Even if one imagines he has created a black hole from, say, a whole truck with mass 50 tons, the Schwarzschild radius of such hole would be of order 10^-23 m (if I calculate correctly), which is far less than the diameter of atomic nucleus. Such hole would produce the same gravitational force as the truck does (people aren’t really swallowed by trucks’ gravity, are they?) and probably would pass through any matter causing no damage at all. Maybe the hole would end in the center of Earth and remain there until eternity, provided no evaporation occurs. There is no need to fear black micro-holes.

    Since there will not be enough energy in the beam at LHC for destroying anything, perhaps except the detectors, the Earth could be destroyed if
    a) energy conservation does not hold or
    b) there is an unknown source of energy in the matter
    and the matter is unstable and can be ignited by some specific reaction, which is produced in LHC-style collisions but not produced by cosmic radiation. I think it is no more probable than that one can construct a perpetuum mobile from the kitchen sink and the Bible.

    By the way, when people expect some previously totally unknown physics will be discovered soon, why they think that it has to demonstrate itself in the form of the giant explosion?

  • http://www.think-through.com gianluca carrera

    also, what is the probability that some other form of life in the universe is or will be building such a thing that might destroy the universe? Surely not zero either, so to that extent, I’d like to be the one that plugs that damn thing and see what happens ;-)

  • komponisto

    Hal, I suspect that a layman’s own availablity-heuristic-induced bias toward imagining the destruction of the universe (acquired perhaps via sci-fi plus a vivid imagination) would more than cancel out any institutional biases on the part of scientists against contemplating such scenarios.

    We who are not physicists find it much easier to imagine the LHC destroying the universe (in a sort of generic sci-fi way) than we would if we actually knew the physical details of what goes on inside.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Exit Mundi has an entry on high-speed physics destroying the world by creating a “strange” quark here. It’s an entertaining site, though most of its scenarios are very outlandish.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/halfinney Hal Finney

    Komponisto, that would be good, but I’m not confident that our present institutions will successfully allow those biases to cancel out so neatly. At best we have scientists saying, nothing to see here, move along, it’s just a bunch of crackpots; while the paranoid public mistrusts these official denials and squabbles ignorantly among itself. I don’t get a good feeling that this is a process for reliably converging on the truth.

    Douglas Knight above asks whether our opinions changed upon informing ourselves of the arguments against the safety of the LHC. I read the Wikipedia article (and some of the talk page) and a bit of the advocacy sites mentioned above. This reading did make me more concerned about the safety issues.

    This change does not surprise me, as I have found it to be true in many areas. Informing myself of psychic research made that area more credible. Learning about Peak Oil theory made it seem a very serious threat. Hearing from nanotech enthusiasts made it seem that that could plausibly revolutionize the world. I was somewhat concerned about Y2K causing serious problems. In general, I just seem to be a gullible person, to put it frankly. And yet, I’m an intelligent guy. This is part of what makes me skeptical about people using their own judgement on complex issues.

  • Phillip Huggan

    …10^48 people times 10^38 years times 122x future quality-of-living multiplier implies a “value” of the universe of potentially 10^88 persons. By taking the “safe” road to physics experiments, you lower the universe’s colonization speed and likelihood. The net effect is to shrink the angle (narrow) of our future colonization light-cone, ever so slightly.

    Our annual odds of human extinction may be estimated at about 0.2% a year. Without social and technological improvement, the odds of our extinction before the end of the universe is 1.02^(10^38) or 1. Assuming technological improvement (food now, wireheading in the future) is 1/3 the equation for mitigating human extinction, reducing technological progress by 1/10000 (from my previous post) over the next 75 years by not turning on the LHC implies increased human extinction odds of 1/30000 times 0.002 times 75 years. Thus, taking the aggressive road decreases human extinction odds by 1/200000 or 10^-5. 10^88 times 10^-5 is 10^83. This is much higher than the 10^38 figure. Retarding technological progress kills 10^83 minus 10^38, or 10^83 people equivalents.

    To abandon science at this critical time, I’d think you need a greater than 1/200000 chance of the LHC destroying the universe. With observational evidence and mature physics theories, there is no ethical justification for not building it. But there are many alternative R+D uses for $8 billion.

  • http://erichsieht.wordpress.com/category/english/ Sven Türpe

    I don’t know any serious physics, my background is in computer security. Here are my proposed answers after reading the comments that appeared so far. Actually I am more interested in the 2nd question, so feel free to ignore my answer to (1).

    (1) The probability of LHC destroying the entire universe equals the probability of a universe self-destructing after spawning a running LHC (ignoring possible side conditions). Neither do we know the speed of self-destruction in such cases, nor have we observed a sufficient number of universes to have an empirically validated theory of universe destruction.

    (2) If we can be sure that the LHC will either destroy nothing or at least and reliably the entire mankind, the LHC should be operated regardless of the answer to question (1). This is a matter of practical considerations. If one decides not to operate LHC-like machines due to safety concerns, one needs to enforce this decision at least within the radius that would typically be obliterated by running LHC-like machine. Now if such destruction is within reach in terms of time, energy, matter or other resources required, we would have to consider the LHC a functional doomsday device and consequently, the supervillain controlling it our new overlord.

    If, on the other hand, the doomsday probability is sufficently low so that we won’t bow before whoever controls the LHC, why not risk it?

    In theory there might by some interval of probabilities in between these two extremes, but I do not see how a probability could be defined that on the one hand would be too large for us to feel comfortable with running the LHC for science but too low for it to be considered a superweapon.

  • kevin

    Screw these second thoughts. No guts, no glory!!

  • anomdebus

    Sven,
    Interesting point re:supervillian.

    Given what we know about the LHC, how much ransom should we pay said supervillian if the odds are unknown?

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    I’ll give him a dollar.

  • http://nisheeths.googlepages.com Nisheeth Srivastava

    The probability of the LHC destroying the visible universe is, `for all anthropic purposes’ zero. Probability theory is modified in this case by epistemological considerations.

  • Walt

    Zealots Playing God! – ‘The World is not Enough’
    Nobel Prize hungry Physicists are racing each other and stopping at nothing to try to find the supposed ‘Higgs Boson’(aka ‘God’) Particle, among others, and are risking nothing less than the annihilation of the Earth and all Life in endless experiments to try to solve theoretical problems when urgent real problems face the planet. The European Organization for Nuclear Research(CERN) new Large Hadron Collider(LHC) is the world’s most powerful atom smasher that will soon be firing subatomic particles at each other at nearly the speed of light to create Miniature Big Bangs producing clouds of Micro Black Holes, Strangelets and other potentially cataclysmic phenomena.
    The CERN-LHC website Mainpage itself states quote: “There are many theories as to what will result from these collisions,…” This stunning admission is because they truly don’t know what’s going to happen. They are experimenting with forces they don’t understand to obtain results they can’t comprehend. If you think like most people do that ‘They must know what they’re doing.’ you could not be more wrong. The second part of the quote reads “…but what’s for sure is that a brave new world of physics will emerge from the new accelerator,…” A molecularly changed or Black Hole consumed Lifeless World? The end of the quote reads “as knowledge in particle physics goes on to describe the workings of the Universe.” These experiments to date have so far produced infinitely more questions than answers but there isn’t a particle experimentalist physicist alive who wouldn’t gladly trade his life to glimpse the “God particle”, and sacrifice the rest of us with him.
    This quote from Nation Geographic exactly sums this “science” up: “That’s the essence of experimental particle physics: You smash stuff together and see what other stuff comes out.”
    For more information visit;
    http://www.risk-evaluation-forum.org/anon1.htm
    http://www.lhcdefense.org/
    http://www.lhcconcerns.com
    http://www.SaneScience.org/
    http://www.LHCFacts.org
    Popular Mechanics – “World’s Biggest Science Project Aims to Unlock ‘God Particle’” – http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/extreme_machines/4216588.html

  • http://profile.typepad.com/halfinney Hal Finney

    It’s unfortunate that the question has been raised in terms of destroying the universe. Most of the bad scenarios that critics have raised would not destroy the universe, they would only destroy the earth (and on varying timescales). The more important question is, what is the probability that the LHC will destroy the earth within a relevant time frame.

  • Constant

    It’s unfortunate that the question has been raised in terms of destroying the universe.

    At least some of the comments look at the possibility of smaller-scale destruction, e.g., the “Great Filter” comments. The “Great Filter” merely destroys complete alien civilizations.

  • http://rolfnelson.blogspot.com Rolf Nelson

    Aargh, these are hard questions. Please limit yourself to only one intractable question per post next time. :-)

    What is the probability that the LHC will destroy the visible universe?

    IANAP, but given cosmic-ray data, this can’t happen according to any existing mainstream theory to my knowledge, even if you make modest perturbations to these existing theories for the deliberate purpose of making the universe look fragile. My wild guesses are:

    10^-5 if we didn’t have the cosmic ray data (we haven’t had a natural vacuum collapse since T=10^-12 s, and we’re at T=10^17 s now, so things look reasonably stable. A collapse today would require that we’re still in a false vacuum; that we’re due for a collapse; that no natural process can trigger the collapse; that no previous accelerator could trigger the collapse; and that we can trigger the collapse via the LHC.)

    10^-7 in the presence of the published cosmic-ray analysis, factoring in a small probability these analyses are blatantly mistaken or fradulent in some unknown way not currently obvious to me.

    10^-10 if I saw cosmic ray data being reviewed with a fine-toothed comb and found to be flawless, we’re down to probabilities far below the ability of humans to consistently and competently assess.

    For what answers to (1) should the LHC be prevented from operating?

    Maybe look at revealed preferences. Roughly, if the average person values his life at ~$1M, and is willing to pay ~$10 in taxes to fund the LHC, then from a policy perspective the revealed acceptable risk rate is on the order of (.000001).

  • anomdebus

    Eliezer,
    Your answer would seem to suggest you think End-Of-World scenario to be small. If you compare your dollar against the GDP of the world (ignoring subjective value for the moment :), that would be about 1 in 5×10^13. If per capita, about 1 in 9000. If using purchasing parity based on your country’s GDP, then some number in between.

  • shaunAnd

    Knowledge should be pursued to its fullest extent, but not to the extent of the destruction of the persuer. And certainly not at the expense of the whole damn planet. That’s just inconsiderate. I’m ok with not knowing everything. I’m not willing to risk myself and everyone else just to satisfy some curiosities that aren’t 100% necessary to a happy life.

  • Peter St. Onge

    I read an interview with a scientist involved who estimated 1/50,000,000 chance. So then the question becomes what’s the value of the universe?

    I’d start with $5m per life, to be generous ($2-5m is roughly what Americans value their own lives at, inferred from seatbelt use, driving at night, etc). So we can, generously, extend that value to the entire world (including Sub-Saharan Africa), since poor people may be liquidity constrained but value their lives just as well. So 6.5 billion people at $5 million a pop comes to about $35,000 trillion.

    Then let’s add on something to account for the fact that most people value “the world” independent of their participation in life. This is a toughie, but let’s double the life score, again to set an upper limit. In other words, we assume the average person values “the world” as much as they value their own life.

    So we’re up to $70,000 trillion. Divide by 50,000,000 and we’re at about $1.4 billion in risk.

    In other words, the risk of world destruction, given very generous assumptions, only raises the price of the project by 20%.

    QED

  • Nick Tarleton

    Peter, that analysis neglects the value of potential future people, which multiplies your result by some unimaginably large number.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Nick, not that I susbscribe to Peter’s analysis, but it’s interesting and worth continuing. The value of potential people doesn’t necessarily multiply Peter’s analysis by some imaginably large number, if one subscribes to a variant of the doomsday argument (world population stabilizes at 10 billion, human species likely to have a fixed duration of existence, as estimated by the doomsday argument).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_argument

  • http://erichsieht.wordpress.com/category/english/ Sven Türpe

    shaunAnd,

    If knowledge should not be pursued to the extent of the destruction of the pursuer, why do we celebrate those who do, eh, did, and offer them Darwin Awards in exchange for their lives?

  • prase

    shaunAnd, knowledge has always been pursued with some risk of destruction of the pursuer (and not only in cases of Darwin Awards). Even the most innocent experiment with electricity in a school lab has a non-zero probability of a fatal accident. Needless to say, this probability is much greater than all the strangelet and black-hole scenarios. Given what risks are people usually ready to accept I see no reason to speak about CERN’s ability to destroy the world (apart from the fact that the discussion itself can be quite interesting).

  • http://www.masternewmedia.org/news/2008/06/21/making_sense_of_new_technologies.htm Robin Good’s Latest News

    Making Sense Of New Technologies And Media: An Opinionated Digest by George Siemens – June 21 08

    Social media strategies for the web, scanning information, learning via dialogue and participation, how micropublishers manage their information and publishing workflow are just some of the interesting topics that are included in this juicy weekly dige…

  • Peter St. Onge

    Nick T. -

    Good point, and I’d agree with Hopefully Anon’s comment.

    ‘Course, the question of valuing potential humans can open a can of worms re: abortion, contraception etc, but that’s for another day :)

  • http://www.LHCFacts.org JTankers

    Kevin writes “Screw these second thoughts. No guts, no glory!!”

    I hope that is not the true theme behind the recently posted LHC Safety Report.

    “cosmic rays do not produce such black holes, and hence neither will the LHC“ -Quote from the new LSAG safety report

    This new report provides reasonable evidence that when a stray cosmic ray particle collides with Earth or a Neutron star, dangerous black holes are not produced.

    But the report fails to adequately address the safety of colliding thousands of tightly packed anti-matter particles head on against thousands of tightly packed matter particles at 99.9999991% of the speed of light with powerful magnets and exactly opposing momentums to focus the energy. Conditions that might create dangerous black holes.

    This report simply asks us to make one hell of an assumption, that a single cosmic ray particle impact with Earth or Neutron stars will produce the same results as colliding thousands of anti-matter particles head on against thousands of matter particles with powerful magnets and exactly opposing momentums to focus the energy. We are asked to accept that these conditions must create the same results, without a single scientific explaination to support what appears to me to be a rather far fetched assumption “hence neither will the LHC“.

    I hope that the intention is not that the safety of the future of humanity is to rely on this assumption?

    LHCFacts.org

  • http://www.amara.com Amara Graps

    I think it’s worth to read the CERN Safety Report and read Bee’s and Stefan’s analysis here.

  • Shiraz Allidina

    I am willing to provide insurance against such an event for a premium of 1.00% of the insured amount (please pay the premium in advance, of course).

  • http://youtube.com/leearnold Lee A. Arnold

    Is it possible that someone else HAS destroyed the universe, but the destruction hasn’t reached here yet?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/halfinney Hal Finney

    Or, is it possible that WE are constantly destroying the earth/universe with our existing particle accelerators, millions of times per second, but that we are the rare survivors in the Many Words? Would our existence argue against that?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/nickbostrom Nick Bostrom

    Hal, see http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0512204 for a Nature paper I wrote with Max Tegmark on this; we use planet formation data to estimate an upper bound on the disaster frequency (conditiona on the soundness of the Brookhaven report, and on no error having been made in the reasoning…)

  • Phillip Huggan

    “Is it possible that someone else HAS destroyed the universe, but the destruction hasn’t reached here yet?”

    Yes. Coming towards us at speed c would be very different than at just under c. The latter would give our descendants warning. Even the former might give us a chance to try something radical if tachyon beacons are an engineerable technology. One of the more important tasks of an AGI or us in the future will be to solve the Drake Equation.

  • homunq

    OK, there are several relevant a priori probabilities:

    1. The many universes theory of quantum mechanics is wrong (mangled many universes is one way for this to be so). If it is correct, then the LHC will at worst just blow up some large fraction of the incalculably large (though possibly finite) number of universes, leaving a number of universes that is still incalculably large or infinite.

    Personally, I regard this probability as something under 50%. Say 1%.

    2. Either it only blows up the planet in a way that is not easily notable from afar, or the great filter has already been passed. I would assign the latter a probability comparable to, or smaller than, the great filter probability itself, which is pretty much the floor for the “safe” probability. But perhaps my only rational reasons for discounting this come from the less-a-priori arguments below. So: I can conclude that it only can blow up the planet.

    Only then do we come to the actual physics of what is happening. I tend to respect the many physicists I know when they say that the total luminosity of the LHC, in terms of events fitting any given description, will not exceed or even approach the number of events created by cosmic rays in the observably-free-of-post-LHC-artifacts universe. Therefore, I consider the LHC itself to be safe – that is, at least a hundred orders of magnitude. For any sane prior distribution of the probability of X causing Y (that is, without an unnatural bias to high probabilities), if n X’s have not caused Y, then the 101st X will not cause Y to a probability exponentially related to n.

    This begs the question of whether any possible future LHC might blow up the world. Personally, I tend to believe that a universe-destroying energy level might exist, or a world-destroying energy level which is much less than the simple imbuing of one particle with the energy to physically heat up the planet to kill all life. However, I believe that the fact we are in a great-filter universe is good evidence for some bias against such simple deus-ex-machina endings to the story – if there were one, it would have happened – and thus a good argument that we can constructively assume that any soluble engineering problem will not destroy the universe. Either there is no universe-destroying energy level, or attaining one is an insoluble engineering problem.

    (Note that I am implicitly invoking an anthropic principle across multiple, totally noncontinuous universes here. I am saying that either it is impossible to posit laws of physics that quickly result in dense intelligent life – with no great filter – or that there is some anthropic-principle reason we are heare, ie, the qualia of being an intelligence such universes are fundamentally (discontinuously?) different from ours. I am then using this same anthropic principle in a forward direction, saying that EITHER there is some subset of such universes where self-immolation-by-physics-experiments is impossible for some reason, and thus we can simply take any physics experiments as reductio-ad-absurdem proofs, using the anthropic principle, that such universes exist; OR there are no possible child-proof universes, and we should resign ourselves to our destiny of blowing ourselves up if we’re lucky enough to get that far, because clearly we are not currently the kind of species able to refrain from it, and the conditional probability, given the fact that we do miraculously refrain, that such reserve came from arguing about this issue itself, is hundreds of orders of magnitude improbable.)

  • god, people are boring

    1. what exactly are we going to gain by firing this thing up? in layman terms please, no more than 1 sentence.

    2. what would the number crunching commentators say the probability of life on earth was (ex-anthropic please)

    3. ‘and probably would pass through any matter causing no damage at all.”
    “Maybe the hole would end in the center of Earth and remain there until eternity, provided no evaporation occurs. There is no need to fear black micro-holes” are you f**ing jerking us off? risk life on earth for maybe and probably?

  • http://www.itscricket.com Vijay

    i think you all are correct

  • Mathias Doolenburg

    Is there some way that we can print out this string of comments and fire them into space so that perhaps other civilisations might gain the sort of intense enjoyment I just got from reading all of these posts? I mean, the loss of the human race / world / universe / Switzerland and France is not ideal but this blog page must live on. Wow. So good.

    I’m going to drink what may be my last chocolate milk ever.

  • http://erikmartin.com Erik Martin

    Probability of the “true theory” of physics being consistent with MBH’s being created in the LHC that would consume the earth within the next 5 billion years:
    P=10^-33

    Probability of the P value actually being quantifiable:
    P=0

    This first value is identically equal to the probability that every physical law we are capable of conceiving of is fundamentally invalid, and actual reality is completely and fundamentally insane.

  • Tim Tyler

    Time for a few more chocolate milks yet:

    it will be several weeks before physicists accelerate two proton beams travelling in opposite directions to their full energy of 7 teraelectronvolts, and smash them head on.

    NewScientist

  • Ben Jones

    “Live every day as though LHC collisions begin tomorrow.”

    - B Jones, 2008

    If you need me I’ll be on a Thai beach, ‘maximising my personal utility’.

  • Nathanial Q

    What’s worse than not being able to get payday loans? Black holes are far worse on the galactic scale of disasters but may not affect you personally as bad as not being able to get payday loans. A black hole is, in lay terms, a part of space that has such massive gravity that it sucks everything that comes close enough and compresses it into a singularity – a point of infinite density. Right now, scientists in Europe are building the Hadron Collider, which might create artificial black holes. It’s not supposed to hurt anything – it won’t keep you from getting payday loans if you need them, but people are still worried about it.