Hamster in Tutu Shuts Down Large Hadron Collider

by Eliezer Yudkowsky3 min read6th Nov 200973 comments

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The Large Hadron Collider was shut down yesterday by a hamster in a tutu, weary scientists announced.

The Large Hadron Collider is the successor to the earlier Superconducting Super Collider, which was shut down by the US House of Representatives in 1993 after 14 miles of tunnel had been constructed at a cost of $2 billion.  Since its inception, the Large Hadron Collider has been plagued by construction delays, dead technicians, broken magnet supports, electrical faults, helium containment failures, vacuum leaks, birds with baguettes, terrorists, ninjas, pirates, supervillains, hurricanes, asteroids, cosmic energy storms, and a runaway train.  On one occasion it was discovered that the entire 17-mile circular tunnel had been built upside-down due to a sign error in the calculations, and the whole facility had to be carefully flipped by a giant spatula.

One year ago, hopes were raised for the first time in decades when it was discovered that all the incidents up until that point had been the work of a sinister globe-spanning conspiracy of religious fanatics who, inspired by the term "God Particle", had decided that no one could ever be allowed to look upon the hypothetical Higgs boson.  This discovery was widely considered to have undermined the theory that Nature abhors a sufficiently powerful particle collider.  Though some found it suspicious that the Higgs boson would even have a religious cult devoted to preventing its observation, the affair did have a patina of surface plausibility - after all, a giant plot to prevent physicists from observing the Higgs boson makes around as much sense as anything else religious people do.

After the conspiracy was shut down by heroic international detectives in an operation so hugely dramatic that it would be pointless to summarize it here, the world began to wonder whether the LHC might really, really work this time around.  Scientists everywhere held their breaths as the bodies were cleared out, the tunnels reconditioned, and the broken magnets replaced, all without incident.  The price of large hadrons held steady on the commodities market, permitting the LHC's reservoirs to be fully stocked.  Proton beams were successfully formed and circulated through the giant tunnel.

Moments before the first collision was scheduled to probe the theretofore-unachieved energy of 3.5 TeV, a hamster in a tutu materialized from nowhere at the intended collision point.  The poor creature didn't even have time for a terrified squeak before the two proton beams smashed into it, releasing the equivalent energy of 724 megajoules or 173 kilograms of TNT.

The dispirited scientists of the LHC have announced that this will create a 24-month delay while tiny bits of hamster are cleaned out of the tunnels and anti-hamster-materialization fields are installed in the collider.

At the poorly attended press conference, journalists asked whether it might finally be time to give up.

"Nature's just messing with you, man," said a reporter from the New York Times.  "You need to admit this isn't going to work out."

Professor Nicholas von Shnicker, project leader of the LHC, responded.

"NEVER!" shrieked von Shnicker, spittle flying from his lips and spattering on his ragged beard.  "Ve vill NEVER give up!  My father spent his life trying to make the LHC vork, and his father!  Even if it takes a century, if it takes a thousand years or ten thousand million years, VE VILL SEE THE HIGGS BOSON IN OUR LIFETIMES!"

Prof. Kill McBibben is the author of the recently released book Enough, which proposes a new theory of the mysterious Counter-Force that prevents the LHC from operating.  "It's not the Higgs boson going back in time," says Prof. McBibben, "nor is it the anthropic principle preventing a black hole from forming.  We've just hit the point that we all knew was coming - that we all knew had to happen someday.  We've reached the limits of human science.  We are just not allowed to build colliders at higher than a certain energy, or know more than a certain amount of particle physics.  This is the end of the road.  We're done."

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The LHC must close for up to a year at the end of 2011, says an LHC director. Story here.

Although as this is an announcement of a future shut-down, it can only be the hand of the anthropic principle in the cases where the reader of this comment is in an ancestor simulation from after the shut-down.

5byrnema12yI was thinking this same thought. If the anthropic principle would be applying here (if the LHC does not run in futures containing human observers) then we are in a strange middle-land where -- actually -- the observance of a likely future shut-down is evidence against the anthropic principle. Or is it? If the LHC selects anthropic futures in which the LHC never runs, then this will occur through the selection of nodes that lead to the LHC never running. Thus, the current problems in the LHC could be such a node that would be selected. However, the selection would not occur until after the LHC could have run. So I'm convinced again that finding ourselves in a branch where the LHC won't work for the next two years is just evidence that the LHC was unlikely to over the next two years, anyway, independent of the anthropic principle. Unless the LHC was supposed to run yesterday.
0wedrifid12yUnless, of course, whatever magic in the LHC manages to destroy the world also operates on the time dimension too. (Other) fictional forces do that sometimes. ;)

Boris Strugatsky is probably chuckling to himself) right now.

1[anonymous]11yI'm from the US, but my parents are Soviet immigrants, and I grew up reading a lot of the Strugatsky brothers' stuff... that story, plus Отель «У Погибшего Альпиниста» and Повесть о дружбе и недружбе were a pretty integral part of my childhood.

If this sort of thing started to happen, it would give the people with the LHC the power to, for example, decide close elections, right?

Anthropic immortality -- if it exists -- is another idiot god. It won't fulfil your wishes the way you intended.

If evolution is Azathoth, who is this one? It isn't blind, and is far more powerful.

5[anonymous]10yThat'd be Nyarlathotep.
0Jack12yHow would that work?
5Oscar_Cunningham12yI imagine by declaring that they would power up the LHC iff the Green party won, thus forcing everyone who would vote Blue to come down with a fever on election day.
2[anonymous]12yNot at all. It would cause everyone who would vote Blue to come down with a fever except the number of Green voters minus one. The closer the result, the more likely it is; therefore, we should expect one-vote-from-a-tie every time.
9Paul Crowley12yNo, the most likely thing is not guaranteed to happen - being one vote off and being ten votes off are roughly equally likely. The proportionate probability between the various winning results is unchanged. Also, the more unlikely the desired result, the more likely the LHC will just break rather than delivering the goods.
2[anonymous]12yBah, it's like you believe an imperfectly-crafted coin will sometimes come up heads and sometimes come up tails.
1Paul Crowley12yIf you mean this in answer to what I said, please make your point explicit.
0[anonymous]12yI'm using verbal irony.
1Paul Crowley12yRight, well if you decide to actually reveal what you're on about let us know.
4RobinZ12yHe just did. Interpreting the remark as verbal irony, it is clear that he is straightforwardly agreeing with you - just in a manner which (I assume) he hoped would be entertaining.
0[anonymous]12yIf I have anything significant to say, I will.

I hate religion and everything it stands for as much as anybody, but that jab just felt awkward and out of place.

Well, yes. Real-life religion tends to be a lot more weird and a lot more nasty at the same time.

6knb12yReally? It felt about right to me. Maybe I hate religion too much.
2Furcas12yWould you have made a similar comment if it had been, say, a political 'cult' instead of a religious one? Sounds to me like you haven't entirely rid yourself of the social conditioning that makes most people grant special consideration to religion.
9Nominull12yYes, I would have. Probably even more forcefully, because I hate religion more than I hate politics. You don't know me, Furcas, and yet you automatically assumed that disapproving of the random jab at religion on aesthetic grounds was a sign that my Hate for the Enemy was insufficient. Even though I specifically disclaimed that! I think you need to reread http://lesswrong.com/lw/m3/politics_and_awful_art/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/m3/politics_and_awful_art/]
3Furcas12yThe disclaimer only made me more suspicious, actually; it's exactly the kind of thing that a quasi-faitheist would say. I'm glad I was wrong in your case.

Here are the four papers relating to influence from the future and the LHC:

http://arxiv.org/find/physics/1/au:+Ninomiya_M/0/1/0/all/0/1

The basic idea is that these physicists have a theory that the Higgs particle would be highly unusual, such that its presence in a branch of the multiverse would greatly decrease the measure of that branch. Now I don't claim to understand their math, but it seems that this might produce a different result than the usual anthropic-type arguments regarding earth-destroying experiments.

The authors refer to an "influence f... (read more)

Whether the LHC discovers the Higgs or not, it has already provided billions of dollars worth of comic value. The NY Times article, which I'm sure Eliezer was referring to, is worth its weight in gold.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/13/science/space/13lhc.html?_r=3&pagewanted=all

3wedrifid12yExactly how much does a NY Times article weigh?

A broadsheet is about 29x23 inches (the full spread). The paper density for newsprint appears to be around 45 grams per square meter. This gives us 0.430 m^2, or 19.35 grams. At gold prices of 38.62 USD per gram, we get 747.3 USD. Not too shabby - I'd like to be paid in gold weight per article written :-)

Notes:

  1. Weight of ink not accounted for. On the other hand, an article doesn't take a full broadsheet spread.
  2. Values are general and not specific to NYTimes.
  3. I just pulled this stuff out of Google in a couple of minutes. Don't use it to trade gold, that's all I'm saying.

It seems 'worth its weight in gold' also explains why the articles are available free at nytimes.com.

We should start a pool on what the cause of the next delay will be. My money is on insect infestation or the arrest of important researchers/engineers.

5Tiiba12yWhat about the latter because of the former? A researcher getting arresed for filling the tunnel with bees?
4JenniferRM12yOne thing you could do is make a probability estimate now and see how well calibrated you are :-) http://predictionbook.com/predictions/663 [http://predictionbook.com/predictions/663]
2Jack12yI actually think insect infestation or delay caused by criminal arrest are so unlikely that I would estimate them at a 0% probability on prediction book. Lol. My facetious suggestions are always taken so seriously [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1dt/open_thread_november_2009/18br].
0gwern12yWell, I know your arrest is alluding to the terrorism arrest recently: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33279833/ns/world_news-terrorism [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33279833/ns/world_news-terrorism] But when did the LHC have insect issues?
2billswift12yMaybe he was thinking about the giant mutant fire-ants Alice was going to infest the SSC with in Cramer's "Einstein's Bridge".
2DanArmak12yThose pesky ants will go vast distances for a nice tasty bit of bread. Especially if the next bird drops a jam croissant.
3CannibalSmith12yI have this idea for a tower defense like game where you have to defend the LHC from belligerent pastries. Fruitcake would be the final boss. Is anyone here proficient with Flash?

Birds with baguettes... and weasels/martens.

Update: They're shutting down the Tevatron particle accelerator on Friday. The funding ran out.

Fermilab "is now likely to shift its emphasis to projects that - for example - rely on particles at high intensities, rather than high energies."

[-][anonymous]12y 0

In other physics news, experimenters confirmed the results of a controversial experiment during which the collapse postulate killed a God-damned puppy. Early indications suggest it has an appetite for poor lost photogenic puppies and kittens, specifically those that would never have been seen again if they hadn't been gobbled up. In response, Prof. von Shnicker spittle-spattered, "THIS PROVES NOTHING! VE VILL DISPROVE THE MANY-WORLDS IN OUR LIFETIMES!"

Apparently they assume no Higgs bosons from the high energy cosmic rays, anymore. Why?

Is the situation inside the working LHC an entirely new ballgame?

Is there nothing like Higgs boson at all, as we see no Tutu hamster in the sky?

Or it will be quite a dull party at CERN, when something nonremarkable (like Higgs boson) will maybe be discovered?

0Tuna-Fish12yActually, assuming many-worlds and Higgs-Boson-ends-the-world, the world could have ended every time a sufficiently powerful cosmic ray hit the ground in a way that Higgs boson formed. We just live in the branch where that never happened. (sorry for late reply)
8RobinZ12yWe could, except that we also live in a brach where a sufficiently-powerful cosmic ray never hit (a) the Moon, (b) Jupiter, (c) Venus, (d) Mars, (e) Mercury, etcetera etcetera etcetera, and these possibilities are not eliminated by anthropic concerns.
2Thomas12yIf the world ends every time a powerful cosmic ray hits us, but we don't know since according to the the MWI, we always end up in a living branch - then one just can't die. You'll live forever. You'll be 210 years old and very weak, but every time your alterself died of this aging process, you've managed to survive, thanks to the MWI and some random quirk. I don't think so, call me crazy.
2RobinZ12yThe fraction of Thomases that live that long is very nearly zero. If one person in a googolplex naturally lives to the age of 210, does that conflict with your intuitions?
-1Thomas12yInstead of making the so called quantum seppuku, I just have to wait for 100 years. I should be in the "me alive" branch anyway. If you buy MWI, you should buy this conclusion also. I don't.

As a young man I was at some of the lectures Holger Bech Nielsen gave at that time (I'm Danish). He is a very special person, but extremely smart. I would urge everyone to see him on youtube, you will see what I mean. You do not need to master the Danish language to catch a glimpse of his somewhat eccentric nature. But do not cheat you self, he is brilliant!!. And as usual the press has distorted what he said and taken it out of context and ignored the underlying humor that was in his "unpublished essay" Nice to The NYT try to be somewhat fair! But see for you self

But did they install the anti-ice skating mongoose field (and a cookie to anyone who gets the reference without using a search engine)?

Even assuming the anthropic black-hole explanation, wouldn't we be able to run a collider off-planet somewhere? And once humans had reliably settled outside Earth and were self-sufficient there, we could run one on Earth as well.

Actually if such we believe such a theory, it affords us a sort of ensoul-ness or Buddha-nature test. Does our latest A.I. creation have a soul/consciousness/cosmic transcendental thingy? We'll put it on the Moon to observe and run the collider down here, and if we finally succeed this time (and destroy the Earth), the AI was considered worthy by the Anthropic Principle of carrying on our legacy.

Edit: we'd have to rename it though. The All-Conscious Principle?

Actually if such we believe such a theory, it affords us a sort of ensoul-ness or Buddha-nature test. Does our latest A.I. creation have a soul/consciousness/cosmic transcendental thingy? We'll put it on the Moon to observe and run the collider down here, and if we finally succeed this time (and destroy the Earth), the AI was considered worthy by the Anthropic Principle of carrying on our legacy.

That's not how it works; the principle is that I will always observe that I survive.

3DanArmak12yEr, you're right; I managed to confuse the anthropic principle with quantum immortality somehow.
6Jack12yNo. I think maybe you conflated the anthropic principle/Quantum immortality with the Copenhagen interpretation of QM. Whether or not someone else observes you has nothing to do with anthropics or QI.
5DanArmak12yI think right now I may be conflating day and night, or sleeping and awakening. I'd better refrain from posting more until I rest...
5CannibalSmith12yIf we put the LHC on the moon, we would (probably) see the moon destroyed, but the moon people would still see LHC fail inexplicably again and again. In fact, there might be some branch now where the people aboard the International Space Station are now the last surviving humans.
5Nick_Tarleton12yDestruction by strangelet or black hole would probably be violent enough to destroy the ISS... ...still, that's the most disturbing idea I've encountered in a while. Congratulations.
3Document11yTV Tropes currently has a page about that scenario under "But What About The Astronauts?", but the plausible connection to real life does add extra disturbance.
3Nick_Tarleton12yBut the principle of quantum immortality is also that I will always observe that I survive. Actually, I'm not sure whether/how AP and QI differ in meaning in cases like this. (AP is about retrospective explanation, while QI is about anticipation?)
2Vladimir_Nesov12yThen you should just build an AI worthy of being you.
2Nick_Tarleton12yYes, but not under the anthropic quantum-vacuum-collapse explanation.
2DanArmak12yOh good, then we actually can use this to assign meaningful priors to different anthropic explanations? A bit more and I may actually start accepting anthropic explanations as real theories :-)

I don't see how a hamster can impede a 724 MJ explosion.

5Vladimir_Nesov12yIt didn't.
4CannibalSmith12yI mean I don't think there would be any hamster bits to clean up. The detector would just see mysterious extra carbon ions.
1Jonathan_Graehl12yI didn't think they collided that much (rest) mass, so I'd expect the result to be VERY unusual.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky12yThe protons would smash into the hamster instead of each other, distributing their energy into the hamster's much larger rest mass.
2RolfAndreassen12yOk, but where do the 724 megajoules come from? Although 3.5 TeV is a lot of energy for a particular particle to have, it's not really that much in absolute terms.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky12yWikipedia's figure on the total intensity of both proton beams. Albeit, come to think, I'm not sure if that was for 3.5TeV intensity or full intensity.
2RolfAndreassen12yAh yes, that works. Fair enough. Although not every proton would interact with the hamster on its first pass, and then you'd likely get a quench on the second.
5UnholySmoke12yThere's a thesis in there somewhere. We all know what's really going down. The Dark Lords of the Matrix are currently cacking themselves and coming up with semi-plausible reasons to break the thing until they can decide on a long-term strategy.

G---r-----e-----a-----t!

0Eliezer Yudkowsky12y...I didn't get that?
2Stuart_Armstrong12yNo mysterious riddle to unravel here, no logical conundrum, or message from omega: just me saying great!, slowly and with emphasis...