Gotcha. So, assuming that the actual Isaac Newton didn't rise to prominence*, are you thinking that human life would usually end before his equivalent came around and the ball got rolling? Most of our existential risks are manmade AFAICT. Or you think that we'd tend to die in between him and when someone in a position to build the LHC had the idea to build the LHC? Granted, him being "in a position to build the LHC" is conditional on things like a supportive surrounding population, an accepting government, etcetera; but these things are ephemeral on the scale of centuries.

To summarize, yes, some chance factor would def prevent us from building the LHC as the exact time we did, but with a lot of time to spare, some other chance factor would prime us to build it somewhen else. Building the LHC just seems to me like the kind of thing we do. (And if we die from some other existential risk before Hadron Colliding (Largely), that's outside the bounds of what I was originally responding to, because no one who died would find himself in a universe at all.)

*Not that I'm condoning this idea that Newton started science.

but these things are ephemeral on the scale of centuries.

That's what I just said. You seem to have an alarming confidence in our ability to bounce back from ephemeral shifts. If there were actually some selection pressure against a completed LHC, then it would take a lot less than a repetition of this to keep us shifted away from building one.

How Many LHC Failures Is Too Many?

by Eliezer Yudkowsky 1 min read20th Sep 2008139 comments


Recently the Large Hadron Collider was damaged by a mechanical failure.  This requires the collider to be warmed up, repaired, and then cooled down again, so we're looking at a two-month delay.

Inevitably, many commenters said, "Anthropic principle!  If the LHC had worked, it would have produced a black hole or strangelet or vacuum failure, and we wouldn't be here!"

This remark may be somewhat premature, since I don't think we're yet at the point in time when the LHC would have started producing collisions if not for this malfunction.  However, a few weeks(?) from now, the "Anthropic!" hypothesis will start to make sense, assuming it can make sense at all.  (Does this mean we can foresee executing a future probability update, but can't go ahead and update now?)

As you know, I don't spend much time worrying about the Large Hadron Collider when I've got much larger existential-risk-fish to fry.  However, there's an exercise in probability theory (which I first picked up from E.T. Jaynes) along the lines of, "How many times does a coin have to come up heads before you believe the coin is fixed?"  This tells you how low your prior probability is for the hypothesis.  If a coin comes up heads only twice, that's definitely not a good reason to believe it's fixed, unless you already suspected from the beginning.  But if it comes up heads 100 times, it's taking you too long to notice.

So - taking into account the previous cancellation of the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) - how many times does the LHC have to fail before you'll start considering an anthropic explanation?  10?  20?  50?

After observing empirically that the LHC had failed 100 times in a row, would you endorse a policy of keeping the LHC powered up, but trying to fire it again only in the event of, say, nuclear terrorism or a global economic crash?