[ASC-list] After Higgs ... XKCD!

Helen.Sim at csiro.au Helen.Sim at csiro.au
Thu Jul 12 08:42:18 UTC 2012


David,

Nice to see you posting. But I disagree with you on several points (while agreeing with you on others).

You say that "we must not forget that all scientific knowledge is fragmentary and ephemeral, constantly open to well-founded challenge". Open to challenge, yes, but fragmentary? Surely the power of scientific explanations lies precisely in being as general and wide-ranging as possible, rather than ad-hoc and particular. And I'm inclined to agree with Stephen Weinberg that "the effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy".

But (as you suggest) there's nothing wrong with being interested in the more glamourous fields of knowledge, provided we pay sufficient attention to the areas that actually sustain us. Which we don't.

cheers,

Helen


------
Helen Sim
Media Liaison and Public Relations

CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science
and
Australian Astronomical Observatory

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On 12/07/2012, at 6:20 PM, David Ellyard wrote:

> Scicommers 
> 
> I accept that Charles is being humorous, but there has really been too much
> fuss about the "Higgs" (and I am a physicist at heart!!). To a great extent
> we are to blame.  No one has really done a good job in explaining what, if
> anything, has been "found" and how it was done, other than by quoting the
> mind- bending statistics about the Large Hadron Collider (it is a very
> impressive machine of course and well worth our acclaim for that alone). 
> 
> I think it is even-handed to say that we have not "found" the Higgs boson.
> We have rather a number of observations which can be explained by
> hypothesising that that a particle similar to that proposed by Peter Higgs
> 50 years ago "exists".  But that  only one explanation  and other
> explanations are possible, and it is not yet clear (it is very early days
> after all) that the hypothesised origin of these observation matched what
> Higgs envisaged.
> 
> It is clear that that these recent events are being used to boost the
> profile of science, to get space in the papers and time on the airwaves,
> even though our best communicators struggle to explain what the discovery
> tells us , and more profoundly, what it will mean for our daily lives. The
> answer to the latter is, most likely, nothing.
> 
> It is like making a big noise over finding that the universe is flat, or
> that maybe a particle can travel faster than light (it proved not so of
> course). Or what might happen a trillion years into the future,   in the
> hope of drawing  in the scientifically-illiterate populace. It reinforces
> the image that science (particularly physical science)  is arcane and
> generally incomprehensible, yet still somehow "important".
> 
> Along the way we have allowed the mixing of the scientific and the
> theological, by having the media quote the "God particle" moniker without
> serious challenge. We also read that this discovery has been equated with
> the greatest achievements of Newton and Einstein (being the two physicists
> who come most readily to mind). I might ask who has made such comparisons;
> certainly no-one with  any  realistic overview of the progress of science.
> 
> I do not dispute the quality of the work done at CERN, or the legitimate
> excitement it has generated  or the importance of seeking to answer the most
> fundamental questions. But we must not forget that all scientific knowledge
> is fragmentary and ephemeral, constantly open to well-founded challenge.
> There are no final answers. The real value of science lies  in the everyday,
> in helping us see the likely consequences of our actions. If the frenzy over
> the Higgs helps project that purpose for science, then well and good. But I
> doubt that it does.   
> 
> David Ellyard 
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au
> [mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of Charles Willock
> Sent: Thursday, 12 July 2012 2:39 PM
> To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
> Cc: Charles Willock
> Subject: [ASC-list] After Higgs ... XKCD!
> 
> 
> The possible discovery of Higgs Ho now allows the world to start focussing
> on real-world important issues - both relativistic and quantum mechanical:
> the intergration of the Newtonian and the weak-strong, symmetry-breaking,
> W+Z-/W-Z+ electro-weak, strong nuclear force ... and gluon/gravitational
> interactional domains. (*)
> 
> XKCD seems to pretty much capture the potential opportunities:
> 
>   http://what-if.xkcd.com/1/
> 
> 
> :-)
> Charlesw
> 
> (sorry, couldn't resist!)
> I'm charmed by the strangeness of it all, but if only they'd bring back
> truth and beauty!  (sigh)
> 
> (*) apologies for the word salad.
> 
> 
> 
> 
>      "Creativity and innovation are measured not by what is done, 
>           but by what could have been done ... but wasn't"
> 
> Disclaimer: http://www.eng.unsw.edu.au/emaildis.htm
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Charles Willock                                 charlesw at cse.unsw.edu.au
> c/- School of Computer Science and Engineering       
> University of New South Wales,                  
> New South Wales  Australia  2052    http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~charlesw
> 
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