Tuesday, August 5, 2008

387)The Large Hadron Collider in Geneva and the miniscule nuts and bolts that make up the Universe; Quotes of Aga Khans and others.

"Tarkib' is composition as in the compounding of elements in the process of making more complex things, that is, of adding together two things to form a synthesis, a compound. Soul composes in the sense of 'tarkib'; it is the animating force that combines the physical elements of the natural universe into beings that move and act. Incorporating is an especially apt word in this instance. It means to turn something into a body, as in 'composing'. But it is actually the conversion of an intellectual object, a thought, into a physical thing. Soul acts by incorporating reason into physical objects, the natural matter of the universe and all the things composed of it"(Abu Yakub Al-Sijistani,10th century Fatimid Ismaili cosmologist, d971CE, from the book, 'Abu Yakub Al-Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary', by Paul Walker).

"Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God"(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954)

"In fact this world is a book in which you see inscribed the writings of God the Almighty"(Nasir Khusraw, 11th century Ismaili cosmologist-philosopher-poet)

"Our religious leadership must be acutely aware of secular trends, including those generated by this age of science and technology. Equally, our academic or secular elite must be deeply aware of Muslim history, of the scale and depth of leadership exercised by the Islamic empire of the past in all fields"(Aga Khan IV, 6th February 1970, Hyderabad, Pakistan)

"An institution dedicated to proceeding beyond known limits must be committed to independent thinking. In a university scholars engage both orthodox and unorthodox ideas, seeking truth and understanding wherever they may be found. That process is often facilitated by an independent governance structure, which serves to ensure that the university adheres to its fundamental mission and is not pressured to compromise its work for short-term advantage. For a Muslim university it is appropriate to see learning and knowledge as a continuing acknowledgement of Allah's magnificence"(Aga Khan IV, Speech, 1993, Aga Khan University)

"......The Quran tells us that signs of Allah’s Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation - in the heavens and the earth, the night and the day, the clouds and the seas, the winds and the waters...."(Aga Khan IV, Kampala, Uganda, August 22 2007)

This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives. Of that I am certain"(Aga Khan IV, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, August 17th 2007)

The above 7 quotes and excerpts are taken from Blogpost Four Hundred:

Known and unknown unknowns

Jul 31st 2008
From The Economist print edition

Illustration by Belle Mellor

The world’s largest machine is about to open for business. It will, however, only scratch the surface of the universe

WELL, it is about to happen. After more than a decade, SFr10 billion ($10 billion) and a lot of nail-biting, the first protons should spin their way into the Large Hadron Collider on August 8th. These protons will only be tests. But in a couple of months’ time, when the tests are complete, the particle-smashing will begin in earnest. At that moment the LHC, as the giant machine near Geneva is known to its friends, will take the first big step into the unknown reaches of particle physics for a quarter of a century. For, although physicists have been trying to keep themselves busy on marginal projects during this period, the truth is that the last truly fundamental subatomic particles, the W and Z bosons, were found in 1983.

The next one, unless everyone’s theories are wrong, will be the Higgs boson, a theoretical construct required to give mass to the other particles of which matter is composed. That should come quite quickly. Only if it does not will people start scratching their heads.

But even physicists do not spend SFr10 billion in the search for a single particle. What they are hoping is that the LHC will take them way beyond the universe described by the equations which predicted the W and Z bosons and predict the Higgs, and into terra that is truly incognita. Like the creatures drawn on the edge of a medieval map, the shapes of the denizens of this land are a mixture of observation and guesswork. The existence of some is confidently predicted, and their portraits will probably prove quite accurate. Others, though, are little more than names attached to things that can, at the moment, barely be perceived.

Double or quits

The physics of the small requires big machines: the LHC is a ring with a circumference of 27km (17 miles). The machine itself cost SFr5 billion—and that did not include the cost of the tunnel housing it, since that had been built for an earlier device that smashed electrons (and their antimatter equivalents), rather than protons. The four particle-detection experiments, lodged in caverns spaced around the ring, accounted for the other SFr5 billion. But what is being looked at is, in a sense, not small at all. It is actually the entire universe—or, rather, its fundamental constituents.

At the moment, there are 17 constituents on the list: 16 are known and one, the Higgs, is predicted. These particles, along with the theory that links them, are called the Standard Model (see chart). Some parts of the model are familiar. Electrons, for example, are in it, as are photons, the particles of light. Quarks are the constituents of protons and neutrons, as well as more exotic things. Then there are neutrinos, W and Z bosons, the electron-like muon and tau particles, and gluons—which hold quarks together in groups. Gluons thus provide what is known as the strong nuclear force, while W and Z bosons provide the weak nuclear force that regulates some forms of radioactivity. Photons provide the electromagnetic force that does everything from pointing compasses north to stopping solid objects collapsing in on themselves.

Unfortunately, there is no place, yet, for the fourth universal force, gravity. But there might be. For one of the things the LHC will be looking for after the Higgs has been found will be the long-elusive graviton that must, unless physicists are completely wrong, carry the force of gravity in the way that gluons, W and Z bosons, and photons carry their own respective forces.

Finding gravitons would be a real advance. It would help to heal the breach between the two great theories of physics—quantum mechanics and general relativity. The former describes the world of electrons, quarks and so on, and led to the Standard Model. The latter is a theory of gravity that ascribes that force’s effects to the warping of space itself.

Another advance into the unknown would be finding particles called neutralinos. These would be evidence for an as yet hypothetical view of the world called supersymmetry. Models based on supersymmetry seek to simplify things by making them more complicated. They require each of the particles in the Standard Model to have a so far undetected partner that serves to balance its properties in a mathematically pleasing way. Physicists are fond of supersymmetry because, even though it doubles the number of particles, the new mathematical symmetries it introduces eliminate the need for certain fudges in the existing scheme of things. One is the arbitrary, bolt-on nature of the Higgs boson. In the maths of supersymmetry, the Higgs emerges quite naturally.

Most of the proposed supersymmetric partners will be heavy, short-lived beasts. But some neutralinos could hang around indefinitely. Confusingly, a neutralino is not actually the partner of a particular Standard Model particle but is, rather, a mixture of the partners of several of them. What is particularly interesting about it is that it does not notice electromagnetism. In other words, it is dark.

That is important because, when the universe is viewed through a telescope, most of it seems to be missing. Visible matter makes up a mere 4% of it. Another 22% is referred to as dark matter. This can be detected from its gravitational effects, but is otherwise invisible. The remaining 74% of the universe is known as dark energy. Its existence is inferred from an effect that looks like the opposite of gravity: it is pushing the universe apart.

Knitting the fabric of reality

Many physicists suspect that much—and possibly all—of the dark matter is made of neutralinos. That would be easier to test if, first, they were sure that supersymmetric particles really do exist and, second, they knew something about their actual properties rather than having to make educated mathematical guesses.

At the moment, the main reason for believing dark matter exists is that spinning galaxies would fly apart without it. The galaxy that is perceived through a telescope—the visible stars and gas—is actually just the centre of a larger structure. It is surrounded by an extended halo of dark matter. In fact, dark matter seems to act as a scaffold on which visible matter is arranged. When the universe was half the age it is today, dark matter formed loose networks of filaments stretching through space and time, like wisps of cotton wool. Since then, it has formed lumps under the influence of its own gravity. Visible matter has accumulated in areas rich in dark matter. The result is a universe that now looks like a sponge.

Occasionally, this pattern is disrupted. If two galaxies collide, theory suggests that their dark- and visible-matter components may part company—and observations of the distorting gravitational effects of large amounts of matter on the images of objects behind these collisions suggest that this does, in practice, actually happen. Gravitational lenses, as these distorting masses are known, occur in places where no visible matter exists.

These observations, along with the likely existence of neutralinos, mean that dark matter looks like a known unknown. There is a plausible theory of what it might be, and a reasonable chance of testing that theory to see if it is right. Dark energy, however, is an unknown unknown.

The reason for believing in dark energy is that measurements comparing the expected luminosity of ancient supernovas with what is actually seen suggest something is pushing things apart faster than just the well-known expansion of everything that is the aftermath of the Big Bang. That something must be a form of energy, and the amount needed to have the observed effect can be calculated. It is this calculation that suggests it forms 74% of the universe. What dark energy is, though, is a mystery. It is possible, just, that the properties of the Higgs boson will cast a little light on that mystery. But it is much more likely that they will not.

There are other mysteries that the LHC will struggle to solve. One is the true nature of the “theory of everything” that physicists hope one day to develop. Until recently, it was generally agreed that this would turn out to be a form of string theory. String theory argues that the universe is actually played out in 11 dimensions, rather than the more familiar four of length, breadth, height and time. The other seven are tiny (an analogy might be a sheet of paper, which is two-dimensional for practical purposes, even though it does have a finite thickness). In string theory, particles are vibrating, multidimensional “strings”. The mode of vibration determines the nature of the particle.

Recently, though, string theory has acquired a rival, known as loop quantum gravity. This argues that particles are not separate from space and time. Rather, space and time are made of looped ribbons that, when entangled in certain ways, give rise to irregularities that are perceived as particles. Here be dragons indeed—and ones way beyond the ken of the LHC.

The LHC should, though, if all goes according to plan, show up one very well known unknown by creating tiny black holes. These will not, as some have suggested, consume the Earth. They will not last long enough to do that. In fact, they will evaporate in a puff of hitherto hypothetical energy called the Hawking radiation, after the world’s most famous living physicist, Stephen Hawking.

One prediction that can be made with a high level of confidence is that if the Hawking radiation is discovered in the LHC, the man who conceived it will win that year’s Nobel prize for physics. Such prizes are not given for untested theories alone. Theory must be demonstrated by practice. But if it is, the committee is unlikely to make Dr Hawking wait for what would be a richly deserved accolade. If anything in physics is known for sure, it is that.


Easy Nash

The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)
The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect(Aql)(Prophet Muhammad, circa 632CE)