Wednesday, September 10, 2008

403)The Large Hadron Collider and the God Particle: Can Islam be in the middle of this exciting melding of Science and Religion?; Quotes of Aga Khans

I have blogged on a few occasions about the Large Hadron Collider that straddles two countries(France and Switzerland) and which conducted its first successful test yesterday. This mammoth scientific project, many years in the making, promises to have the same or greater short and long term impact on the world of pure science as Albert Einstein's General and Special Relativity did about 100 years ago. What starts of as pure science eventually morphs into practical applications and benefits for humanity but the discoveries have to be made in the realm of pure science first before the benefits can accrue. At the level of pure science it is first and foremost a search for knowledge about the universe in which we live, move and have our being.

In Islamic belief and philosophy the universe made up of matter is part of the structure of truth, the ultimate nature of which it is the goal of religion to reach. "In the Shia Ismaili Muslim formulation the spiritual and material realms are not dichotomous and matter and spirit are united under a higher genus and each realm possesses its own hierarchy"(Azim Nanji, Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, U.K.). Furthermore, in Shia Ismaili Muslim cosmological and philosophical texts of yesteryear, the process of 'tarkib' as outlined in the Quran describes the composition of the material universe by the Universal Soul upon receiving 'tayyid' or divine inspiration from the Universal Intellect; the material composition known as the universe then has Intellect incorporated or wrapped within it and it becomes Intellect materialised. In the divine drama truth is reached when the material universe becomes unincorporated to reveal Intellect in its pure glory: "...... a true understanding of God must also take account of His creation. Such a synthesis is crucial to how the human intellect eventually relates to creation and how it ultimately becomes the instrument for penetrating through history the mystery of the unknowable God implied in the formulation of Tawhid."(Azim Nanji, Director, Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, U.K., 1995).

Quotes of Aga Khan IV and Aga Khan III:

“Muslims believe in an all-encompassing unit of man and nature. To them there is no fundamental division between the spiritual and the material while the whole world, whether it be the earth, sea or air, or the living creatures that inhabit them, is an expression of God’s creation.”(Aga Khan IV, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, 13 April 1984)

"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)

"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)

".......we find contact, direct and immediate, with the outer universe interpreted as an infinite reality of matter, as a mirror of an eternal spirit, or indeed (as Spinoza later said) an absolute existence of which matter and spirit alike are but two of infinite modes and facets."(Inaugural Lecture Before the Iran Society by Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, November 9, 1936 London, United Kingdom.)

"It (Surah of Light from the Quran) tells us that the oil of the blessed olive tree lights the lamp of understanding, a light that belongs neither to the East nor West. We are to give this light to all. In that spirit, all that we learn will belong to the world and that too is part of the vision I share with you"(Aga Khan IV, Speech, 25 Sept. 1979)

"Indeed, one strength of Islam has always lain in its belief that creation is not static but continuous, that through scientific and other endeavours, God has opened and continues to open new windows for us to see the marvels of His creation"(Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan University, 16 March 1983, Karachi, Pakistan)

"Science is a wonderful, powerful tool and research budgets are essential. But Science is only the beginning in the new age we are entering. Islam does not perceive the world as two seperate domains of mind and spirit, science and belief. Science and the search for knowledge are an expression of man's designated role in the universe, but they do not define that role totally....."(Aga Khan IV, McMaster University Convocation, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, May 15th 1987)

"Education has been important to my family for a long time. My forefathers founded al-Azhar University in Cairo some 1000 years ago, at the time of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt. Discovery of knowledge was seen by those founders as an embodiment of religious faith, and faith as reinforced by knowledge of workings of the Creator's physical world."(Aga Khan IV, 27th May1994, Cambridge, Massachusets, U.S.A.)

"Of the Abrahamic faiths, Islam is probably the one that places the greatest emphasis on knowledge. The purpose is to understand God's creation, and therefore it is a faith which is eminently logical. Islam is a faith of reason"(Aga Khan IV, Spiegel Magazine interview, Germany, Oct 9th 2006)

"......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)

"The Qur’an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God’s creation"(Closing Address by His Highness Aga Khan IV at the "Musée-Musées" Round Table Louvre Museum, Paris, France, October 17th 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)

"Scientific pursuits, philosophic inquiry and artistic endeavour are all seen as the response of the faithful to the recurring call of the Qur'an to ponder the creation as a way to understand Allah's benevolent majesty. As Sura al-Baqara proclaims: 'Wherever you turn, there is the face of Allah'.The famous verse of 'light' in the Qur'an, the Ayat al-Nur, whose first line is rendered here in the mural behind me, inspires among Muslims a reflection on the sacred, the transcendent. It hints at a cosmos full of signs and symbols that evoke the perfection of Allah's creation and mercy"(Aga Khan IV,Speech, Institute of Ismaili Studies, October 2003, London, U.K.)

The above are 13 quotes from "Blogpost Four Hundred":

Smashing Idea

To Leap Forward, Scientists Return to The Big Bang

By William BoothWashington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 11, 2008
MEYRIN, Switzerland

It is the biggest machine ever built. Everyone says it looks like a movie set for a corny James Bond villain. They are correct. The machine is attended by brainiacs wearing hard hats and running around on catwalks. They are looking for the answer to the question: Where does everything in the universe come from? Price tag: $8 billion plus.

The world's largest particle accelerator is buried deep in the earth beneath herds of placid dairy cows grazing on the Swiss-French border. The thing has been under construction for years, like the pyramids. Its centerpiece is a circular 17-mile tunnel that contains a pipe swaddled in supermagnets refrigerated to crazy-low temperatures, colder than deep space.

The idea is to set two beams of protons traveling in opposite directions around the tunnel, redlining at the speed of light, generating wicked energy that will mimic the cataclysmic conditions at the beginning of time, then smashing into each other in a furious re-creation of the Big Bang -- this time recorded by giant digital cameras.

Wednesday, they fired this sucker up, the Associated Press reported.

It will be months before the proton beams reach full power and produce the kinds of exotic collisions that may herald an age of "new physics." But if the machine works -- this most ambitious, expensive, technologically advanced civilian scientific experiment in history -- it would be a happening for humanity.

"I think we may have to rewrite our textbooks," said Fabiola Gianotti, a project leader for Atlas, one of the four huge detectors that will record and analyze the collisions. "There must be something more than we have seen. There is something missing from the puzzle."

The Large Hadron Collider, as it is called by the 8,000 scientists, engineers and technicians from 85 countries who dote on it, will probe the most fundamental mysteries. From the fireballs, there may spring forth black holes and the elusive thing that gives matter its mass. Or not! There may be particles called "strangelets" and evidence of "dark matter" and signs of "supersymmetry" and maybe a little antimatter.

Oh, and they might find some extra dimensions. But this is the delicious part. They. Don't. Exactly. Know.

That accounts for the last-minute legal challenges by opponents who worry that the Large Hadron Collider -- hadrons, by the way, are collections of quarks, which are the particles inside protons and neutrons, which form the nucleus of the atom -- may spark a chain reaction of runaway events that could destroy the planet.

Their greatest concern is that the black holes, the stuff of a hundred "Star Trek" subplots, could grow and suck, grow and suck, which is what black holes do. A retired radiation safety expert in Hawaii sought a restraining order in a U.S. court, but was denied. Another group filed its doomsday appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, which also declined to act.

To calm public anxiety, the proton smashers investigated safety concerns and said any black holes "would be entirely benign" and would decay almost instantly. They would be "mini black holes," just like the ones that occur (the theorists say) whenever a couple of cosmic rays collide in space. Nature has already conducted experiments just like this, the report concludes, "and the planet still exists."

So make your plans accordingly.

* * *

The Large Hadron Collider was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, which on the surface looks like a slightly down-at-the-heels state college in the middle of a cow pasture in the dull suburbs of Geneva. CERN, however, is now the mecca for international physics, where the streets are named for Einstein, Newton and Curie. It is the place where they invented the World Wide Web. The cafeteria also serves wine with lunch.

After the United States stopped construction of the Superconducting Super Collider in 1993, after spending $2 billion and digging 14 miles of a 54-mile tunnel, the center of action for particle physics shifted to Europe.

To see what the excitement is about, you have to put on a hard hat and get into one of the elevator shafts and travel 300 feet below the Earth's surface to the tunnel, which was possible earlier this summer, before they closed the doors.

You drop into towering caverns lined with thick slabs of concrete that hold the detectors. The detectors look like building-size barrels, honeycombed with wafers of silicon and doughnut-shaped magnets. They are crawling, Medusa-like, with blue, red, green cables, like arteries and veins. They look muscular, beautiful, alive.

The tunnel itself is like a subterranean racetrack. Protons stripped from hydrogen atoms will be accelerated to high energies and whizzed around and around the tunnel, through an ordinary-looking blue pipe, which is not ordinary at all but quite extraordinary -- because it is coiled with thousands of superconducting magnets, which bend the proton beam so it can travel in circles. The magnets are superconducting because they are supercooled by superfluid helium, which is superstrange.

"A completely novel engineering material," is how Lyn Evans, the project manager of the collider, describes supercold helium. "For example, if you were to put it into a beaker? It could crawl out."

This is how they talk at CERN. If you stop them, and say, "What do you mean, crawl out?" They may go to a blackboard and begin with the math. You do not want them to do this.

Instead you say: Why underground?

"Cheaper," Evans said. It would cost a fortune to acquire the land in France and Switzerland to build the racetrack on the surface.

And why here? CERN was born in the rubble of postwar European physics. "Switzerland was neutral, and believe it or not, it was cheap," Evans said. "It is still neutral."

These protons whizzing through the pipe and around the track? They travel in bunches. These bunches are inches long and half the width of a human hair. Each bunch contains 100 billion protons, give or take a few. Each beam carries about 3,000 bunches. They travel at 99.9999991 percent the speed of light. So they are able to complete 11,245 laps a second. In 10 hours of operation, the beam could travel to Neptune and back.

The beams will travel on parallel tracks until the moment of truth. Then, at four major intersections along the way, the beams will cross and collide. The crash sites are the business end of the machine. That is where they put the detectors.

"Think of oranges," Evans said. "You collide two oranges together, you get a lot of pulp. We're not so interested in the pulp. What we want to do is see what happens when the pips -- the seeds -- hit each other." The proton is the orange, its component quarks are the pips.

And how many times will these pips collide? That would be 600 million collisions a second. The good head-on-smashup will erupt into a cloud of scattering particles, and the detectors (and their computers) will attempt to record the trajectories, energies, speeds, decays.

That's a lot of data to record.

"Quite," Evans said.

In one of the very useful cartoon books produced by the CERN public relations staff, an illustration shows a stack of 3 million CDs that is equal to the data flow from a year's worth of collider experiments. It is 12 miles tall.

* * *

To understand, deeply, some of the things the scientists here are talking about is not really possible. "I don't understand, fully, the math involved in the string theories," confessed Robert Cousins, a UCLA physics professor working at CERN on the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment.

But the general idea is this. "Humans have always asked, 'Where do we come from?' " Cousins said. "And this is the way that physicists ask that question."

For example, astrophysicists have observed that visible matter accounts for only 4 percent of the universe. By looking at gravitational effects -- for instance, how fast galaxies spin -- they can guess that there is more stuff out there than they can see. But what is this "dark matter?" Could dark matter be composed of "supersymmetric" particles, which might pop up in the collisions at CERN? For this reason, some people have called the Large Hadron Collider the "Hubble telescope of inner space."

And what about the mystery of antimatter? Antimatter is the identical-but-opposite twin of matter, except that for some unknown reason, nature prefers matter. As Cousins explained, if the universe and nature were neat and tidy, then equal amounts of matter and antimatter would be present at the Big Bang. But something is missing. The universe appears to be constructed entirely of matter. Where did all the antimatter go? "There is an imbalance," Cousins said. "So what gives?"

Physicists like balance, elegance and, believe it or not, simplicity, for instance E=mc{+2} -- energy equals mass times the square of the speed of light. The problem, theoretical physicist John Ellis says, "is mass. Where does it come from?"

Scientists' current understanding of the universe and all its particles and forces is called the Standard Model, and it is now 35 years old. It does not explain why some particles, such as protons, are relatively heavy, while others, like photons, have no mass at all. In a theory that dates to the early 1960s, a British physicist named Peter Higgs suggested that there was a mechanism -- alternatively described as a field, a boson, a particle, a whaddayacallit--that makes some things heavy and other things light.

Say what? Exactly.

Ellis, who has long white hair, a Gandalf vibe and a specialty in supersymmetry, lectures worldwide in four or five languages, including math. He expects the supercollider to detect the Higgs particle, but he hopes to see much, much more.

"Simply seeing the boring old Higgs? Or nothing at all?" He shuddered at the thought. "But then again, not seeing anything at all might be very interesting." Still, he bets they will uncover the nature of dark matter, and he has a lot riding on the wager.

For two decades, Ellis said, the Large Hadron Collider has been all about the builders. "For the engineers, the job is over," he said. "For the experimentalists, they're happy to find what they find.

"But for the theorists, for me, it is a bit different, because we have spent 40 years on a theory." He raised an eyebrow.

"There have been thousands of theoretical papers," he continued, "and I've written hundreds of them myself. What if it all turns out to be pile of garbage?"

The first beam completed its first slow lap Wednesday morning to applause from the scientists on site and the popping of champagne corks in labs worldwide, where contributing (and competing) scientists watched via satellite. "There it is," was Evans's simple pronouncement.

The Large Hadron Collider will not operate at full intensity for a year, and so many variables could hold up its work. But the physicists at CERN have reached a milestone. Now that the machine has been turned on, Cousins said, "the trick for us is to be as full of wonder as we can be -- and simultaneously as skeptical as you can get."

All related posts made by me on the Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs Particle:

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)