Reality Got Problem Set #3 Wrong, Not Me

The story this week about two physicists who have suggested that the Large Hadron Collider is being sabotaged from the future so that it won’t produce a Higgs boson (or is it that it will have produced a Higgs boson whose creation then causes physical reality to uncreate it) was at least amusing in a sort of “who’s Occam and what’s this about his razor?” kind of way .

If nothing else, when you look at the things which the scientists think represent reality’s retroactive work at stopping Higgs-boson-creating projects, reality turns out to have a pretty subtle grasp of politics and social dynamics as well as the engineering vulnerabilities of the LHC.

The thing I really worry about is that this adds the most awesome excuse to the armament of students everywhere. “I would have finished my math homework last night, but reality reached back through time and made me play a video game instead, because if I get good at math I will help to create a Higgs boson at some point in the future.”

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5 Responses to Reality Got Problem Set #3 Wrong, Not Me

  1. Sdorn says:

    Nutty stuff, and almost as “huh? why would such smart people think this” as when John Allen Paulos admitted (in A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market) that he had tried to play the stock market… horribly (with WorldCom). Just two bits:

    1) If a conscious entity could send a single particle back in time one second, that entity would have to calculate where the particle would need to go, decide on an inertial reference frame, calculate the positions of the various physical bodies that are related, and find the exact spot where it would need to be. To imagine that the universe just magically sends something back through time to the exact point in space where the LHC is… as I said, nutty. (Credit for pointing out this flaw: Justin Jackson.)

    2) If I remember correctly, entropy is one crucial characteristic that distinguishes going forward in time from going backwards. Yes, a really smart physicist (probably Dick Feynman) talked about particles traveling backwards as well as forwards. I suspect that the Second Law of Thermodynamics makes it tough to do that in practice.

    And if I, a lowly historian, can figure this out, there are probably dozens of other reasons why this idea is nuts.

  2. salacious says:

    I don’t know if we can occams razor our way out of this one, considering it tools around with the basic presumptions that make Occams razor reliable. I looked at the papers, and while the technical stuff is somewhat above my level, it seemed appropriately caveated to me.

    The argument doesn’t require any sort of subtle knowledge on the part of the universe. It just hypothesizes that, if a Naked higgs boson drives backward causal consequences, a timeline in which the LHC creates a naked Higgs would be unstable. It would change things in the past, which would have consequences going forward. These consequences don’t have to have anything necessarily to do with the original source of Higgs production to deviate us away from the timeline in which the Higgs is produced. If the new forward looking timeline also led to us building the LHC and producing naked Higgs, the same process would “repeat” until we end up in some causally stable timeline in which no Higgs is produced. From the internal, forwardly causal perspective of this timeline, everything would be consistent, all the “politics and social dynamics as well as the engineering vulnerabilities” would work out perfectly sensibly. But they would work out in such away that something goes wrong before we create a Higgs.

    I’m sure they’ve considered this, but it seems like the real problem here isn’t Occams Razor, it’s the Anthropic Principle: roughly, if the universe is deviating us away from a chain of events that produces naked Higgs, it seems unlikely that the universe would end up with a species of intelligent, collider building apes who are about to create a LHC. Seems more likely that we would end up with a universe of lifeless rocks or something. No risk of Higgs production then.

  3. Timothy Burke says:


    Is the NY Times summary wrong then that they regard the cancellation of the Superconducting Supercollider as so improbable an event that it tends to confirm their argument? That’s what made me roll my eyes a bit, and recall the good friar Ocaam, because that was not that extraordinary an event.

  4. salacious says:

    My impression was that that was the academic physics equivalent of a suggestive eyebrow wiggle.

  5. hestal says:

    If the number of universes is infinite then all situations, including this one, would have to be true.

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