Science and Superstition

As we know, scientists are rational people, not given to flight of fancy, but seek a reasoned explanation for why something happens the way it did, one consistent with the scientific model that the scientist has constructed to explain everything. And yet…

Sometimes, that rational scientist is indeed given to flights of fancy. When the world’s biggest science experiment at CERN kept being plagued by problems (including a dropped piece of bread shorting something out), the playful explanation given was that it was caused by time-traveling birds from the future, stopping us from discovering the Higgs Boson, which is thought to so abhorrent to the Universe that it is acting to prevent their creation in the Large Hadron Collider.

Incidentally, you can find out if the LHC has destroyed the world by creating a black hole here.

Quite fanciful. But I know I am not the only one who has implored for mercy from the mysterious goods of chemistry during a particularly intransigent reaction and I have been instructed most carefully to run reactions in exactly the same way so that they will continue to work, even if that means standing on one leg and running it only on the full moon. That last may be taking things to an extreme, but it does demonstrate that we don’t know how everything works and that we try to control the environment by keeping as many things the same as possible. Even that effort is somewhat futile, as chaos theory tells us that even a very small change in the initial conditions can have a profound influence on the ultimate outcome (the Butterfly effect). Still, we try to give ourselves some kind of control over the environment and minimizing the variables is as good a way as any. After all, if a small change in initial conditions can give a change in outcome, a large change in initial conditions is pretty likely to do so as well.

I also think it is interesting that we like to give such unseen forces a personality, even though any rational thought puts them down as a number of coincidences. In the end, it is just down to the irrevocable fact that scientists are human too. We like something to believe in.


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