The CERN experiment, Einstein and we humans; (Updated- Read more comments)
Posted on November 29th, 2011

by Bodhi Dhanapala

An atom-smashing experiment conducted at CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research) to test the behaviour of matter at high energies and very short impact distances  has reported a surprising outcome. It claims that some neutrinos (these are electrically uncharged particles with almost zero weight) had been detected that seemed to move with velocities faster than light!

Now, according to Einstein nothing can move faster than light, as every object increases its mass as you increase its speed, and ultimately becomes infinitely heavy at the speed of light. Light has zero mass and so it alone can go at the top allowed speed. Neutrinos are very difficult to detect, and most experiments with neutrinos are open to large errors. So this claim may be a ‘red herring’. However, it has raised lots of interest and much speculation.

In the course of a discussion regarding matter and the mind, the question arose as to whether there is  hard-science evidence to show that the mind can move matter. All the physiological (neuro-science etc) evidence we have is that the brain moves the body, and the mind is  an intermediate  giving room for further physiological adjustment of the outcomes. Writers like Daniel Dennette (author of the book ‘The mind’s I, Fantasies and reflections of self and soul) have discussed these matters in popular books.

Professor Ladduwahetty, previously at the University of Colombo suggested that even if there is as yet no hard-science evidence beyond physiological precesses, we should allow for the possibility that such evidence may come in the future, and indicated that  With more understanding as to how Neutrinos behave, we can expect some interesting stuff to emerge on the mind/energy connection.  Right now it is perhaps more in the realm of conjecture and Sci-Fi though!

Indeed, as Prof. Ladduwahetty points out, this is at the edge of science fiction. However we thought it would be worth while following this up with people who have expert knowledge in physics. Hence we wrote to three well known Sri Lankan Physicists, namely, Professor Chandre Dharmawardana, a past Vice-Chancellor of Vidyodaya University,  (currently a Physicist working on the quantum theory and attached to the National Research Council of Canada and the University of Montreal), Prof. Keerthi Tennakoon, who was the Head of the Institute of Fundamental Studies in Kandy, as well as Prof. P. W. Epasinghe, an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and a student of the world famous Nobel Physicist Abdus Salam. Further more, Prof. Dharmawardana was our Vice-Chancellor at Vidyodaya in the mid 1970s when we were student there, while Prof. Epasinghe was the Professor of mathematics. Dr. Tennakoon was a lecturer in Physics. So they were all our teachers and they have kindly responded to my call.

I include below the triggering remarks of Prof. Ladduwahetty, and the responses of the three physicists.  Our thanks are directed to Prof. Ladduwahetty for her inspiring initiating remarks, and to  Professors Epasinghe, Dharmawardana and Tennakoon for their explanations.

 I believe that their responses are of great interest to the general reader who can make their own judgments, remembering that science is ‘a doubt system’, and not  ‘a belief system’.

Professor Dharmawardana’s reply:
Our job when teaching science to university students is to teach them how to think, and how to see the wood for the trees. We can’t  teach them the last word in science, as there is NONE. But there are basic things that help people to navigate themselves. So I will write around the topic at first so that people can figure out the answers themselves.

Indeed, it is true that scientists in each subject tend to specialize. Most of us physicists do not know enough biology, and most biologists do not know enough physics.   Edward O. Wilson in his famous book “Consilience” wrote “it is not surprising to find physicists who do not know what a gene is, and biologists who guess that string theory has something to do with violins”. So it is important for scientists of different disciplines to get together.

But the situation is worse between scientists and non-scientists. We live in a world where the division is no longer between black and white, or rich and poor, but increasingly between those who are scientifically literate and some-what able to understand what is going on, and the vast majority of “those who are captive within a wall of scientific illiteracy”  (in the words of Wilson); and yet the latter control our media and public policy. So, before we discuss CERN we need to get the background to modern physics in the context of human knowledge.

The first things you need to know are what is known as energy and length scales. The very high energies are associated with large forces, and with very short lengths (remember,  work W is energy, and Energy = force times length)

So very large energies and very short length scales go together. Elementary particles (i.e., subatomic particles) like electrons, positrons,  neutrinos, and the heavier protons, neutrons,  and their constituents (quarks) correspond to higher energies and  shorter length scales.

Next we have the atomic length scales, and atomic energy scales. These are also very high energies and very short lengths compared to bread and butter. Thus we need about a million-billion atoms placed in one line to make one hair-width.

Then  we have the molecular energy scales and molecular length scales. This is our everyday world of food digestion, fermentation, cooking etc. That is where human biochemistry, the brain and biology works. Here we talk of energies in calories and lengths in centimeters or microns.

Next we have macroscopic energy scales, where the engineers take over, and use kilograms and tons  (Kilowatts as the energy scales), and kilometers as the length scale. Then we have astronomical length scales and weak forces like gravitation (which arises in general relativity from the curvature of space-time which makes objects to go in curved paths rather than straight lines).

We will stop here in this discussion and return to the neutrinos.
Before that, we need a bit of physics theory.

Physics says that all phenomena obey the very simple-looking laws of the quantum theory (Heisenberg-Schrodinger-Dirac theory) and the very compact field equations of Einstein which deal with space-time. These two theories are combined side by side (but not unified) in what is called the “standard model”. The standard model was developed by Abdus Salam (Pakistani-English physicist), Weinberg, and Glashow who jointly won the Nobel price  for it. This theory PREDICTS exactly what type of elementary particles (i.e., electrons, quarks, neutrinos etc) should exist. These predictions have all been confirmed, not just qualitatively, but quantitatively (that is why they got the prize); except for a number of NEW particles that have not been seen yet. They are the Higgs Boson, and other special particles. The theory PREDICTS that they will be seen at some yet to be reached  higher energies. The effort of CERN is to reach such energies, which may have prevailed just after the big bang.

The ‘big bang’ is not just an empty  theory but an actual event. Its after-glow can be actually observed by looking out into the night sky with a radio telescope, and  what is seen is exactly what is predicted. So it fits perfectly.

The “big-bang” is not the ‘moment of creation’, but just one “bang” out of thousands of other ‘explosions” that are occurring all the time in space-time; but we can only know about what is happening within our ‘information horizon’ limited by the speed of light.

So the CERN experiment is virtually trying to get close to the earliest big-bang state of the universe. It has to go a long way. But on its way, it should meet these PREDICTED  particles, and possibly, unexpected new effects. It should also bring out new theories BEYOND this standard model which contains Einstein’s model and the Quantum theory. The theory that has been put forward to surpass them is known as “String Theory”. According to Einstein the world has four dimensions. But according to one version of the new ‘String Theory’  the world really has 11 dimensions, with 7 of them folded in (compacted) so that we see only four dimensions. These four dimensions are length, breath, height, and time.

The ‘distance’ measured in four dimensions is the valid, ‘invariant’ way to measure ‘separations’ between events in the world, and this is known as “Lorentz invariance”. Now, when we go to these high energies, and very short length scales, we may begin to see some of this folded dimensions.  Are we seeing such dimensions in the CERN experiment? In my view this is very unlikely, and the most likely explanation is experimental error. It is very hard to do accurate experiments with neutrinos.

The NEWSPAPER BLURBS meant to sensationalize the CERN news is partly HYPE.  If the neutrinos have exposed some new compacted dimension and seen to propagate in a manner which is not according to naive relativity, that is sensational but may be consistent with the expectation of string theory. The question is, is it in agreement with some theory? It is more likely that this is a bit of “noise” coming from doing experiments in a range where no one has any experience.

It need not contradict EINSTEIN’s theory as said in the newspaper reports.  It may extend Einsteins theory (In technical language, we say that a  multi-dimensional space-time metric is used in string theory, instead of the 4-dimensional manifold). Some writers, surely not physicists,  have said that ‘we may have to return to Newton’. That is completely wrong. In fact, Einstein’s theory is verified every day at our (Newtonian)  length scales, each time you use a GPS to verify your location when travelling. The velocity of light is accurately known and I doubt if that would need any revision.  Even neutrino velocities have been measured using neutrinos emitted from Supernova explosions. The new extensions of Einstein’s theory, if actually needed, probably occur only at very short length scales very very different from human energy and length scales.

Now, when we think about life forms and brains, all this is irrelevant to biology because our biological energy scales and length scales are trillions and trillions and trillions and quadrillions of times different from the energy scales created with enormous difficulty inside the CERN accelerator. The latter  are comparable to what is happening inside a thermonuclear explosion.

Since evolution is now an extremely well established theory, it can guide us. We know that the human body, its organs, the hand, the eye, the digestion, the brain, sight, hearing and thought all evolved to cope with daily life and its struggle. They don’t occur at neutrino length scales or inside compacted dimensions at Plank scales, nor are they mediated by Higgs Bosons or high-energy neutrinos that exist in nuclear explosions. Evolution keeps only stuff that it needs to adapt the organism for its life process, and sheds unnecessary appendages. So all aspects of our body are intimately adapted to normal energy and length scales, i.e., calories (and not Giga Watts), and centimeters (and not units measured in the Plank length which is some trillion trillion times smaller than an atomic nucleus. The Plank length is the smallest ‘quantum’ of length possible).

Hence I agree with Prof. Ladduwahetty that the possibility of this experiment having and impact on mind-matter issues is mostly in the area of science fiction and speculation. However, although most physicists prefer  terra firma, there are a  very  small number of physicists, e.g., Roger Penrose of Oxford, and Eugene Wigner, who always felt that the mind was  ultimately necessary to solve the problem of observation in the quantum theory.

The reason for building the Hadron collider in CERN is to generate those extreme high energies, of the sort found in the center of the sun or close to the big bang, where particles interact at extremely short length scales.   Of course  journalists have to put a slant to the news to make the scientifically unconcerned public sit up and take note.

Closing remarks from Prof. Dharmawardana.:
I know from a message I got from Anada Wijesinghe that this discussion is not just about neutrinos and relativity, but also about this question of whether the “mind is supreme or the brain is supreme”. One of the best answers to this was given by the Buddha long ago when he suggested that this is ‘a metaphysical question that ordinary people cannot decide’, and indicated how we should go about our daily lives while leaving metaphysics aside.

Of course today we have more scientific tools than long ago, and some well-trained scientists in well-equipped neuro-science laboratories can look at some such questions. Some metaphysical questions have become physics questions.  But most of us are mere ring-side on-lookers, even if we have students and colleagues working in such labs.

These modern tools have on the whole shown that mental functions can be understood using physiology, in somewhat the same way that we understand that a lotus is made up of the atoms that are found in the mud. However, although the processes occurring in a lotus can be treated at the microscopic level by physiology, the lotus is the “Emergent Reality”, and it has an undeniable distinct reality different from its origins. In that sense, while the mind can be related to the brain by physiology, there is good reason to treat the mind as a “quasi-new emergent system” on its own right. Its behaviour can be ultimately reduced to physics; but an extremely long causal chain is required to connect it to molecular physics and then this connection usually becomes “irrelevant” at human length scales. So we don’t discuss our daily lives in terms of biochemistry (unless some pathology is involved). When it comes to  ethics, biochemistry is probably quite irrelevant.

86 Responses to “The CERN experiment, Einstein and we humans; (Updated- Read more comments)”

  1. Ben_silva Says:

    My view also that some may attempt to justify religious fantasies using science, just as some Christians tried intelligent design. The evidence is that cognition, and other brain functions such as perception. learning, knowledge are assocoayed with the brain. The whole story is not yet clear, but progress is being made without having to resort to CERN experiments or fantasies. Mind floating in thin air ? or some sort of strange energy ?

  2. Bodhi Says:

    Thanks to NeelamahaYodaya. I will read up on Pim van Lommel and Michael Persinger at Laurentian as I don’t know their
    work.

  3. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Ben
    This is not religion. It is modern Science.But the findings are in agreement with Buddhist philosophy (Abidhamma).
    So, Mind is in your brain. Consciousness is outside -Non Local -Everywhere in the universe, not limited to this universe but extending into other universes if multi universe theory is correct but ultimately controling your qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and one’s environment. Some classified it as a quantum energy form because it shows some common characteristics of quantum energy (RefDr Pim van Lommel book) Information tranfer through brain via cel membrane.

  4. AnuD Says:

    One theory says that the universe works like a hologram.

    Another theory explain that the mechanism of brain functioning is also a hologram.

    In other words, very tiny portion of each has everything that the whole thing, be it the universe or the brain.

    Buddhism says (hinduism has borrowed it from Buddhism) that one makes many and many becomes one. I think, Buddha had told some one that in order to see the edge of the universe see in your inside.

    On the other hand, just simple logics can prove that the whole universe is one mind or one thought etc.,

    With the popular Layman’s physics that I read, the whole universe can be one string and that string can be an infinite number strings too. Each string has exactly the same properties of every other.

  5. Raj Says:

    This must be an interesting article, as it has attracted 87 comments from about 5 people, who are arguing with each other. Even the author probably did not expect his work to attract so many (5) people!.

  6. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    brahamin Says:
    November 29th, 2011 at 6:24 pm
    —-Abhidhamma cannot in agrrement or disagreement with science. Abhidhamma has NO experimentally verifiable content, and that is why it is called Abhi-dharma. It is not a part of the tri-pitaka (the three accepted canons of Buddhism).–

    Brahamin is wrong again. The third collection of Thripitaka is the Abhidhamma Pitaka which is the higher doctrine of Buddhism.The seemingly stubborn problem associated with study of consciousness or Abidhamma is that they have subjective qualities.

  7. Ariya Says:

    Its quite interesting that “this article” had now being posted on the 29th, but still have comments posted on the 24th, the “article” becoming shorter by the day! Its also interesting that out of 3 profs and Dr. Mahes, only one Chandre Dharmawardana’s “opening” and “closing” are left in it! Poor profs Epasinghe’s and Tennakoon’s “comments” also are deleted.

    There is no further use of commenting on this “article”.

    CERN experiments or not, the brain is th executive of the mind, mind is supreme and the thoughts are made in the mind. The first person to say the mind is supreme was Gauthama the Buddha. මනො පුබ්බංගමා ධම්මා – මනො සෙට්ඨා මනොමයා, මනසා වෙ පදුට්ඨෙන – භාසති වා කරොති වා,
    තතො නං දුක්ඛමන්වේති – චක්කංව වහතො පදං

    CERN experiments has nothing to do with mind.

  8. AnuD Says:

    My thinking is, at the particle level, CHARGE is the consciousness. Because, charge makes the particle aware about itself and also the other similar or opposite charge particles.

    Again with respect the near death experience, some people have felt that they were floating along an endless tube until which time that became conscious. I think, at one point the “life” or the consciousness or the neuronal charges become limited only the spinal cord neuronal tube. At that point. “life” or this charge moves ONLY along the that tube and eventually making the patient aware about floating eternally along a certain tube like space.

  9. AnuD Says:

    Particle pairs know each other’s position whether they are located at one milimeter away or billion miles away. Can some Physicist explain how that is possible within the context of What Einstein has told ?

  10. Ariya Says:

    AnuD, Now that the ‘article’ had become short and without “opening and closing” comments by profs, one might start discussing the merit of this ‘article’.

    The ‘author’ of this article wants to prove that the brain is supreme and the thoughts are made in the brain. CERN experiments came into the discussion to help prove that point. Whether the billion dollar experiments prove that there are smaller particles, which might travel faster than light, it would only help to prove that Einstein was somewhat wrong. It’d be hard to prove Einstein’s formula wrong, though.

    Even, if a particle, which might not have a mass, to travel, it should be given a force, and that force has to come from somewhere. There should be energy to make the force to happen. The question is how does the energy happen? Doesn’t matter how small is a neutrino, a force should be applied for it to move. Newton’s old law would come to effect.

    Interestingly, there are simple methods to make an object to move without a force being applied, i.e, which is against the Newton’s Law, action – reaction. This kind of experiments don’t need billions of dollars, just anything found at home, a piece of string and something weighing few grammes. Still there is a force applied, which cannot be measured – mind power!

  11. AnuD Says:

    Ariya:

    Thank you for enlightening me.

    Einstein told these things with mathematics and thought experiments (no scientific method).

    I think, trying to explain quantum events on the basis of Newtonian physics may be causing problems.

    Can you agree ?

  12. Ariya Says:

    AnuD, yes I agree!

    Einstein was a genius in his time and the world evolves. Mathematics is quite an interesting subject, where certain simple actions to get a result cannot be explained using science, like using fingers to tell the multiplication table from 6 to 10. My son never memorized this table and could do that with fingers much faster than one could push buttons in the cal. His whole class did that. Now, most of them are Engineers.

    Physics is an exact science, but there were enough times its results were wrong. There are lot of assumptions, which are taken as true to come to a conclusion, but these assumptions are unproved. The word assume can be broken into ass-u-me, or making an ass of you and me. This would bring a smile.

    Have a nice day!

  13. Ariya Says:

    If you guys want to read a good article about neutrinos, etc goto http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2011/09/25/an-outsider%E2%80%99s-view-5-opera-test-on-speed-of-light-deals-heavy-blow-to-physicsmakes-time-travel-possible/

  14. Ariya Says:

    It seems to me that no one is commenting any more!
    Now, that only Chandre’s reply is available in this edited article, let’s look at what Chandre says;

    “So the CERN experiment is virtually trying to get close to the earliest big-bang state of the universe. It has to go a long way. But on its way, it should meet these PREDICTED  particles, and possibly, unexpected new effects. It should also bring out new theories BEYOND this standard model which contains Einstein’s model and the Quantum theory. The theory that has been put forward to surpass them is known as “String Theory”. According to Einstein the world has four dimensions. But according to one version of the new ‘String Theory’  the world really has 11 dimensions, with 7 of them folded in (compacted) so that we see only four dimensions. These four dimensions are length, breath, height, and time.

    The ‘distance’ measured in four dimensions is the valid, ‘invariant’ way to measure ‘separations’ between events in the world, and this is known as “Lorentz invariance”. Now, when we go to these high energies, and very short length scales, we may begin to see some of this folded dimensions.  Are we seeing such dimensions in the CERN experiment? In my view this is very unlikely, and the most likely explanation is experimental error. It is very hard to do accurate experiments with neutrinos.

    The NEWSPAPER BLURBS meant to sensationalize the CERN news is partly HYPE.

    Now, when we think about life forms and brains, all this is irrelevant to biology because our biological energy scales and length scales are trillions and trillions and trillions and quadrillions of times different from the energy scales created with enormous difficulty inside the CERN accelerator.
    ————-
    Rest you can read by yourself.

  15. AnuD Says:

    For me these discussions, with respect to the Big Bang Theory and particles are not that exciting unless the other evidence which support other theories are also are discussed.

    Anyway, I learned lot of information about these things from Stephan Hawking’s books and from similar other books.

  16. jimmy Says:

    I like this article and will read over and over again
    There are too many brilliant minds giving their opinion

    I amt sure Brain is important . That is my opinion

    Brain is important and once you use it it beomes your daily mind
    (a) there is a phrace which say use your brain not your heart
    example
    My field is IT. I do not use my mind but my brain to resolve issue in the beginning
    I also know once I resolve the Tech issue and for future I do not need to use brain for similar tech issue . It becomes a repitition . you do it over and over and over again . You do not use brain if the issue is the similar you resolve before

    For a person who does not know Information technology might think I use brain but in reality it is a repitition
    It makes me to think you use brain first and then mind take over
    samething for other professions also

    (b) An alcoholic use his brain not to drink even one beer because he fears it could make him addict
    if he uses his brain then he will succeed
    If he does not use brain he may end up alcoholic again
    A chrsitian might say the brain is Holy spirit which helps him to lead a good life instead of Alcoholic or A hindu might say Lord Krishna helped to cure his alcohol issue

    The point is Brain is very very superior than mind

    (c) I believe very much when we use our brain to change a bad habit then it becomes daily routine
    example
    I wanted to loose weight and I use brain not the mind to see what I can do to loose weight
    run / eat healthy food
    I am working on it everyday .
    I used brain to change
    The mind follows the order and it does not make difficult decisions

    Happy christmas and New Year

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