Meyrin was a town that existed merely as a service station for CERN and its large legion of scientists from all over the world, each pursuing his or her own science fiction in this industrial town. Here, in this clinical environment necessary for space-age research, science was as detached from the real world as can be. From his Oupa’s ancient binoculars and their homemade particle accelerator back in the veld to this.
The further our gaze travels from home or the deeper we look at our material reality, the more we will become reliant on science that is beyond common sense and the average person’s comprehension. Thus, the most difficult thing for a theoretical physicist to do often is to communicate his ideas and findings, because these new rules of reality are increasingly removed from common sense. Science communication then becomes reliant of cleverer abstractions, on metaphors. PW loved metaphors; they were a large part of his success, the way he artfully used them to fire global imagination and interest. And from metaphors, too, we get beauty and meaning.
That blerrie English girl asked him, the night they sat on the Cherwell, why was the fifth quark named Truth?
Will we ever know Truth, PW wondered. Right now, all we have is the compartmentalisation of the things into two varieties of boxes: those for the things we know unequivocally, and another for the things that we do not, or may never, know. Metaphors, so beloved of PW the consummate storyteller, blur the dichotomous key and confuse the sorting system; we end up thinking that we have more content in the ‘Don’t Know’ box than we actually do. But like it or not, our experience and memory of exploration within and beyond is becoming more belief-ridden. That is, until we get more cold hard facts from these monster machines that fire particles at each other forty million times per second twenty four hours a day and seven days a week.
Someday, I am going to build an accelerator so large that it can be seen from the skies, the poster announced boldly in childish scrawl. It was made for him by his eight year old son, Dawie, his precious child whom he told stories of the meteorite that fell to earth, magnetic spheroids, buckminsterfullerenes, and all the magical things to.
He cast his eyes heavenwards. “God, please give me a Higgs Boson,” he said, heartfelt words that he uttered for the ten thousandth time since he began this journey out of the veld.
- Note: the title of this post was borrowed from Lewis Carroll’s poem (published in 1876) of the same name and the image from the book published by MacMillan.