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CSS Colloquium - Slobodan Perovic: Scientific, Political, and Epistemic Justifications for Creating the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

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Monday 18 November 2013,  at 10:15 - 12:00


1531-113 (Aud. D1), Math. Department

The discovery of the Higgs boson at the LHC seems to vindicate the vast amounts of resources spent on the experiment. A group of physicists working on the ATLAS project at the LHC have recently defended the nature of the experiment, particularly its size and cost, deeming them necessary due to the very nature of the fundamental physical levels it sets out to explore. They have compared investment in the LHC to the investments that resulted in quantum mechanics. I argue, however, that tackling the open questions of fundamental physics with the LHC and similar big projects in recent history has resulted from political rather than scientific, or even technological necessities. It was the outcome of a head-on strategy that aimed to produce the desired energy level as quickly as possible. Although it achieved its intended goal, the design of the LHC prevents it from delivering the unequivocal and sufficiently elaborate evidence for the boson that might be achieved in differently-designed experiments. A very `different, diversifying strategy, which in fact characterized early 20th century development of quantum mechanics, distributes available resources widely, thus prompting robust innovation in experimental techniques and equipment in the long run. This in turn steadily lowers the cost of the experiments per energy unit, thus enabling experimenting at ever higher energies with ever improving quality of detection. I sketch how this strategy could have tackled, and still can tackle, fundamental physical levels in post WWII High Energy Physics, and how it can potentially provide more elaborate and less convoluted knowledge. I briefly discuss epistemic background of these two strategies, as well as the political environment that led the physics community to utilize only one of them.