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Hamster in Tutu Shuts Down Large Hadron Collider

38 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 November 2009 04:29PM

The Large Hadron Collider was shut down yesterday by a hamster in a tutu, weary scientists announced.

The Large Hadron Collider is the successor to the earlier Superconducting Super Collider, which was shut down by the US House of Representatives in 1993 after 14 miles of tunnel had been constructed at a cost of $2 billion.  Since its inception, the Large Hadron Collider has been plagued by construction delays, dead technicians, broken magnet supports, electrical faults, helium containment failures, vacuum leaks, birds with baguettes, terrorists, ninjas, pirates, supervillains, hurricanes, asteroids, cosmic energy storms, and a runaway train.  On one occasion it was discovered that the entire 17-mile circular tunnel had been built upside-down due to a sign error in the calculations, and the whole facility had to be carefully flipped by a giant spatula.

One year ago, hopes were raised for the first time in decades when it was discovered that all the incidents up until that point had been the work of a sinister globe-spanning conspiracy of religious fanatics who, inspired by the term "God Particle", had decided that no one could ever be allowed to look upon the hypothetical Higgs boson.  This discovery was widely considered to have undermined the theory that Nature abhors a sufficiently powerful particle collider.  Though some found it suspicious that the Higgs boson would even have a religious cult devoted to preventing its observation, the affair did have a patina of surface plausibility - after all, a giant plot to prevent physicists from observing the Higgs boson makes around as much sense as anything else religious people do.

After the conspiracy was shut down by heroic international detectives in an operation so hugely dramatic that it would be pointless to summarize it here, the world began to wonder whether the LHC might really, really work this time around.  Scientists everywhere held their breaths as the bodies were cleared out, the tunnels reconditioned, and the broken magnets replaced, all without incident.  The price of large hadrons held steady on the commodities market, permitting the LHC's reservoirs to be fully stocked.  Proton beams were successfully formed and circulated through the giant tunnel.

Moments before the first collision was scheduled to probe the theretofore-unachieved energy of 3.5 TeV, a hamster in a tutu materialized from nowhere at the intended collision point.  The poor creature didn't even have time for a terrified squeak before the two proton beams smashed into it, releasing the equivalent energy of 724 megajoules or 173 kilograms of TNT.

The dispirited scientists of the LHC have announced that this will create a 24-month delay while tiny bits of hamster are cleaned out of the tunnels and anti-hamster-materialization fields are installed in the collider.

At the poorly attended press conference, journalists asked whether it might finally be time to give up.

"Nature's just messing with you, man," said a reporter from the New York Times.  "You need to admit this isn't going to work out."

Professor Nicholas von Shnicker, project leader of the LHC, responded.

"NEVER!" shrieked von Shnicker, spittle flying from his lips and spattering on his ragged beard.  "Ve vill NEVER give up!  My father spent his life trying to make the LHC vork, and his father!  Even if it takes a century, if it takes a thousand years or ten thousand million years, VE VILL SEE THE HIGGS BOSON IN OUR LIFETIMES!"

Prof. Kill McBibben is the author of the recently released book Enough, which proposes a new theory of the mysterious Counter-Force that prevents the LHC from operating.  "It's not the Higgs boson going back in time," says Prof. McBibben, "nor is it the anthropic principle preventing a black hole from forming.  We've just hit the point that we all knew was coming - that we all knew had to happen someday.  We've reached the limits of human science.  We are just not allowed to build colliders at higher than a certain energy, or know more than a certain amount of particle physics.  This is the end of the road.  We're done."

Comments (71)

Comment author: Vladimir_Gritsenko 07 November 2009 02:32:13PM *  8 points [-]

Boris Strugatsky is probably chuckling to himself right now.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 10 March 2010 02:04:10PM 6 points [-]

The LHC must close for up to a year at the end of 2011, says an LHC director. Story here.

Although as this is an announcement of a future shut-down, it can only be the hand of the anthropic principle in the cases where the reader of this comment is in an ancestor simulation from after the shut-down.

Comment author: byrnema 10 March 2010 02:26:54PM 4 points [-]

I was thinking this same thought. If the anthropic principle would be applying here (if the LHC does not run in futures containing human observers) then we are in a strange middle-land where -- actually -- the observance of a likely future shut-down is evidence against the anthropic principle.

Or is it?

If the LHC selects anthropic futures in which the LHC never runs, then this will occur through the selection of nodes that lead to the LHC never running. Thus, the current problems in the LHC could be such a node that would be selected. However, the selection would not occur until after the LHC could have run. So I'm convinced again that finding ourselves in a branch where the LHC won't work for the next two years is just evidence that the LHC was unlikely to over the next two years, anyway, independent of the anthropic principle.

Unless the LHC was supposed to run yesterday.

Comment author: wedrifid 10 March 2010 02:40:00PM *  0 points [-]

Unless, of course, whatever magic in the LHC manages to destroy the world also operates on the time dimension too. (Other) fictional forces do that sometimes. ;)

Comment author: ciphergoth 07 November 2009 09:35:09AM 5 points [-]

If this sort of thing started to happen, it would give the people with the LHC the power to, for example, decide close elections, right?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 11 November 2009 03:17:43PM *  8 points [-]

Anthropic immortality -- if it exists -- is another idiot god. It won't fulfil your wishes the way you intended.

If evolution is Azathoth, who is this one? It isn't blind, and is far more powerful.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 September 2011 04:55:01PM 3 points [-]

That'd be Nyarlathotep.

Comment author: Jack 07 November 2009 09:55:50AM 0 points [-]

How would that work?

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 07 November 2009 12:36:58PM 4 points [-]

I imagine by declaring that they would power up the LHC iff the Green party won, thus forcing everyone who would vote Blue to come down with a fever on election day.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 November 2009 06:12:55PM 2 points [-]

Not at all. It would cause everyone who would vote Blue to come down with a fever except the number of Green voters minus one. The closer the result, the more likely it is; therefore, we should expect one-vote-from-a-tie every time.

Comment author: ciphergoth 10 November 2009 09:38:12AM 6 points [-]

No, the most likely thing is not guaranteed to happen - being one vote off and being ten votes off are roughly equally likely. The proportionate probability between the various winning results is unchanged.

Also, the more unlikely the desired result, the more likely the LHC will just break rather than delivering the goods.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 November 2009 04:32:02AM 2 points [-]

Bah, it's like you believe an imperfectly-crafted coin will sometimes come up heads and sometimes come up tails.

Comment author: ciphergoth 11 November 2009 02:26:48PM *  1 point [-]

If you mean this in answer to what I said, please make your point explicit.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 November 2009 04:14:01PM 0 points [-]

I'm using verbal irony.

Comment author: ciphergoth 11 November 2009 04:27:57PM 1 point [-]

Right, well if you decide to actually reveal what you're on about let us know.

Comment author: RobinZ 11 November 2009 05:17:33PM 3 points [-]

He just did. Interpreting the remark as verbal irony, it is clear that he is straightforwardly agreeing with you - just in a manner which (I assume) he hoped would be entertaining.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 November 2009 04:41:47PM 0 points [-]

If I have anything significant to say, I will.

Comment author: knb 07 November 2009 06:20:27AM *  3 points [-]

Whether the LHC discovers the Higgs or not, it has already provided billions of dollars worth of comic value. The NY Times article, which I'm sure Eliezer was referring to, is worth its weight in gold.


Comment author: wedrifid 07 November 2009 03:51:55PM 2 points [-]

Exactly how much does a NY Times article weigh?

Comment author: DanArmak 07 November 2009 04:30:25PM *  13 points [-]

A broadsheet is about 29x23 inches (the full spread). The paper density for newsprint appears to be around 45 grams per square meter. This gives us 0.430 m^2, or 19.35 grams. At gold prices of 38.62 USD per gram, we get 747.3 USD. Not too shabby - I'd like to be paid in gold weight per article written :-)


  1. Weight of ink not accounted for. On the other hand, an article doesn't take a full broadsheet spread.
  2. Values are general and not specific to NYTimes.
  3. I just pulled this stuff out of Google in a couple of minutes. Don't use it to trade gold, that's all I'm saying.
Comment author: wedrifid 08 November 2009 12:27:01AM 10 points [-]

It seems 'worth its weight in gold' also explains why the articles are available free at nytimes.com.

Comment author: Nominull 06 November 2009 05:57:33PM 5 points [-]

I hate religion and everything it stands for as much as anybody, but that jab just felt awkward and out of place.

Comment author: DanArmak 06 November 2009 08:13:38PM *  10 points [-]

Well, yes. Real-life religion tends to be a lot more weird and a lot more nasty at the same time.

Comment author: knb 07 November 2009 06:13:07AM 5 points [-]

Really? It felt about right to me. Maybe I hate religion too much.

Comment author: Furcas 06 November 2009 08:59:38PM *  1 point [-]

Would you have made a similar comment if it had been, say, a political 'cult' instead of a religious one?

Sounds to me like you haven't entirely rid yourself of the social conditioning that makes most people grant special consideration to religion.

Comment author: Nominull 07 November 2009 12:13:57AM 7 points [-]

Would you have made a similar comment if it had been, say, a political 'cult' instead of a religious one?

Yes, I would have. Probably even more forcefully, because I hate religion more than I hate politics.

You don't know me, Furcas, and yet you automatically assumed that disapproving of the random jab at religion on aesthetic grounds was a sign that my Hate for the Enemy was insufficient. Even though I specifically disclaimed that! I think you need to reread http://lesswrong.com/lw/m3/politics_and_awful_art/

Comment author: Furcas 07 November 2009 02:07:57AM 3 points [-]

The disclaimer only made me more suspicious, actually; it's exactly the kind of thing that a quasi-faitheist would say. I'm glad I was wrong in your case.

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 07 November 2009 06:42:28AM 1 point [-]
Comment author: bindegal 08 November 2009 04:06:59AM 0 points [-]

As a young man I was at some of the lectures Holger Bech Nielsen gave at that time (I'm Danish). He is a very special person, but extremely smart. I would urge everyone to see him on youtube, you will see what I mean. You do not need to master the Danish language to catch a glimpse of his somewhat eccentric nature. But do not cheat you self, he is brilliant!!. And as usual the press has distorted what he said and taken it out of context and ignored the underlying humor that was in his "unpublished essay" Nice to The NYT try to be somewhat fair! But see for you self

Comment author: DanArmak 06 November 2009 08:16:50PM *  0 points [-]

Even assuming the anthropic black-hole explanation, wouldn't we be able to run a collider off-planet somewhere? And once humans had reliably settled outside Earth and were self-sufficient there, we could run one on Earth as well.

Actually if such we believe such a theory, it affords us a sort of ensoul-ness or Buddha-nature test. Does our latest A.I. creation have a soul/consciousness/cosmic transcendental thingy? We'll put it on the Moon to observe and run the collider down here, and if we finally succeed this time (and destroy the Earth), the AI was considered worthy by the Anthropic Principle of carrying on our legacy.

Edit: we'd have to rename it though. The All-Conscious Principle?

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 06 November 2009 09:45:31PM *  9 points [-]

Actually if such we believe such a theory, it affords us a sort of ensoul-ness or Buddha-nature test. Does our latest A.I. creation have a soul/consciousness/cosmic transcendental thingy? We'll put it on the Moon to observe and run the collider down here, and if we finally succeed this time (and destroy the Earth), the AI was considered worthy by the Anthropic Principle of carrying on our legacy.

That's not how it works; the principle is that I will always observe that I survive.

Comment author: DanArmak 06 November 2009 10:20:56PM 1 point [-]

Er, you're right; I managed to confuse the anthropic principle with quantum immortality somehow.

Comment author: Jack 06 November 2009 10:38:55PM 4 points [-]

No. I think maybe you conflated the anthropic principle/Quantum immortality with the Copenhagen interpretation of QM. Whether or not someone else observes you has nothing to do with anthropics or QI.

Comment author: DanArmak 06 November 2009 10:46:54PM 4 points [-]

I think right now I may be conflating day and night, or sleeping and awakening. I'd better refrain from posting more until I rest...

Comment author: CannibalSmith 10 November 2009 10:49:01AM *  4 points [-]

If we put the LHC on the moon, we would (probably) see the moon destroyed, but the moon people would still see LHC fail inexplicably again and again.

In fact, there might be some branch now where the people aboard the International Space Station are now the last surviving humans.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 13 November 2009 04:23:59AM 4 points [-]

In fact, there might be some branch now where the people aboard the International Space Station are now the last surviving humans.

Destruction by strangelet or black hole would probably be violent enough to destroy the ISS...

...still, that's the most disturbing idea I've encountered in a while. Congratulations.

Comment author: Document 26 January 2011 07:22:31AM 2 points [-]

TV Tropes currently has a page about that scenario under "But What About The Astronauts?", but the plausible connection to real life does add extra disturbance.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 06 November 2009 10:25:45PM 2 points [-]

But the principle of quantum immortality is also that I will always observe that I survive. Actually, I'm not sure whether/how AP and QI differ in meaning in cases like this. (AP is about retrospective explanation, while QI is about anticipation?)

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 06 November 2009 10:36:32PM *  2 points [-]

Then you should just build an AI worthy of being you.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 06 November 2009 08:21:32PM 1 point [-]

Yes, but not under the anthropic quantum-vacuum-collapse explanation.

Comment author: DanArmak 06 November 2009 08:30:06PM 1 point [-]

Oh good, then we actually can use this to assign meaningful priors to different anthropic explanations? A bit more and I may actually start accepting anthropic explanations as real theories :-)

Comment author: HalFinney 08 November 2009 11:45:32PM *  1 point [-]

Here are the four papers relating to influence from the future and the LHC:


The basic idea is that these physicists have a theory that the Higgs particle would be highly unusual, such that its presence in a branch of the multiverse would greatly decrease the measure of that branch. Now I don't claim to understand their math, but it seems that this might produce a different result than the usual anthropic-type arguments regarding earth-destroying experiments.

The authors refer to an "influence from the future", and my reading is that the effect is that in a world where the future was very likely to produce a lot of Higgs particles, that would reduce the probability of that world existing (or being experienced, in the anthropic sense). Such an effect would not occur for an experiment which merely destroyed the world; such an experiment would not reduce the measure of the past. In a sense, Higgs particles destroy the past. (Keep in mind that this is a non-standard theory!)

Therefore I don't think their theory would predict our world, where it seems superficially quite likely that we will produce Higgs in the future. If the only thing that prevents it is unlikely events like the recent bird with baguette that Eliezer is riffing on, let along materializing tutued hamsters, then we are already on a branch of the multiverse whose future is full of Higgs. That should mean that our very branch is anthropically disfavored, and we should not be here.

Rather, we would expect to live in a world which never even seriously considers building an LHC. Either we would all be of a type which never developed technological civilization, or we would all be smart enough to deduce the danger of the Higgs before blundering forward and trying to build an LHC, etc.

The fact that we don't live in such a world would be an argument against the reverse-time effect, and in favor of the more conventional LHC world-destroying scenarios like black holes, strange matter, etc.

Comment author: Jack 06 November 2009 09:20:52PM 1 point [-]

We should start a pool on what the cause of the next delay will be. My money is on insect infestation or the arrest of important researchers/engineers.

Comment author: Tiiba 07 November 2009 05:36:45PM 5 points [-]

What about the latter because of the former? A researcher getting arresed for filling the tunnel with bees?

Comment author: JenniferRM 07 November 2009 05:32:17AM 3 points [-]

One thing you could do is make a probability estimate now and see how well calibrated you are :-)


Comment author: Jack 07 November 2009 05:54:25AM *  1 point [-]

I actually think insect infestation or delay caused by criminal arrest are so unlikely that I would estimate them at a 0% probability on prediction book.

Lol. My facetious suggestions are always taken so seriously.

Comment author: gwern 07 November 2009 12:52:42AM 0 points [-]

Well, I know your arrest is alluding to the terrorism arrest recently: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33279833/ns/world_news-terrorism

But when did the LHC have insect issues?

Comment author: DanArmak 07 November 2009 12:57:59AM 2 points [-]

Those pesky ants will go vast distances for a nice tasty bit of bread. Especially if the next bird drops a jam croissant.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 10 November 2009 10:36:06AM *  2 points [-]

I have this idea for a tower defense like game where you have to defend the LHC from belligerent pastries. Fruitcake would be the final boss.

Is anyone here proficient with Flash?

Comment author: billswift 07 November 2009 05:20:56PM 1 point [-]

Maybe he was thinking about the giant mutant fire-ants Alice was going to infest the SSC with in Cramer's "Einstein's Bridge".

Comment author: gwern 29 April 2016 07:59:07PM 0 points [-]

Birds with baguettes... and weasels/martens.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 30 September 2011 04:20:19PM 0 points [-]

Update: They're shutting down the Tevatron particle accelerator on Friday. The funding ran out.

Fermilab "is now likely to shift its emphasis to projects that - for example - rely on particles at high intensities, rather than high energies."

Comment author: tmazanec1 07 November 2009 09:09:53PM 0 points [-]

But did they install the anti-ice skating mongoose field (and a cookie to anyone who gets the reference without using a search engine)?

Comment author: CannibalSmith 06 November 2009 04:59:12PM 0 points [-]

I don't see how a hamster can impede a 724 MJ explosion.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 06 November 2009 05:08:56PM 4 points [-]

It didn't.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 06 November 2009 05:22:35PM 3 points [-]

I mean I don't think there would be any hamster bits to clean up. The detector would just see mysterious extra carbon ions.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 06 November 2009 07:32:07PM 1 point [-]

I didn't think they collided that much (rest) mass, so I'd expect the result to be VERY unusual.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 November 2009 08:51:03PM *  3 points [-]

The protons would smash into the hamster instead of each other, distributing their energy into the hamster's much larger rest mass.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 06 November 2009 09:12:50PM 2 points [-]

Ok, but where do the 724 megajoules come from? Although 3.5 TeV is a lot of energy for a particular particle to have, it's not really that much in absolute terms.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 November 2009 09:41:26PM 2 points [-]

Wikipedia's figure on the total intensity of both proton beams. Albeit, come to think, I'm not sure if that was for 3.5TeV intensity or full intensity.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 06 November 2009 10:34:02PM 1 point [-]

Ah yes, that works. Fair enough. Although not every proton would interact with the hamster on its first pass, and then you'd likely get a quench on the second.

Comment author: UnholySmoke 12 November 2009 10:59:10AM 2 points [-]

There's a thesis in there somewhere.

We all know what's really going down. The Dark Lords of the Matrix are currently cacking themselves and coming up with semi-plausible reasons to break the thing until they can decide on a long-term strategy.

Comment author: Thomas 09 November 2009 08:02:21AM 0 points [-]

Apparently they assume no Higgs bosons from the high energy cosmic rays, anymore. Why?

Is the situation inside the working LHC an entirely new ballgame?

Is there nothing like Higgs boson at all, as we see no Tutu hamster in the sky?

Or it will be quite a dull party at CERN, when something nonremarkable (like Higgs boson) will maybe be discovered?

Comment author: Tuna-Fish 26 March 2010 01:35:03PM 0 points [-]

Actually, assuming many-worlds and Higgs-Boson-ends-the-world, the world could have ended every time a sufficiently powerful cosmic ray hit the ground in a way that Higgs boson formed. We just live in the branch where that never happened.

(sorry for late reply)

Comment author: RobinZ 26 March 2010 02:29:48PM 5 points [-]

We could, except that we also live in a brach where a sufficiently-powerful cosmic ray never hit (a) the Moon, (b) Jupiter, (c) Venus, (d) Mars, (e) Mercury, etcetera etcetera etcetera, and these possibilities are not eliminated by anthropic concerns.

Comment author: Thomas 26 March 2010 06:00:26PM 1 point [-]

If the world ends every time a powerful cosmic ray hits us, but we don't know since according to the the MWI, we always end up in a living branch - then one just can't die. You'll live forever. You'll be 210 years old and very weak, but every time your alterself died of this aging process, you've managed to survive, thanks to the MWI and some random quirk.

I don't think so, call me crazy.

Comment author: RobinZ 26 March 2010 07:43:41PM 1 point [-]

The fraction of Thomases that live that long is very nearly zero. If one person in a googolplex naturally lives to the age of 210, does that conflict with your intuitions?

Comment author: Thomas 26 March 2010 08:22:21PM *  0 points [-]

Instead of making the so called quantum seppuku, I just have to wait for 100 years. I should be in the "me alive" branch anyway.

If you buy MWI, you should buy this conclusion also.

I don't.

Comment author: Stuart_Armstrong 06 November 2009 05:16:37PM -1 points [-]


Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 November 2009 08:57:39PM 0 points [-]

...I didn't get that?

Comment author: Stuart_Armstrong 07 November 2009 09:16:08AM 2 points [-]

No mysterious riddle to unravel here, no logical conundrum, or message from omega: just me saying great!, slowly and with emphasis...