Re: [asa] LHC, TOE, and the limits of knowledge

From: Merv <>
Date: Tue Sep 16 2008 - 23:46:14 EDT

Jon Tandy wrote:
> I know not much about the fundamental principles that might make a particle
> accelerator possible in much less than 2 miles, not to mention tabletop.
> But a useful analogy might be this: We could speculate about the possibility
> of building spaceships carrying humans at 0.9 the speed of light based on
> the advance of technology in fuel, materials, etc. But our knowledge of
> fundamental principles of physics requires that such speculations remain in
> the realm of science fiction probably forever, not ruling out some dramatic
> new advance that dramatically sweeps aside our current knowledge.
> Jon Tandy
--such space travel would need to be revolutionary on no less than two
fronts: first, a technology that packs enough energy to accomplish the
task without having to pack along a mountain's mass of fuel. And as if
that wasn't enough, even if the speeds were achieved, the folks
remaining behind would not get to enjoy even so much as news of the far
end arrival (let alone the homecoming) since on any trip more than a few
dozens of light-years, everyone back home will have died off.
And if all that can't kill the party, we're still scratching our heads
over how to deal with radiation and human physiology for even just a
short trip to Mars. (Maybe massive amounts of fuel could come in handy
after all!) Not to say all this can never happen --yet, as regards
interstellar travel, that may be the most realistic assessment based on
what we know.

I've heard it observed that science fiction writers in the first half of
the twentieth century almost universally missed a major concept that
seems so obvious to us in retrospect: they envisioned computers &
robots getting bigger, not smaller. The dreambots & machines of the
classic science fiction did not go in the nano direction; instead -the
bigger and clunkier, the better. It was fun to read the futuristic
descriptions by Paul Miller ("Canticle for St. Leibowitz" written in the
fifties) where a man was dictating to his mechanized "word processor".
The description leaves you with an impression of a hulking device with
miles of copper wire inside. (That book is a great piece of fiction, by
the way!)

This concludes my nightly ramble.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On
> Behalf Of Randy Isaac
> Sent: Tuesday, September 16, 2008 6:57 PM
> To:
> Subject: Re: [asa] LHC, TOE, and the limits of knowledge
> No, Bernie, I think you're missing something fundamental here. While none of
> us wants to say "never" and won't, nevertheless your analogy doesn't apply.
> Of course, no one imagined a tabletop ENIAC. But not for fundamental
> principles, only engineering and technology ones which always will be ripe
> for innovation.
> In other words, Bernie, we're trying to get you to a point of balance. While
> it is true that we can never rule out and should always hope for and
> cultivate the possibility of radical new inventions that will totally
> revolutionize a field, on the other hand we cannot hold out hope for every
> field of possible, hoped-for innovation and claim it might happen based on
> analogy with a field like microelectronics. There simply isn't any basis for
> a general possibility of such advances.
> The migration of the ENIAC to today's laptop is phenomenal. Those of us who
> were fortunate enough to have a part in making it happen are even more awed
> than the users. But it doesn't serve as a model for every field. In
> particular, it doesn't map very well to the field of particle accelerators.
> (Maybe this would be a great place to apply the explanatory filter with the
> appropriate specified complexity. The probability might just be less than
> 10^-150. Or perhaps 10^-10. Who knows.)
> Besides, where does this discussion lead us? What is the difference whether
> we are optimistic or pessimistic about having a tabletop accelerator in the
> future? Nothing. Except for the basic process of thinking about what is
> possible and what isn't and where to place our energies.
> Randy
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Dehler, Bernie" <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Tuesday, September 16, 2008 5:01 PM
> Subject: RE: [asa] LHC, TOE, and the limits of knowledge
>> " Getting a tabletop TEV
>> accelerator is not one where I would recommend putting all your life's
>> savings."
>> I can imagine somebody saying the same thing about a table-top ENIAC when
>> the first ENIAC was made. A table-top ENIAC? No way. However, today's
>> laptop is much more powerful. Not only was the transistor not yet
>> invented, the Eniac didn't even use the binary numeral system, which all
>> computers use now. Yes, no way at all to foresee the future. The
>> internet is a recent invention that is having an incredible impact on
>> society and technology, and could never have been foreseen. That's
>> evolution- creating new and wonderful things that can't be imagined in the
>> present state.
>> Eniac info:
>> The ENIAC held immediate importance. When it was announced in 1946 it was
>> heralded in the press as a "Giant Brain." It boasted speeds one thousand
>> times faster than electro-mechanical machines, a leap in computing power
>> that has never been repeated. This mathematical power, coupled with
>> general-purpose programmability, excited scientists and industrialists.
>> The inventors promoted the spread of these new ideas by teaching a series
>> of lectures on computer architecture.
>> ...
>> Besides its speed, the most remarkable thing about ENIAC was its size.
>> ENIAC contained 17,468 vacuum tubes, 7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays,
>> 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and around 5 million hand-soldered
>> joints. It weighed 30 short tons (27 t), was roughly 8.5 feet by 3 feet by
>> 80 feet (2.6 m by 0.9 m by 26 m), took up 680 square feet (63 mē), and
>> consumed 150 kW of power.[5]
>> ...Bernie
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: [] On
>> Behalf Of Randy Isaac
>> Sent: Tuesday, September 16, 2008 11:02 AM
>> To:
>> Subject: Re: [asa] LHC, TOE, and the limits of knowledge
>> Those of us who have grown up with the electronics industry have
>> practically
>> come to believe that the scaling law is a universal entitlement; we merely
>> wait for the right invention. In fact, the transistor and the magnetic
>> storage cell are two rather unique examples with surprisingly few
>> additional
>> examples. Does anyone know of another? Will there be unforeseen inventions
>> which will trigger new ways of doing things. Absolutely. Can we predict
>> what
>> they will be? No. But we can have some guesses. Getting a tabletop TEV
>> accelerator is not one where I would recommend putting all your life's
>> savings. Maybe not even a dime of it. At least until Burgy has his rocket
>> that will take us to Betelgeuse and back in one lifetime.
>> Randy
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: "j burg" <>
>> To: "Dehler, Bernie" <>
>> Cc: "asa" <>
>> Sent: Tuesday, September 16, 2008 11:52 AM
>> Subject: Re: [asa] LHC, TOE, and the limits of knowledge
>>>> Just like computers were made of vacuum tubes and people thought that
>>>> was
>>>> the future- more and more of them, in bigger and bigger rooms. Then the
>>>> transistor was invented and re-shaped everything. The first computer
>>>> chip
>>>> had a few transistors, but now there's billions in there (up to 2
>>>> billion
>>>> now).
>>> Just like the physics of 1954 (or so) in which it could be shown w/o
>>> any doubt that a chemical rocket could never get to the moon.
>>> Then Arthur Clarke suggested a multistage design ... .
>>> Burgy

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Tue Sep 16 23:43:07 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Sep 16 2008 - 23:43:07 EDT