Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Large Hadron Collider does create Black Hole

Earlier this week I ran into a highly succesfull build, of which I blogged the real life counterpart a number of times. What I'm talking about is the Large Hadron Collider, the multimillion dollar project that has about every scientist going crazy at CERN, Switzerland. A group of performance artists recreated the LHC in Second Life and got it to work before the real thing actually launched.

The Virtual LHC was created by Second Front, with special credits to Man Michinaga for this specific story and build, which was primarily done for the GOGbot Steampunk Festival in Enschede, Netherlands.

Yesterday I had an extensive talk with Man Michinage to find out more on the build and the work theyre doing at Second Front.

The install was for the international RL media fest Gogbot ( and the theme was steampunk. Therefore we had to come up with something, and the hadron collider was a current event. We work in context of the situation we are asked to perform in.

One cannot compare the works of Second Front to a normal theatre group of actors who perform their works over and over again. Every performance is a unique event and requires a unique setting.

None of our work lasts in SL, usually no more than a couple days and we usually only do performances once. This is very unusual. Most of our work is documented in print, video and painting, along with blog for RL audience. Also we create so much stuff we woudl need a lot of sim space.

Let's have a look at this particular build and the performance.

Fau Ferdinand created the first part of it, the torus and the landscape given that this woudl be a very bare stage from which we woudl create the story. I thought of Jules Verne, Goeorge Pal's The Time Machine, and I am currrently reading the Difference engine by Gison and Sterling. The script was improvisation, out of my head

The story as it played out was the actual activation of the Large Hadron Collider to find out about the origins of the Universe, the Metaverse in this case.

Its real life counterpart in Switzerland has been powered down for an unknown period due to some technical problems. This one actually passed the tests and ready to let some particle beams collide. Find out about the creation of the Universe or the existence of the Higgs particle.

Critics in the real world fear experimenting with the higgs-particle may be a bad idea, as it may create a black hole. Well, the test proves they're right.

About Second Front

Second Front was originally formed as a seven member group of artists from Canada, the US, UK and Italy who create performance based work in Second Life and other the pioneering performance art group in the online avatar-based VR world, Second Life. Founded in 2006, Second Front quickly grew to its current 8 member troupe that includes Lizsolo Mathilde, Man Michinaga, Bibbe Oh, Fau Ferdinand), Great Escape, Gazira Babeli and Tran Spire.

Taking their influences from numerous sources, including Dada, Fluxus, Futurist Syntesi, the Situationist International and contemporary performance artists like Laurie Anderson and Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Second Front creates theatres of the absurd that challenge notions of virtual embodiment, online performance and the formation of virtual narrative. Created in 2006, they have already performed extensively, including in Vancouver, Chicago, New York, and has been featured in publications including SLate, Eikon, Realtime Arts (Australia), and the popular The Avastar magazine.

Most of the artists have real life experience in Performance Acting, but as a group they work primarily in Second Life, although they've done performances in other worlds.

We are primarily on SL, although we have used Opensim and World of Warcraft. I think the difference is whether we're installation artists, SL artists or conceptual artists who use SL. We love the SL community, but we're contemporary artists before SL.

What is so special about the Second Life community, how does it differ from the World of Warcraft community as an audience?

Different aims. Pretty basic, SL isn't so much a gaming community - it's much less homogenous. You have everyone from the evangelized to the casueal user whereas in Wow, everyone is there to play in the WoW universe.

Our Real Life audience is much more specific. Then we're really talking to the contemporary/performance art crowd. The SL crowd, many have no idea who Marina Abramovic or Guillermo Gomez-Pena is.

Me neither, so to exit this blogpost, a quick defintion of Performance Art.

Performance art is art in which the actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work. It can happen anywhere, at any time, or for any length of time. Performance art can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body and a relationship between performer and audience. It is opposed to painting or sculpture, for example, where an object constitutes the work. Of course the lines are often blurred. For instance, the work of Survival Research Laboratories is considered by most to be "performance art", yet the performers are actually machines.

Read the Original Snapshot Story at the Second Front Blog, or view other performances at YouTube

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

LHC, Higgs, Hicks, Asimov, Creation and Entropy

Yesterday I blogged about one of my favorite stories, "The Last Question" by the late great grandfather of Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov, which raises the question whether or not entropy can be reversed.

The word "entropy" is derived from the Greek εντροπία "a turning toward" (εν- "in" + τροπή "a turning"), but it's a slightly different matter than the virtual world of Entropia we're talking about here (but may have been their inspiration). What we're dealing with here is:

"As a finite universe may be considered an isolated system, it may be subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, so that its total entropy is constantly increasing. It has been speculated that the universe is fated to a heat death in which all the energy ends up as a homogeneous distribution of thermal energy, so that no more work can be extracted from any source.

If the universe can be considered to have generally increasing entropy, then - as Roger Penrose has pointed out - gravity plays an important role in the increase because gravity causes dispersed matter to accumulate into stars, which collapse eventually into black holes. Jacob Bekenstein and Stephen Hawking have shown that black holes have the maximum possible entropy of any object of equal size. This makes them likely end points of all entropy-increasing processes, if they are totally effective matter and energy traps. Hawking has, however, recently changed his stance on this aspect." [wikipedia]

In Asimov's story, all energy is consumed at the end, time no longer exists and the universe is once more cold and void, as it was in the beginning, Creation has expanded untill it could no more and returned to it's cradle. This is why the story came to me after first blogging the LHC testrun.

The LHC, or Large Hadron Collider is supposed to simulate what that 'cradle' looked like, how the universe looked like just after the 'big bang' (if you buy that stuff - I'm more a Creationist), hence I wondered if the LHC would answer Asimov's question: What happens when the lights go out, how do you turn them back on? Surprisingly, Asimov an immensely laureated scientist and outspoken atheist gave the answer, using the words of Divine Creation:

"Let there be light - and there was light."

I decided to ask Dr. Kenneth Hicks from the Ohio University (a well respected scientist, yet humble enough to point out it's the Higgs Particle we're dealing with, not the Hicks particle):

"Regarding Asimov's short story, The Last Question, this is a great one to think about. While the LHC will not answer all of our questions about the Big Bang and the eventual fate of the universe, the LHC's results will get us a
little bit closer to a fundamental understanding of what happened at the earliest moments of the Big Bang.

Actually, Asimov's story is much more relevant to the people who study black holes, such as Stephen Hawking, who at one time claimed that some entropy was lost near a black hole (later, it was shown that entropy is still OK even in the highly distorted space-time of a black hole).

Progress in sience is slow when it comes to answering the big questions, like those posed in Asimov's story. Still, it's a great story to read, and very thought-provoking."

Whatever happens when the LHC is fully up and running, it won't produce a functioning red button that says: 'Switch light of the universe back on', but maybe bring us a wee bit closer to understanding how this magnificent universe works.

For now, I think I've said enough on the LHC (or Doomsday Device as you like) and the Higgs particle. Thanks to Dr. Hicks for his immediate response. Perhaps I'll return to Asimov's "Last Question" once more as I'd like to see how Asimov's Biblical conclusion to the story (let there be light) holds up against these hardcore scientists. Finally, again, the link to the online version of Asimov's short story at Multivac.

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How the LHC works - pretty basically

Someone said to me: "Okay, the LHC may be the Doomsday Device, but how does it work?"

How does it work, well, that's pretty easy: Shoot a stash of pink balls to yellow tube and have them crash into a glass tube. Stick a battery and a magnet to the tube and the pink balls will mysteriously turn blue, and they crash .That's all folks.

Pretty simple and unexciting stuff for a 30 billion dollar gadget ain't it?

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Will LHC answer Asimov's Last Question?

Scientists at CERN have sucessfully run a first test on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and several particle beams made a looping. In the previous article I wrote about some people running about shouting "Doomsday Coming", but we're still here. For now...

For now, as this was only a stationary run of the LHC. After a series of tests they will start shooting multiple beams into the tube and corresponding crashes might still trigger a black hole to appear in Geneva. So please pick your favourite date for doomsday fast.

The thing is, after watching this testrun almost become a new media-hype memories of an old tale came back to me, a story written by Isaac Asimov - in the days that Gates and Jobs didn't even know the smell of diapers yet - which is called...

"The Last Question"

This story first appeared in the November 1956 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly and was reprinted in the collections Nine Tomorrows (1959), The Best of Isaac Asimov (1973) and Robot Dreams (1986), as well as the retrospective Opus 100 (1969).

The Last Question” is a story of a computer with exceptional intelligence, the Multivac, presented with a recurring question through many stages of history, “Can entropy ever be reversed?”

Without spoiling the story, “The Last Question” is a wonderful glimpse into the technological singularity towards which we are accelerating.

Apparently, it was one of Asimov's own favorites as well:

Why is it my favorite? For one thing I got the idea all at once and didn’t have to fiddle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarcely had to change a word. This sort of thing endears any story to any writer. Then, too, it has had the strangest effect on my readers. Frequently someone writes to ask me if I can give them the name of a story, which they think I may have written, and tell them where to find it. They don’t remember the title but when they describe the story it is invariably “The Last Question”. This has reached the point where I recently received a long-distance phone call from a desperate man who began, “Dr. Asimov, there’s a story I think you wrote, whose title I can’t remember—” at which point I interrupted to tell him it was “The Last Question” and when I described the plot it proved to be indeed the story he was after. I left him convinced I could read minds at a distance of a thousand miles.

-Isaac Asimov, 1973

You can read the full story at Multivac. Ever since I read this story I have wondered why an acclaimed scientist and outspoken atheist like Asimov would conclude with the very words of Divine Creation "Let There Be Light"

The Question the short story deals with, is "can entropy ever be reversed?" I wonder what Dr. Hick's view would be on this. Would the LHC hold the answer to Asimov's Last Question?

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LHC: Higgs and Hubs

Beam me up Scotty

Today is a hail from a different verse. It's not from the one of the virtual worlds of the metaverse, nor even a representation, a shade of our own in the paraverse, but hypothetically a glance back into the birth of our own universe: It's the first LHC beam day at CERN, the European Institute for Nuclear Research.

I received updates of the first beam-day through @CERN on twitter:

  • It's LHC first beam day. Beams at the door of the LHC, ready for first injection.
  • 9:30. First beam injected and stopped at 1/8 of a circuit. Loud applause in the control room.
  • 10:00 The beam has now done half a lap. Still going well. This is the big moment. Next injection should one full circuit.
  • 10:25, 10 September 2008. Historic moment. The LHC first beam has just circulated. Amazing moment.
  • 13:55, the LHC's second beam is now on its way.
  • 15:02, that's it. Second beam all the way round and the LHC is up and running.

The big question is, what's so special about this LHC, or Large Hadron Collider in full. The LHC is a 27 km. tube circling around (or actually under) Geneva where 9.000 scientists at Cern pull a stunt with boosting a particle beam almost at the speed of light. The particles should round the circle about 10.000 times per second, so it's over before you know it even started.

The thing is, it costs over 6 billion and it took 30 years to build this thing which has all sorts of nice gadgets, like the Atlas, a snappy photocamera which makes about a million snapshots per second to try and 'capture' particles crashing into eachother. Does this make sense to you? Well here's a little cartoon to explain a little more.

Today was first beam day, so only one particle beam was shot, it'll take some time before they actually start shooting beams at eachother, but expectations are that what happens then either resembles armageddon or the start of the galaxy, just after the 'big bang'. Problem is, they don't have verified testdata on how stuff looked like back then.

Higgs and Hubs

One of the key elements scientists will be seeking is the mysterious socalled Higgs-particle (dubbed the 'god-particle' by some) which should be the basic building block for all matter in the universe. Every self-respecting Physicists will be examining testdata from the LHC in the coming years, and they're estimating several Petabytes of data will be pumped round the world a year. Central distribution point for every non-European institute will be the Netherlands:

But we'll have to wait and see if there still will be the Netherlands, as some see doomsday coming when CERN actually starts crashing beams. Some say there's a risk, that when the beams collide a black hole will start to form in Geneva. Here's Dr. Kenneth Hicks view on things:

"I have been asked by friends if the LHC poses a threat to mankind. Some scientists have predicted that miniature black holes could be produced when so much mass is created in such a small volume by the collision of two high-speed protons.

Mother Nature can answer this speculation. So-called "cosmic rays" constantly pelt Earth. These rays actually are high-energy protons accelerated to high speeds by galactic forces, such as supernova explosions.

While the exact physical mechanism that ramps up cosmic rays to nearly the speed of light is unclear, the fact remains that some cosmic rays can exceed the speeds of even our most powerful accelerators.

Such rays are rare, but they do hit Earth.

Nature has been colliding protons all along at energies that exceed those created by particle accelerators. Miniature black holes might gobble up Earth in a science-fiction movie, but not in real life.

The advantage of the LHC is that protons can be collided in a controlled way, surrounded by huge particle detectors. The goal is to probe a new range of matter and perhaps discover new forms of matter.

Many particle physicists are expecting to see a new type of matter at the LHC, called super-symmetric particles. It is possible that the lightest of these particles might be connected to the dark matter of the universe.

If these new particles are discovered, they might explain the subatomic structure of dark matter."

Read the full article at the Columbus Dispatch.

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