Is CERN (and similar) worth it?

So CERN is a giant ring of metal underground in Switzerland that fires subatomic particles at each other to see what they are made of. It’s pretty expensive, and there was allegedly a tiny chance it could’ve started making black holes, so the newspapers could get pretty excited about it. (I had fun thinking about risk assessments, where you multiply the likelihood by the consequences, the mathematics of multiplying the infinitesimal by the infinite is always entertaining).

Anyway, also someone said something about God, probably as an aside, or an attempt to sell more books. They call something the ‘God particle’ so suddenly people are imagining that discovering it is like some kind of ‘win’ for science.

Which it would be, but not in some absurd theological sense.

Science is all about making guesses, designing experiments, and checking that they do the same thing. The guesses are based on deeper systems, largely mathematical, that are our closest representation of how the universe actually works. The more accurate our map, the more we are able to game the rules.

If CERN discovers the Higgs Boson, then we know that one of our pictures of the subatomic universe (note well: subatomic means tiny, but in everything, it’s pretty important down there) makes sense. If we don’t find it, it means things work differently, we’re barking up the wrong tree, and we’ve got to design some new experiments to figure it out.

This makes the whole thing sound like it’s just a technical equivalent to sophistry. We’re trying to squeeze more certainty out of a thing we already understand effectively enough. So isn’t it a waste of money?


The more we work out about the universe, the more we can make wonderful things happen in it.

Arthur C Clarke said ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. He was right. A lot of the stuff going on around our day to day lives is a lot like magic. A lot of the things that happen in the future will be even more magical.

But it won’t be magic, because someone will understand it. Large swathes of people spend their lives working out these mysteries. Exploring tiny fragments of nature, digging out its secrets.

And from these broken bits of matter, they build the future. They build our understanding of the universe, and hopefully, the ways we move forwards.

Even the most esoteric of research ends up with ramifications. It’s the wild stabs in the dark that give us the great leaps forward.

CERN is expensive, but it’s just one part of a huge, collaborative effort to build our future. It’s people from across the world working in harmony to build wonders. Even just the act of building it has improved the capacity of our technology immensely.

Hurdles are overcome, and miracles are built.

We are in this universe to figure it out.

Some of us will spend our time looking for Gods.

Some of us will find particles.

Science, eh?


Illustration by Michael


About Alex Ava

Joiner of Dots. Player of Games. Unreliable Narrator. Dancing Fool.
This entry was posted in Questions by Martin, Special Guest Illustrations. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Is CERN (and similar) worth it?

  1. jahschmidt says:

    CERN is a waste of money and here is why: firstly, scientists are trying to find the higgs boson to make their theoretical equations balance – looking for something to make a concept work. secondly, here is what will actually happen, the h b will be found along with some other anomalies that point to smaller particles still. A bigger CERN will be built to find these smaller particles, repeat, repeat. We are dealing with an infinite system here so the “god” particle, the piece, that makes the whole system work cannot be found. It is a paradox within science that on the macro level it is accepted that the universe is infinite but on the quantuum level it is finite, or reducible into ever smaller particles.

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