While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Wisdom In An Atom

[Soundtrack: Big Bang Baby]

Dear Civilisation X

First of all, congratulations for making it this far. I know it took my civilisation -- the one that's about to end, along with the universe as we know it, on Wednesday -- a long time to get to the point where we could read our own languages (let alone decipher the gibberish of the ancients). From reading it has only been a blink of the eye in cosmic terms until the End As We Know It. I guess you'll be playing around with protons and Large Hadron Colliders soon enough, too.

I'm not going to offer any warnings, you're free to make your own mistakes. I fought it for a while, but now I’ve decided this is just the universe's way of blowing out the cobwebs: creating creatures that will eventually become smart enough to find the restart button hidden inside every atom. What a laugh, eh?

So feel free to experiment. But, sitting as I do, on the verge of Lights Out 2008, I see no harm in offering some advice.

One: Love thy neighbour. I borrow this line from one of the most hallowed, most printed, most read, and most pondered books human kind produced. It was called the Bible. Some of its wording left a bit to be desired, but I think The Good Book nailed it on the head with this one. If only more of the people who hallowed, printed, read and pondered this book actually loved thine neighbours... well, for one it might have taken a lot longer for us to find the restart switch -- we'd have been too busy drinking homemade lemonade under apple trees with the rest of the neighbourhood.

Two: Play golf. Since you have advanced far enough to discover this message I have hidden in every atom (the restart switch is nearby. Just where? Not telling) I'm sure you've already invented golf for yourselves. But if you haven't, the rules are simple: hit a ball into a hole in as few shots as possible. In time, you will figure out how to make it fun. Eventually, you will not even need a hole, just a club, a bucket of balls and a designated area in which to hit them in order to achieve bliss.

Three: When wearing trousers, always wear a belt. There is nothing more disturbing than seeing empty belt loops and, horror of horrors, the dome at the top of a man's fly. Perhaps you don't wear trousers in your civilisation. Perhaps you don't even have legs. In this case, my advice is useless. But I have found that most interesting questions are apparently useless. Why is the sky blue? How big is the universe? Why do my neighbours (whom I love despite the fact they refuse to drink my homemade lemonade) persist in leaving unwanted white goods on the curb-side when neither the recycling nor rubbish collectors take them?

Four: Regardless of your employment situation, you are always your own boss. I have had to remind myself this recently, as Monsieur Parquet, the head of the Muon Spectrometer team of which I am a key member, has been getting on my nerves. Not the least because he does not wear a belt. He also has the kind of moustache I had only ever seen in cartoons until I met Monsieur Parquet. I remind myself that Monsieur Parquet is only the head of the Muon Spectrometer team because he is an employee of CERN (that he is of Swiss-French extraction helps, too), whereas I am still, legally if not practically, an employee of The University of Bristol. 'I am here because I chose to be here,' I repeat to myself whenever Parquet's pessimism or parsimony get me down. 'I am my own boss.' It helps that I have had this little project of mine – this message in a bottle - on the go.

Five: Always check there is toilet paper before you go.

Six: But sometimes there's no avoiding a shit storm. Point and case: my inability in 2006-07 to dissuade CERN from searching for the Higgs Boson, a.k.a. the God Particle. "There's only a one in fifty thousand chance anything untoward will happen," they said. "I disagree with your calculation," I said, "but for now let's agree there's a one in fifty thousand chance something untoward will happen. Listen to what you are saying. What were the chances of life coming in to existence? What chance that a single celled organism could evolve into something with a brain the size of a rockmelon? What chance that the son of a Rotterdam prostitute and her unseemly uncle," I made a
hear me out gesture with my hands, "could rise to be the most eminent physicist of his generation?" The most eminent physicist of our generation did not know how to look. But as I say, I could not dissuade them. The shit storm is coming. Mercifully, I believe it will be very brief, though utterly conclusive.

Seven: No creature was meant to spend extended periods of time under three hundred feet of earth. Six feet would be bad enough.

Eight: Everything is better in a list.

Nine: Stop before you get predictable. What better epitaph for this civilisation?

Yours subatomically

Prof. Craig E. Circle
European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN)
Somewhere beneath the Franco-Swiss Border
5 September, 2008

1 comment:

Craig Cliff said...

Please note: I do not believe the universe as we know it will end in the next few days – - there’s no way a group of 1,800 people could ever do anything spectacular, whether that is failing or succeeding. Perhaps that's why my hero is a maverick.