When does science go too far?

Physicists in New York working on the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) have created what they believe is a minature black hole.

For the record, this wee beastie lasted 10 million, billion, billionths of a second. No threat to anyone or anything but itself. It collapsed and vanished.

This, however, worries me. It worries me because there was success. There was success in creating a black hole. I don’t know if this was the goal of the project, but you can be assured that others will try to repeat the scenario, on a larger scale.

And that’s when things will go terribly wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a great deal of faith in science as a whole. However, one failing of science has been the ability to take a step back and ask “why?”. As in, “why are we doing thing, what are we trying to achieve?”

I honestly feel these questions aren’t asked enough. We’re playing with forces we claim to understand. We don’t. We can’t. There is no black hole anywhere near in our solar system to observe. As it stands, it’s hard to observe black holes at all, let alone a the distances we seem to be finding them. Stephen Hawking‘s gone a long way to make calculations about black holes and theorize about their behaviours.

Again, it’s all in theory. None of it has been utterly proven. And we’re now playing with a fire that can be far more dangerous than any nuclear device. When humanity started playing with that toy back in the mid-1940s, we did a lot of very dumb things simply because we didn’t know any better and didn’t stop to ask the right questions. Many lives were lost before the reality was fully understood.

We don’t know what the threshold is for a black hole. How large does it have to be to establish itself for longer periods? Hawking believes that black holes eventually dissipate, radiating off the mass they collect as energy. But how long does that take? How large does it have to be to affect the environment around it?

I doubt anyone can answer these questions. And no doubt, the reason for creating black holes will be to answer these questions. The question I ask in return:

What will you say when people die?

That’s what will happen. Some of science’s most radical advances (especially with radiation) were gained at the expense of human life. Science becomes too obsessed with finding the result than how to walk the road. Yes, sometimes you do need to sacrifice a few to gain a better benefit for the whole (the needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few). What happens when the subject of experimentation causes the extinction of the whole?

A little reactionary, perhaps, but I offer you this thought: We can stop a nuclear reaction gone awry. How do we stop a black hole?

4 Replies to “When does science go too far?”

  1. Valid point, Trent. Though scientists are fairly sure they could determine a singularity vs., say, an anti-matter/matter annihilation.

    That said, I wrote this before I’d read additional information regarding the LHC, and it seems that scientists believe that while a black hole is a possibility, the simple reality is that it would be so infinitessimally small that it wouldn’t have sufficient mass to do anything, and would likely snuff itself out of existence within a few nanoseconds.

  2. Just because we research it, learn about it, and expand our knowledge in the quest for scientific proof, that doesn’t mean that we will choose to apply it. Science should be allowed to research whatever it pleases. It is the policymakers that then decide what should or should not be applied. Here’s to hoping that this doesn’t fall in the wrong hands.

  3. I have no problem with research, but so long as it does not come without the discipline to know when to stop researching because it’s become too dangerous. Humanity is rife with the arrogance of “I know better”, only to have it swing the other way around to total disaster. Scientists who choose to play with truly dangerous things should have the wherewithal to know when to put it aside.

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