Some Science

23 November 2007

This, about Peter Higgs and hopes that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will finally find the Higgs particle and with it help figure out the origins of mass, when it starts to smash protons into each other next year. There’s something fascinating to me about the view from now back onto 1960s science (be it computing, genetics or quantum) – the myth-making attention on the characters, their relations/rivalries/or lack thereof, the framework myth of science as a ‘gentleman’s game’, the universities and research almost-before corporations, the present view on almost-amateurism and ‘early days’ in those fields that now seem long-established, institutionalised, utterly central. Also, I love those narratives, like this one – about a thing ‘proved’ first as pure theory but which then waits decades in hope that instruments or experiments will back it up as observed reality. Of his long wait for a confirmation of his theory Higgs, now 78 said “I have to ask my GP to keep me alive”. I’m trying to figure out the possible relationships between that methodology (a theory waiting for proof) and art practice which so often (for me at least) starts by doing – action (words on paper or on screen, fooling around in the studio, arsing about with the video camera) first, and which then has to wait for a theory.

Also read an interesting article (via my friend the artist Graham Parker) from earlier in the year, about Microsoft Research teaming up with biomedical researchers in Seattle, Boston and Perth, Australia, to see if anti-spam computer techniques can also be used to help design an AIDS vaccine. Something gripping about this idea too, not least because of the material/linguistic aspect – research founded on a pervasive (but-in-the-end-arbitrary) instance of metaphor.

Finally this – more mythological territory in science – about reconstruction of the Collosus code-breaking computers at Bletchley Park.