Alana and I have been looking forward to Spring '08 for some time and we can hardly believe that is now upon us. With a wedding, an ordination, poetry readings and a new home on the horizon, this is truly the time of our lives. And, I think that one of our greatest joys comes from being able to start our own family with our extended New Shul mishpacha.
However, even with so much going on, I still can't keep away from the science stories. And, here's one that I came across this morning from MSNBC about the world's biggest particle collider, which is scheduled to be turned on later this year.
(Click on the image to make it bigger)
(Notice the man in the yellow hardhat in the middle)
According to the article at MSNBC:
The Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, is due for startup later this year at CERN's headquarters on the French-Swiss border. It's expected to tackle some of the deepest questions in science: Is the foundation of modern physics right or wrong? What existed during the very first moment of the universe's existence? Why do some particles have mass while others don't? What is the nature of dark matter? Are there extra dimensions of space out there that we haven't yet detected?As a result of some of these concerns, a lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District court which "calls on the U.S. Department of Energy, Fermilab, the National Science Foundation and CERN to ease up on their LHC preparations for several months while the collider's safety was reassessed." The suit is seeking a temporary restraining order on the LHC to allow for a safety assessment which will include not only an environmental review but also a debate over the "doomsday scenario."
Some folks outside the scientific mainstream have asked darker questions as well: Could the collider create mini-black holes that last long enough and get big enough to turn into a matter-sucking maelstrom? Could exotic particles known as magnetic monopoles throw atomic nuclei out of whack? Could quarks recombine into "strangelets" that would turn the whole Earth into one big lump of exotic matter?
There's a lot more and you can read the whole story HERE.
Reading this article, I couldn't help but think of this week's Torah portion Shemini (no, truthfully, I really couldn't help it) which deals with, quite literally, playing with fire.
The parsha (Lev. 9:1-11:47) begins with the celebration of the completion of the Israelites' Tent of Meeting, or wandering sanctuary, that was to be used for worship on their journey to the promised land. On the eighth day ("Shemini" means "eighth" in Hebrew), after a seven day ordination of the sanctuary, God commands Aaron and his sons (Nadav and Avihu) to give a sacrifice on behalf of the people of Israel. Aaron performed the sacrifice as commanded and when he came out of the Tent, with Moses:
"Fire come forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the alter. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces" (Lev. 9:24)
However, the very next chapter, describes actions taken by Nadav and Avihu which were not commanded by God. Actions that resulted in their untimely deaths:
"Now Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord a strange fire, which God had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the lord." (Lev. 10:1-2)
One of the traditional interpretations, as to the severity of the punishment, is that Aaron's sons had not been commanded to offer this sacrifice, but rather had taken it up voluntarily; maybe in an effort to control or manipulate the power of God. This "playing with fire" resulted in them being consumed by it, perhaps as a result of their inability to control it.
To me, the parallels between this parsha and this particle collider are striking. And, what I'm currently attempting to reconcile is - How are we to know if we are in over our heads?
Indeed, how are we to find the balance between technological progress that will improve our lives (and even make it more holy) and that which threatens to consume all of us?
This will be the challenge of our new century.