If I understand what you just declared, you just asserted that CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, disproved the existence of ghosts.
What did British physicist and professor Brian Cox say to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to elicit such a response? Is Tyson right? Is Cox right? What would Charles Dickens say?
Tyson was a guest recently on Cox’s BBC Radio 4 show, The Infinite Monkey Cage. The discussion was supposed to be about particle physics but who changes the channel from their favorite oldies station to listen to that? Cox decided to grab everyone’s attention by opening with a bold statement.
Before we ask the first question, I want to make a statement: We are not here to debate the existence of ghosts because they don’t exist.
This was Cox’s ear-catching lead-in to a discussion about CERN’s Large Hadron Collider particle physics. If there is any machine capable of detecting ghosts, it’s the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), whose near speed-of-light collisions of protons has created quark-gluon plasma (the densest matter outside of black holes) and discovered the Higgs boson. Finding a ghost should be a particle of cake for this machine.
Cox begins with the idea that ghosts are not matter, so they must be pure energy. That means they would abide by the second law of thermodynamics, lose that energy to heat and dissipate. Unless … here it comes … ghosts have a source of energy that keeps them in existence. If that were the case, the LHC would have detected it. And, since it hasn’t, Cox concludes that his proves ghosts don’t exist. (Fermi and his paradox would be proud of this logic).
For those who need further proof, Cox supplements the second law of thermodynamics with the Standard Model of Particle Physics by pointing out that the existence of ghosts would require a change in it.
If we want some sort of pattern that carries information about our living cells to persist, then we must specify precisely what medium carries that pattern, and how it interacts with the matter particles out of which our bodies are made. We must, in other words, invent an extension to the Standard Model of Particle Physics that has escaped detection at the Large Hadron Collider. That’s almost inconceivable at the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies.
“Wait a minute!” yell experts in the Standard Model of Particle Physics. There are some particles, like axions, that are predicted to exist but the LHC hasn’t found them yet. Could ghost particles be like axions? Cox sticks to his initial premise that ghosts are pure energy and that means the laws apply, so … no ghosts.
A consoling Neil deGrasse Tyson tries to pick up the spirits of spirit believers by saying that he himself has had “haunting experiences.” While they’ve eventually been explained by science, he understands the need to believe.
And that allows me to understand, and even embrace, the urge that people have to want there to be this deep mystery, such as ghosts of ancestors. I have a soft spot for what that psychological state is, because I’ve felt that intermittently, except I kept exploring and getting the answer.
Does the LHC and the logic of Brian Cox disprove the existence of ghosts? If not, should Cox start listening for rattling chains?