Sometime on Nov. 3, the supercooled magnets in sector 81 of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), outside Geneva, began to dangerously overheat. Scientists rushed to diagnose the problem, since the particle accelerator has to maintain a temperature colder than deep space in order to work. The culprit? "A bit of baguette," says Mike Lamont of the control center of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which built and maintains the LHC. Apparently, a passing bird may have dropped the chunk of bread on an electrical substation above the accelerator, causing a power cut. The baguette was removed, power to the cryogenic system was restored and within a few days the magnets returned to their supercool temperatures.
While most scientists would write off the event as a freak accident, two esteemed physicists have formulated a theory that suggests an alternative explanation: perhaps a time-traveling bird was sent from the future to sabotage the experiment. Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan, have published several papers over the past year arguing that the CERN experiment may be the latest in a series of physics research projects whose purposes are so unacceptable to the universe that they are doomed to fail, subverted by the future.
In a series of audacious papers, Nielsen and Ninomiya have suggested that setbacks to the LHC occur because of "reverse chronological causation," which is to say, sabotage from the future. The papers suggest that the Higgs boson may be "abhorrent to nature" and the LHC's creation of the Higgs sometime in the future sends ripples backward through time to scupper its own creation. Each time scientists are on the verge of capturing the Higgs, the theory holds, the future intercedes. The theory as to why the universe rejects the creation of Higgs bosons is based on complex mathematics, but, Nielsen tells TIME, "you could explain it [simply] by saying that God, in inverted commas, or nature, hates the Higgs and tries to avoid them."
Many physicists say that Nielsen and Ninomiya's theory, while intellectually interesting, cannot be accurate because the event that the LHC is trying to recreate already happens in nature. Particle collisions of an energy equivalent to those planned in the LHC occur when high-energy cosmic rays collide with the earth's atmosphere. What's more, some scientists believe that the Tevatron accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (or Fermilab) near Chicago has already created Higgs bosons without incident; the Fermilab scientists are now refining data from their collisions to prove the Higgs' existence.
Nielsen counters that nature might allow a small number of Higgs to be produced by the Tevatron, but would prevent the production of the large number of particles the LHC is anticipated to produce. He also acknowledges that Higgs particles are probably produced in cosmic collisions, but says it's impossible to know whether nature has stopped a great deal of these collisions from happening. "It's possible that God avoids Higgs [particles] only when there are very many of them, but if there are a few, maybe He let's them go," he says. [...]
Um... um. Time-traveling bird saboteurs armed with stale baguettes. Geez, what can I say? There's even more, if you care to read it. News or entertainment? You decide.
To be fair to TIME, I suppose it IS newsworthy that this debate is occurring. I have to wonder, how much researchers like Nielsen and Ninomiya get paid to write such theories. Nice work if you can get it.