The Ocean Beyond

Prelude: The question of why conduct particle physics at the energy frontier has been coming up a bit lately. Here I offer an accessible personal opinion for one reason why, in the form of a very short story. Future posts may tackle the more practical and scientific issues at hand.

The Ocean Beyond

Mark C. Kruse, 25 Feb 2019

The vast ocean stretching beyond their horizon begged to be understood. From this ocean they were born, to one day be reabsorbed, completing a cycle that entwined them as one. Their innate passion to understand the ocean was derived by their need to understand themselves, to know where they came from and to where they will go. The ocean, begging to be understood, was fundamentally within.

Although a society of many differences and conflicts, this one hunger arising from a pervasive trait united them. A hunger only truly gratified by pushing their limits to explore the ocean so not to become isolated from it. They had built ships over many decades of increasing size and complexity designed to reach ever greater expanses. Often limited by their technology at any given time but more often, defining it.

Their ships had discovered much about the ocean, changing their view of it and their place in it. They had discovered many islands. Some close enough to mount dedicated expeditions to map with precision every feature, some still too far away to know so well. As they mapped out their surrounding seas they were becoming closer to understanding who they really were.

There were groups who dedicated their lives to studying the ocean and predicting where there might be islands, and where there likely were none.
The ocean was vast, so guidance was needed for which direction to send the ships. Some were sent to known islands, to study properties and aspects in more detail. This was a valuable part of their strategy. Knowing with finer precision the composition of the soil, rocks, and vegetation on an island allowed them to make more informed predictions as to what might lie beyond the regions accessible to them. And while the unseen ocean waited, they built other mightier ships to explore it, increasingly complicated and daring endeavours, requiring scores of teams dedicated to the many facets needed to allow these ships to extend their reach. And while endeavours of this magnitude suffered, almost by necessity, challenges and questions provoked by expanding boundaries, they were able to integrate these challenges into their instinctual quest.

But it wasn’t easy. Questions both societal in nature, concerning the priority of these endeavours in light of other values, and more philosophical, confronting a perceived dilemma of exploring in the dark without the guidance of predictions, had to be addressed.

The latter produced the greatest challenge they faced, before finally arriving at their “Epoch of Enlightenment”. That challenge was to overcome the uncertainty, perhaps even fear, of where to look next. Their predictions were starting to become more speculative, asynchronous with their observations of known islands and the seas surrounding them, and no longer able to provide reliable guidance as to where new ones could be found. Furthermore, it was becoming unclear how the predictions and ship designs were entangled, how one was influencing the other. It was natural for ship designs to take some direction from reasonable expectations of what the ocean was hiding, but they wouldn’t want to design a sophisticated ship for calmer waters when a rough sea had to be crossed.

They realised too, that their predictions were merely models of the ocean, to explain what had been observed and to conjecture what would be. The ocean was under no obligation to abide by their predictions and hopes, let alone be understood in the languages they used. The only way forward was to look and see, and adapt their paradigms over time to bring them closer, deeper within themselves.

Many thought that new islands would not be found until an unfathomable expanse of the ocean could be traversed, an undertaking unattainable in their foreseeable future. But how sure could they be that this expanse offered no new findings? Indeed, in the past the ocean had surprised them with unexpected islands and features. Was too much emphasis being placed on the discovery of islands? Could features of the ocean itself, of the seas within reach, offer clues as to what was hiding beyond?

As explorers, these questions and concerns were unsettling. As explorers with an innate sense of their connection to the ocean, they knew they had to overcome these challenges and continue their quest to chart its mysteries. And so they plotted their course. Like a child being told there is nothing under that rock over there, they were compelled to question the source of the prediction, and to look. To do otherwise would have defied what defined them, that made them intrinsic to the world they sought so desperately to know, and so to know themselves.

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