An article exploring the notion of relating the new Large Hadron Collider
at Cern to traditional sacred structures...
A temple to mystery and imagination
The enormous constructions at Cern evoke great cathedrals and Egyptian
pyramids, says Jonathan Glancey. Paradoxically, this extreme expression of
modern science may be the most spritual structure of our time
The huge underground complex of Cern is almost entirely hidden from sight.
The presence of this wonder of the modern world is, to say the least, muted.
Most of its buildings are matter-of-fact industrial sheds or concrete bunkers
with none of the obvious allure or artistry of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the
Parthenon, Chartres Cathedral or the Eiffel Tower.
And yet here is a place of mystery and imagination, as well as mathematics,
physics and imaginative engineering, that promises to take us on a journey into
the realm of the spiritual as well as the purely scientific and rational. In
this sense, Cern is a modern equivalent of the great temples and cathedrals of
the past. It aims to find the point at which creation began.
God only knows what scientists will divine in the months to come. Will the
origin and structure of the universe prove to be the product of some divine
being, a colossal figment of our own imagination, a mirror of some parallel
universe, or a quintessence of stardust, ultimately unknowable and
incomprehensible, even as we hold it in the palm of our hands?
Ultimately, Cern's scientists may come up against a truly mysterious
nothingness - the very opposite of solid architecture - and discover that
perhaps we cannot ever truly understand or come to terms with the elusive core
and generator of the universe.
This, by the way, is a part of the reason, although expressed very
differently, why the Temple of Jerusalem, one of the great buildings of legend
and religious faith, was based around a physical emptiness, incomprehensible to
the worldly Romans who destroyed the great building in AD80. The temple, as
latterly rebuilt by Herod the Great, might have been a mighty structure of
stone, marble and cedar, yet its Holy of Holies, the shrine known only to high
priests, contained nothing material or tangible whatsoever. What it did house,
though, was the silent spirit of God.
Many of Cern's scientists are well aware of the connection between their
great underground temple and those of religions, ancient and modern. And, just
as the quest for God, or the gods, encouraged the very first great works of
architecture, so Cern, laid out up to 100 metres below ground like some
inverted, latter day Stonehenge, has been constructed on a massive scale.
The 3,000 scientists, technicians and other staff who work here, and the
6,500 particle physicists from at least 80 countries who visit Cern each year,
are like some modern and global priesthood, the guardians of a place of
hoped-for revelation that will divine the secrets of the universe and, perhaps,
reveal the face of its creator.
If this sounds fanciful, you might well change your mind after a visit to
Cern. At the heart of this vast operation, straddling the Swiss-French border
near Geneva, is the Large Hadron Collider, housed in an underground ring that
may seem little more than a long, curving, concrete-lined tunnel, much like the
eastwards stretch of London Underground's Jubilee Line, but its purpose, and the
machines that serve it, are sensational - mind-blowing, even.
One of the LHC's detectors - Atlas - weighs as much as 100 Boeing 747s.
Looking like a cross between some improbably big communications satellite and
the largest electric dynamo you can imagine, Atlas is the work of 1,900
scientists drawn from 164 universities in 35 countries. A true giant among
machines, it fully deserves its name.
A number of Europe's great medieval cathedrals were built in something like
this same spirit. Teams of architects, masons, experts in geometry and
Latin-speaking divines travelled across the continent gathering and sharing
knowledge and raising immense, intricate and daring structures aimed at bringing
humankind and the infinite together.
Their most profound works, and especially Chartres, are aligned with the
constellations, as if they had been built as observatories, but with prayer
rather than radio waves beaming into infinite, and numinous, space.
Back on the surface, our most ambitious contemporary buildings, whether in
Europe or the rest of the world, tend to be vast office and hotel towers. Cities
and states vie with one another to reach ever higher into the sky. None of these
braggadocio designs, however, have any purpose beyond getting and spending. None
has anything like the spiritual charge of a Sumerian Ziggurat, an Egyptian
pyramid or a medieval cathedral, nor the sheer sense of wonder engendered by
pure engineering marvels, whether the late 19th century Eiffel Tower or the
early 21st century Viaduc de Millau over the River Tarn in the Massif Central.
No matter how odd it might seem at first, the most profoundly spiritual
structure of our time, housed for the most part in functional sheds and
unadorned underground passageways, is the vast Cern laboratory, tucked away out
of sight, although very much in mind.
Here is a temple of our own age, a place and space where we will have a
chance of understanding a little more of the Great Architect and the universe,
or universes, he set blazing into perpetual motion.
Jonathan Glancey The Guardian, Monday June 30, 2008
In a message dated 16/06/2008 21:38:01 GMT Daylight Time,
Good to hear from you both.
Both posts were interesting. I think that
science vs religion is a
valid debate but that a lot of
pseudosckepticism creeps in and of course a
lot of religious bias. We
have been over this territory a lot
and I have learned a whole bunch, it
has altered my world view
considerable. Epistemologically I think we
have to accept the
scientific method as our gold standard and judge
claims on the basis of the same rules we use for
That said I think there is enough evidence to throw out the
theory of the world.
Had an interesting thought the
other day. It used to be that they said
god is dead. Now I say
that reality is dead. The mathematics is so
complex that no one can
have a valid picture of reality anymore. Since
it is beyond our
ability to understand it, there is no way to tell if
exist or not. We don't know what is natural so
how can we say that
we know the boundary between the natural and the
worlds, parallel dimensions, the astral plane, all
might appear in the
math sometime in the future. (As I understand it
string theory is
already providing a peek into parallel dimensions
across the branes that
I have to apologize to the list. I haven't been
very available or
involved for two reasons. 1. is my new six year
old daughter adopted
from Russia (6 mo and she is speaking english and
even reading and
writing some!). 2. is a set of fireworks in my
brain about the
historical Jesus. I have written a 7 page
preliminary sketch which I am
going to post to the list soon.
Meanwhile, chatter away (though we can do without names like
Khem Caigan wrote:
>I see that our Troll
is back and up
>to his usual shenanigans, setting his
among the cats <yum>.
>While we are on the subject of
>A Commentary by Marcello
>Cors in Manu
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