Scientists with CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) placed a statue of Shiva Nataraja, the Hindu god of creation and destruction, outside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2010. The statue complements a weird, occult dance opera performed inside the LHC for the opera film Symmetry.(1,2)
The LHC was constructed in order to explore the laws of particle physics, including the long-sought Higgs boson, or “God particle.” The scientists tried to detect the boson by smashing particles together at near light speed, which replicates conditions similar to those at the initial Big Bang.
Scientists detected the Higgs boson in 2012, which confirmed the existence of the Higgs field. The Higgs field acts as a medium that affects how particles permeate space. After the initial Big Bang, particles pervaded space at light speed. Shortly after the explosion, the Higgs field condensed out, causing particles to slow down and acquire mass. Without the Higgs field, the universe would consist of a banal sea of radiation.
New movie blends science with art
According to its website, Symmetry is a dance-opera film motivated by the work that is taking place at the LHC. The story follows a physicist named Lukas – played by choreographer Lukas Timulak – trying to find the Higgs boson at the LHC who is haunted by a woman representing his inner voice, played by soprano singer Claron McFadden. She asks the physicist if he loves the particle more than he loves himself, and if he would want to become one with the Higgs boson.(3)
The film is centered on a dance performed inside the collider. The dance performed is none other than the Shiva “Dance of Destruction,” the same danced portrayed by the Lord Nataraja statue outside the collider.(2) Ruben van Leer, director of the accompanying documentary Symmetry Unraveled, stated that the film is meant not to present modern physics to a general audience but to “interpret the complex material this institution is presenting.”(3)
Parallels between Dancing Shiva and LHC
Interpret we shall. The Dancing Shiva statue has four arms and dances with one foot raised. The figure is inside a halo of fire that symbolizes time, space, matter and energy. The world dances to the beat of Shiva. In his upper right arm, Shiva holds a drum which ushers the world into existence. In his left arm, Shiva holds a fire, which destroys the world. The Dancing Shiva creates and destroys the world in cycles that stretch from the infinite past into the infinite future.(4)
The opera dance performed inside the collider is based upon the Dancing Shiva. The parallels between the two are spooky. The LHC creates conditions like those at the Big Bang. What is interesting to note is that the Dancing Shiva first destroys the world and then recreates it. Although the LHC creates a mini Big Bang, some say it also has the potential to destroy the world.
One worry was that the the LHC would spawn a miniature black hole that consumes the earth. Physicists mitigated this fear by claiming that the miniscule black hole would be highly unstable and evaporate quickly.(5)
Another worry was that the LHC could give rise to hypothetical particles known as strangelets, which could lead to a chain reactions that converts everything into a different type of matter, and reduce the planet to a hyperdense sphere. These particles are nevertheless hypothetical. The doomsday predictions attached to them should be taken with a grain of salt.(5)
The precautionary principle is invoked whenever an action can have global consequences. The principle states that any action that poses a threat should be avoided, unless there is scientific consensus that it safe. Although most scientists agree that the LHC is safe, it’s important to stay humble at the limits of knowledge where we do not know, and perhaps cannot know, all the answers.