Above: SPS tunnel during technical stop, September 2017. Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN.


Above: LHC tunnel activities, December 2017. Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN.


Above: Replacement of the CMS pixel detector, March 2017. Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN.


Above: LHC tunnel sectors 4-6, September 2016. Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN.

Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland is a 17-mile-circumference particle accelerator in which hydrogen protons are forced into collision (at the speed of light), upon which, the particles disintegrate, and in those moments it is possible for sensors to detect numerous sub-atomic components. The sensor devices recording the molecular collisions as generated in the LHC must be functional-and-accurate down to "exposures" of one nanosecond, or one billionth of a second--approximately 600 million molecular collisions per second are created in the LHC.

For Virilio, the LHC is the ultimate dromological (the logic of speed) and dromoscopic (seeing at speed) machine; it is the "Great Accelerator" a "buried cathedral (GA: 90)," or a "circular temple" for those who pray to the speed of light (GA: 66). The structure is certainly impressive as an architectural edifice, but in terms of its actual purpose it is a construction born of a perverse obsession that is troubling and actually frightening.

The aim of the scientists is to apprehend and identify the many hitherto unknown sub-atomic particles revealed by the LHC experiments--quarks; leptons; guage bosons, etc. The experiments at CERN utilizing the LHC thus have the force of a megalomaniac urge; a delusion of grandeur; or a delusion of divinity (PI: 40). For Virilio, it is perfectly obvious that the more intensely the atom is interrogated then the more layers and components of matter will inevitably be revealed. Virilio follows Flaubert who noted that the better telescopes become, the more stars there will be (UD: 72).

The research activities continuing at CERN create outcomes that are shatteringly revelatory to only a small group of super-specialized physicists (GA: 26). The research scientists conducting experiments utilizing the LHC resemble "neo-illuminists (GA: 26)," the devotees of an obscurantist cult whose initiates are bound by a secret-revelatory cryptic knowledge that is definitely inaccessible to non-initiates. It is "the illuminism of the cult of light speed (GA: 30)."

All this obscure scientific activity does have one very definite consequence at the level of the everyday and that is a "crash of reason." The CERN experiments keep producing new sub-atomic components and this has a negative impact: it bamboozles the ordinary person with information that is incomprehensible and often counter-intuitive to the degree that the lay-person is left reeling and perplexed by each new announcement. As each new sub-atomic particle is discovered and named, the non-initiate's basic knowledge of physics and the-structure-of-matter comes under attack and is denigrated anew (GA: 26).