The Large Hadron Collider at Cern is being switched on tomorrow. Stephen Hawking says it is safe, and that the machine will not create a black-hole that will suck the entire world in on itself. It is the perfect Douglas Adams scenario. We could all be anihilated by ten past nine tomorrow morning, and no-one will bring the milk in.
Can you imagine just how embarrassing such an event will be for humanity? One moment, we are daring to behold the secrets of the universe, edging closer to the mind of God. The next, we are all squashed, star dust again – only this time, your base materials will be blended with those of your office colleagues and that beige laser printer on the filing cabinet. Perversely, it might actually be the one moment where human beings discover a true understanding of one another. Six billion people united in a single thought: “Whoops.” Perhaps that moment will be worth it.
Just in case we don’t make it to Wednesday lunchtime, here’s an excerpt from the end of Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill. After the battle with West Kensington, the city state of Notting Hill has been destroyed. A conversation wafts accross the silent battlefield:
“But in this world there are some, be they wise or foolish, whom nothing intoxicates. There are some who see all your disturbances like a cloud of flies. They know that while men will laugh at your Notting Hill, and will study and rehearse and sing of Athens and Jerusalem, Athens and Jerusalem were silly suburbs like your Notting Hill. They know that the earth itself is a suburb, and can feel only drearily and respectably amused as they move upon it.”
“They are philosophers or they are fools,” said the other voice. “They are not men. Men live, as I say, rejoicing from age to age in something fresher than progress–in the fact that with every baby a new sun and a new moon are made. If our ancient humanity were a single man, it might perhaps be that he would break down under the memory of so many loyalties, under the burden of so many diverse heroisms, under the load and terror of all the goodness of men. But it has pleased God so to isolate the individual soul that it can only learn of all other souls by hearsay, and to each one goodness and happiness come with the youth and violence of lightning, as momentary and as pure. And the doom of failure that lies on all human systems does not in real fact affect them any more than the worms of the inevitable grave affect a children’s game in a meadow. Notting Hill has fallen; Notting Hill has died. But that is not the tremendous issue. Notting Hill has lived.”
“But if,” answered the other voice, “if what is achieved by all these efforts be only the common contentment of humanity, why do men so extravagantly toil and die in them? Has nothing been done by Notting Hill than any chance clump of farmers or clan of savages would not have done without it? What might have been done to Notting Hill if the world had been different may be a deep question; but there is a deeper. What could have happened to the world if Notting Hill had never been?”
The other voice replied–
“The same that would have happened to the world and all the starry systems if an apple-tree grew six apples instead of seven; something would have been eternally lost. There has never been anything in the world absolutely like Notting Hill. There will never be anything quite like it to the crack of doom. I cannot believe anything but that God loved it as He must surely love anything that is itself and unreplaceable. But even for that I do not care. If God, with all His thunders, hated it, I loved it.”
And with the voice a tall, strange figure lifted itself out of the débris in the half-darkness.
The other voice came after a long pause, and as it were hoarsely.
“But suppose the whole matter were really a hocus-pocus. Suppose that whatever meaning you may choose in your fancy to give to it, the real meaning of the whole was mockery. Suppose it was all folly. Suppose–”
“I have been in it,” answered the voice from the tall and strange figure, “and I know it was not.”