• Ben Ponton

The Archipelago of the Microspheres | Trace: A bespectacled horse

Fig. 1

The world's most expensive scientific experiment, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), was created to prove a theory devised by a Geordie.

One of the primary purposes of the LHC has been to detect evidence of the Higgs boson, an elementary particle the existence of which was theorised by Newcastle-born physicist, Peter Higgs. It's not possible to see a Higgs boson, only to identify where it's been – its trace, and on 4 July 2012, evidence of the particle was detected in the LHC from interactions with protons. That successful detection added further proof of the Standard Model of particle physics, a general theory that can be used to describe fundamental forces in the universe, including the possible existence of extra dimensions.

I think one of the extra dimensions might be here in Newcastle, where it partially overlaps the one in which I habitually find myself and the neighbourhood where I live. That other dimension is, as far as I can tell, only inhabited by one man who appears intermittently and without any regularity in the streets here. I first noticed him many years ago and would occasionally see him near the local Metro station, even on a train sometimes, always carrying a couple of very large holdalls, made larger by his small stature. Always alone, seemingly indifferent and disregarding of his surroundings and we, the other people, he nevertheless seemed to be possessed by purpose: walking with resolve to a destination that may well be the same as the one from which he departed. Never a word, never a glance, never catching your eye; we are not there; we are not in his dimension.

Ages ago, I realised he'd faded away and that I couldn't say for certain when that was. The irregularity of his appearance meant that there was no marker by which to fix his absence. It hadn't been half-past-five when I usually saw him or every Tuesday or just the summer months, it was as random as when I last saw a blackbird. The extra dimension no longer overlapped.

Two or so years ago, the overlap was reinstated, like a comet returning after years out at the far flung reaches of a weak gravitational pull, he has returned, this time more frequently and more often in streets closer to mine. He looks unchanged, the same black clothes, the same resolve, the same silence, never a glance, never catching your eye. The holdalls have gone, though and there is another difference: he no longer seems to be resolutely on his way somewhere. Now, he walks with a slower purpose, examining the pavements and where there are noticeable growths of weeds between the slabs, he sets about meticulously uprooting them, gathering them together and placing them in low piles in the gutter. Now, even when I don't see him, I know where he's recently been by those piles of weeds.

Fig. 2

In my brief note, The New Normal, I touched on the notion that we are always creating the archaeology for the future. Implicit in that is the paradox of seeking to achieve a greater understanding of our present by forensic analysis of fragmentary evidence from the deep past, while at the same time leaving traces of our present to be unravelled by future seekers of greater understanding. The complexity and sophistication of that fragmentary evidence can be used to gauge the cultural importance of those finds, though the explanation – the why? – is often elusive (I'm looking at you, Stonehenge). Thousands of years from now, when archaeologists discover and excavate the site of Conseil européen pour la recherche nucléaire (CERN) and reach LHC tunnel sector 3-4, they will already know much and learn much more. However, I suspect one of the great mysteries that will elude explanation will be the significance to the search for an elementary particle posited by a Geordie, of a crude drawing of a bespectacled horse on the tunnel wall.

Fig. 3


Fig. 1: View of the LHC tunnel sector 3-4 (photo: Maximilien Brice)

Fig. 2: photos: Ben Ponton

Fig. 3: View of the LHC tunnel sector 3-4 (photo: Maximilien Brice)

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