Why a D Rex does, part 1: Dark Matter

On Sunday I went for a ride to New Franklin, MO. I don’t think I’ll be going any further west than this anytime within the next two months. It was approximately 70 miles of total riding, and marked the end of my more rigorous training. I am now in a “tapering” week, to give my muscles a chance to rest and ready for the start of the tour. I only came to the realization that I would be doing any tapering on Saturday night, after I finally dug my Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling out of one of the boxes in the garage in an attempt to assuage my fears that I had not done enough training.

I had considered keeping this book out and at ready access when I was in the process of moving, but I had already read it, and I decided at that time that exercise regimens are really only useful as broad outlines anyway: We are all humans pursuing a relatively similar activity, therefore such regimens are useful in broad strokes; however, it is important to remember that we are also all unique and have metabolic quirks/physical aptitudes that cannot possibly be recognized and accounted for by an exacting routine. Therefore, I put the book away and attempted to feel my way through the training phase by trusting to my imperfect memory for recall of the book’s exercise outline while keeping an ear to my body for feedback and necessary adjustments.

Now having checked the book, if anything, I have been overtraining. But my body does not seem to be complaining much, so I’m not worried about it. I’m definitely jumping on this “tapering” idea though. I’ll be doing enough cycling over the next month that I can embrace a little down time this week before I go, and it gives me just that much more time to sort out odds and ends and squeeze in a few additional goodbyes. And it gives me the confidence to move my departure day up to Sunday, September 14th. On the 14th I will not only start my tour, I will perform my first “century” as I ride a full 100 miles along the Katy into Marthasville—where I’ll camp for the night before going north. For whatever reason, cyclists refer to 100 mile rides as “centuries”. Completion of a century is the mark of a true “long distance cyclist”.

None of this will matter if in approximately three and a quarter hours from the time I write this very sentence, the Large Hadron Collider (http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/09/the-bosons-that.html) puts an end to “time” and “space” as we know them. I’m not saying it will. The talking heads of science and the legitimate (?) internet have been doing their best to reassure us that it won’t. But if it does, then what I’ve just said may not exist anymore and all of my well and not-so-well laid plans are probably moot. If that is the case, then I doubt that anyone else will ever even read these words, because it strikes me as unlikely that anyone will be checking my blog for the latest post between now and 2 am (central time), when the thing goes down.

Just something to chew on.

I’m not against the experiment. I admit it makes me slightly uneasy. It is one of those rare occasions in human history where we are about to do a thing we have never done before. This does not mean that it will undo everything that has come before it—as far as I know, history has yet to unravel—but in being a legitimate first occurrence in history, it opens the rare possibility of upsetting all of the occurrences preceding it. It is a Tower of Babel. It is inevitable that we will build it, because we can; and it is also inevitable that we will have to live with the consequences of building it, whatever they may be. For me, the Large Hadron Collider is kin to the nuclear bomb—awesome and potentially horrible, but so far, not world-ending. And believe it or not, in my mind, this also puts it in the same category as the automobile (and at least a hundred other inventions, too…). The nuclear bomb and the automobile have had the opportunity to demonstrate some portion of their potential horror already. The Collider’s impact may be greater than these two put together, or it may be significantly less. Only time will tell: if it gets the chance.

I once read an interview with Bob Dylan where he made the comment that “We live in a world of assumptions.” It’s a simple observation, but I think it is a valuable one to keep in mind. How much do you actually know, and how much do you assume? I assume that there is such a thing as the Large Hadron Collider, and I assume that it will circulate a beam (of what exactly?) at 2am tonight. But I don’t really know these things. I’ve read about them and I have seen enough pictures of the Collider that it takes up real estate in my imaginary map of the world, but I don’t actually know any of it. I fear its power, but the more that I reflect upon my assumptions, the less valid my fears become.

But still, I am exposed to the internet, to the media, to the news, to gossip and hearsay. These things occupy a space in my life. I value that space because it is a forum of shared experience and shared experience is validating. It is how history is made. Death is forever approaching, and nothing robs death of its finality like the presence of ongoing life—our shared human experience, be it expressed on the internet or at a party in someone’s living room. But, as in the example of the Large Hadron Collider, that presence can also be intrusive, and potentially disabling. I have as little chance of having a significant impact on the Collider as the Collider has of making a significant impact on me, yet I have devoted some time to trying to figure the thing out. And as the world, or my imaginary map of it, fills up with Hadron Colliders, nuclear bombs, billions of automobiles, Predator drones, and wars over oil—to name a few of the assumptions that lie every day at the forefront of my mind—I begin to feel less validated by my exposure to the shared human experience, and more debilitated by it.

When I was a kid, I found science and emerging technology exciting and empowering. When my family moved, in 1995, from the small town I grew up in to the considerably larger one I live in now, I was excited because I knew that we could get internet access in our new town. But now I check the New York Times website every morning just to make sure nothing awful has happened. Somewhere along the way, my attitude toward the possibilities and excitement of living in the present day and age changed. I worry that as my world fills up with assumptions, I am letting too many of them either lead me to take the wrong actions; or worse still, to take no action at all.

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One Response to “Why a D Rex does, part 1: Dark Matter”

  1. Erin Says:

    Geez D, do you need a Xanax? You sound pretty stressed about this collider thingamajig and assuming it’s going to end the world. What I assume is that we will all wake up tomorrow and be fine and you will start your bike trip on Sunday as planned. I also assume that we will all keep in touch with you and have life-long happy friendships but you know what happens when people assume…

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