Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Woomf! Plunggg! Protons collide with doomsday fanaticism

By Brian Matthews - posted Friday, 19 September 2008

In the week following the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider it seems mandatory to give it a mention.

Hands up those who don't know what the Large Hadron Collider is. Well, it's a Swiss machine immured in an alpine tunnel and it's 27 kilometres long, placing beyond all dispute its claim to being called “large”.

Hereinafter to be referred to as the Hadron - a word susceptible of truly catastrophic misprinting of a kind that totally destroys the seriousness of any discussion - this interesting monster arranges for protons to smash into each other at blinding speed thereby duplicating the conditions which immediately succeeded the Big Bang.


It's doing that right now, as we speak: crash thump go the protons with sounds of Woomf or possibly Plungggg ... I'm not sure what acoustical phenomena accompany the arguments of protons but, anyway, released by the scientists, they're doing their thing.

If you happen to be one of those people who keep abreast of the ever more unimaginable world of physics and astronomy - if you are a regular reader of, say, the Collider Monthly or the Meteorite Collector's Handbook or the Geneva Guide to Very Large Dangerous Machines in Swiss Tunnels after 2007 - then you will have a sophisticated grasp of the whole Hadron landscape. A privileged few will even know about the curious, secretive, Dan Brown-like conclave, the Swiss Hermeneutical Hierarchy of Hadron.

But for most of us, knowing only what we learn through commercial channels, the really intriguing, rumoured aspect of the Hadron is that its activation could precipitate the disintegration of the entire galaxy or the universe or some other very large entity that normally we would not anticipate losing. It was this angle rather than the potential scientific revelations about the origins of things that tended to capture the popular imagination.

Not surprisingly, as a matter of fact. The Hadron has simply provided another trigger for humanity's innate proclivity for millenarianism.

The most recent outbreak of this curious rage for finality was at the dawning of the year 2000 but millenarianism - the confident prediction of and preparation for the end of the world and the various episodes of acute and sometimes destructive disappointment that ensue when the stubborn universe refuses to implode - has a long, eccentric and not especially honourable history.

In 1976, South Australia's charismatic premier, the late Don Dunstan, confronted one of these millenarian outbreaks head on. A self-styled mystic had predicted that a tidal wave would destroy Adelaide on January 19. It was the punishment of God, he said, for Adelaide's having become a kind of Sodom and Gomorrah of the south. A bizarre hysteria gripped the city; some people sold their houses forthwith and left.


On the crucial morning Dunstan marched across Glenelg beach and faced the sea. Thousands watched as, at the appointed time of reckoning, there continued to emerge only the benign wavelets of St Vincent's Gulf.

It seems that even the smallest encouragement by circumstances or fanatics is enough to set off chiliastic impulses - the behaviour associated with the end of thousand-year periods but not confined to exact millennia.

In Lower Burma in January 1931, 700 Burmese peasants armed with knives, spears and a few antique firearms advanced into the teeth of heavily armed Indian and Burmese mercenaries convinced by their magic-inspired leader that they had become invulnerable and would establish the new order on earth. They were of course massacred.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in Eureka Street on September 17, 2008.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

15 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Brian Matthews is the award winning author of A Fine and Private Place and The Temple down the road: the life and times of the MCG and Manning Clark - A Life.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Brian Matthews

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 15 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy