"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, July 6, 2012

Time Horizons

I have occasionally commented on the phenomenon of American pundits (and some Catholics) criticizing the Church and the Pope (whether John Paul II or Benedict XVI) because they haven't modernized the Church by becoming more liberal on reproductive "rights" or on women entering the priesthood or on celibacy for priests, etc.   My comment is always:  the Pope and the Church have a different time horizon.   For many people, their time horizon is their own lifetime, and the concerns of their generation.   For the Baby Boomers who were teenagers in the 1960s, that means the push toward a more and more liberal social policy.   But for the Pope and the Church, the time horizon is eternity, or at least the span of the thousands of years since Christ.   With that different time horizon, they have different concerns.   They are, for instance, must less concerned with what the New York Times editorial board thinks.  

Naturally we care a lot about next November's presidential election, just as we here in Wisconsin cared a lot about last month's recall election for Governor.   But it's good to recall that there are things that human beings do that don't involve politics, or economics, that don't stop at the horizon of this year's disputes or a ten-year budget; things that draw our eye to the farthest reaches of time and space.   Religion is one.   And, perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum (but perhaps not), pure science is another, and this week's announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson at the CERN super-collider in Europe is instructive.   As much as we complain about our world, it is continually amazing what scientists and engineers have permitted us to learn:

After decades of careful experiment, physicists say they have found the "strongest indication to date" to prove the existence of the Higgs boson -- a subatomic particle so important to the understanding of space, time and matter that the physicist Leon Lederman nicknamed it "the God particle."

The announcement today, based on experiments at the Department of Energy's Fermilab near Chicago and other institutions, is not the final word, but it's very close. And it comes just before a major meeting this week in Australia, where more findings will be announced from the giant underground particle accelerator at CERN, the great physics lab in the Alps on the French-Swiss border.

"This is one of the cornerstones of how we understand the universe," said Rob Roser, a Fermilab physicist, "and if it's not there, we have to go back and check our assumptions about how the universe exists."

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