Do you believe in ghosts? It’s one of the fundamental questions of life that we all debate, with every sudden gust of cool air, weird apparition in the background of a photograph, or all-out vision of a spirit leading us to believe, if only for a second, in the existence of a supernatural being. Plus, if ghosts didn’t exist, there’d be no use for ghostbusters, and that would be a terrible thing indeed.
But Brian Cox? Much-loved professor of physics and former live keyboard player for mid-nineties pop/dance combo D:Ream? He doesn’t believe in them. Not one bit. And he has a pretty good reason.
In a special ‘paranormal’ edition of his Infinite Monkey Cage podcast, Cox explained that if ghosts existed, then the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN would have found one by now.
The LHC is a giant particle accelerator – the biggest ever built – which uses magnets to speed particles up to near light speed, in order to smash them together, to break them down to their most fundamental components, and to observe the behaviours that go along with it.
It has already led to the famous discovery of the Higgs boson, in 2013, as well as giving us information on how particles decay, and hinting at the possibility that new, undiscovered particles could be out there.
However, Cox explains that it has shown no evidence of what would be needed in order for a ‘ghost’ to exist.
What is a ghost? Well, it must be massless – by definition, they cannot be made of matter. Therefore, they must only be made of energy. In addition, they must carry information that relates to previously living cells – the energy must have some form of ‘memory’.
But something made of energy would quickly dissipate. Thus, they require their own, matter-less energy source – an idea that does not exist in the standard model of physics, nor in anything the LHC has discovered.
Cox had this to say: "If we want some sort of pattern that carries information about our living cells to persist then we must specify precisely what medium carries that pattern and how it interacts with the matter particles out of which our bodies are made. We must, in other words, invent an extension to the Standard Model of Particle Physics that has escaped detection at the Large Hadron Collider. That’s almost inconceivable at the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies."
Neil deGrasse Tyson, guesting on the show, moved in to clarify, asking Cox, “If I understand what you just declared, you just asserted that CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, disproved the existence of ghosts.”
And, if any of us were in any doubt whatsoever, Professor Cox replied: "Yes."
He’s probably just still angry that he never came up with the keyboard riff in this.