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Monday, October 8, 2012

Higgs boson, existence of mass and world: Interviews

 

Pemptousia’s Petros Panayiotopoulos contacted Panayiotis Haritos who works at CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, now at the centre of world-wide interest. Mr. Haritos kindly agreed to grant us an exclusive interview on the burning issues occupying the minds of the scientific community and the public at large.

Mr. Haritos is a Th. D. candidate who holds a degree from the Physics and Mathematics School at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, with post-graduate studies in astrophysics at Imperial College, London and in theology.

P. You came to CERN only recently and your arrival more or less coincided with the announcement concerning the Higgs boson. Tell about the atmosphere you found here.
P.H. The days before the announcement was made were accompanied by quite a bit of speculation as to what it might contain. Some people thought that the discovery of the particle would be announced, but with a lower degree of statistic significance than there was in the actual statement. The most optimistic may have expected that a complete identification of the particle would be announced, i.e. that there would also be details about properties other than its mass, while there were a good many others who had their doubts and claimed that nothing new had been discovered, or even that the statement might say that the particle did not even exist in the masses we were looking for. 

You realize, I’m sure, that it was a period of some pressure for everybody, and a lot of people stayed up all night- literally- in front of their computers, analyzing data so that we would have the greatest possible degree of credibility in the announcement. An awful lot of people had to work on the successful statement, as well, which came with a direct transmission from Australia where the 36th International Conference on High Energy Physics was being held and was covered by journalists from all over the world who had arrived at CERN. In fact, despite the announcement that the amphitheatre would open at 7:30 a.m., quite a few people spent the night in the corridors and when the doors opened all the seats were immediately filled! Fortunately, this had been foreseen and screens had been set up at other points of CERN as well, and of course there were live updates on the CERN web site.

What has stayed with me more than anything was the emotion on the face of Higgs himself and also on those of the other theoretical physicists who had been waiting for decades for the confirmation of their theories. Do you know how difficult that is? I was also moved by the justification of the efforts of those hundreds of people who had had to work for about 20 years on the construction of all the machinery thanks to which it was possible to trace the particle. If you think about it, we’re talking about a lifetime for thousands of people who’d worked towards this goal, in the theoretical field, the applied, the data collection and the technological construction. Imagine how intense it was to observe the justification of their life’s efforts.

P. What’s your main task here? How far is it linked to the Higgs boson?
P.H. At CERN I’m working on the ALICE experiment (= A Large Ion Collider Experiment) and I’m working on the dissemination of the results. Don’t forget, we’re talking about large experiments with 35 participating countries and more than 100 physicists from all over the world. Naturally it’s important to communicate your results both to the public at large and also to the special teams of scientists or companies who are interested in the technology that’s being developed within  the framework of our basic research. The ALICE experiment has to do with the physics of heavy ions, i.e. atoms which have had the electrons removed. This is a special area of physics which has as its aim the study of the components you find on the inside of the nuclei. As you know, the nucleus is made up of protons and neutrons, which also, however, present an internal structure and are composed of even more fundamental particles, what we call quarks. 

These remain united within the interior of the protons and neutrons because of a third type of particle called gluons (from “glue”). The quarks and gluons are, under normal circumstances, locked into the interior of the protons and neutrons and can’t exist freely. In the ALICE experiment, we collide the nuclei of heavy elements, particularly lead. The greater weight means that they have more protons on the inside, and this makes it easier for us as regards our observations. In the experiment, the particles are accelerated close to the speed of light, so we’re able to achieve very high temperatures, at which the protons and neutrons in a sense “melt”, so that the quarks and gluons are able to exist freely and we can study them.
In other words, these high temperatures (more than 100,000 times the temperature at the heart of the Sun) allow the quarks and gluons to exist in a free state. These are the conditions which, according to the established cosmological model, obtained for a few fractions of a second after the Big Bang (10-5 sec.). At that time, the universe was so hot that the quarks and gluons could exist freely, forming a different condition of matter, which is called “quark-gluon plasma (QGP). This was a super-hot condition (imagine temperatures 100, 000 times that of the heart of the Sun). 

Today, this condition of matter is created in our accelerators- it had already been observed in the RHIC in the United States and now at the LHC at CERN- at the centre of the collision of the ions, and we’re attempting to study it, with the aim of understanding both the structure of the components of the cosmos which surrounds us, as well as the manner in which the universe has evolved. The above experiments are an effort to fill in the facets of Quantum Chromodynamics, which was posited in the 1950s and describes the interaction of quarks, but they are also of exceptional importance both in nuclear physics as well as in astrophysics and cosmology. So, you see, we’re progressing to a stage where the various branches of science “teach” one another, especially at the level of the high energies at which we find ourselves today.

So, to come to the second part of your question, I’d say that the ALICE experiment does not have as its aim the search for and study of the Higgs boson. On the other hand, the experiments which were planned and have concentrated on the search for the Higgs were the ATLAS and the CMS and it was these that came out with the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs. Having said that, there’s a complementarity between the experiments as regards what I described to you. There are teams both at ATLAS and CMS which weren’t concerned with the Higgs but worked on the physics of heavy ions and, using the different architectonics of the detectors in those experiments, they can have better observations in different energy areas.

P. May we focus a little more closely on the boson itself.- as you can readily understand that’s what’s piquing the interest of most people today. Could you tell us in a few words why this particle is considered so important and what prospects its discovery opens up for the scientific community?
PH. I imagine you’ve heard that the reason the Higgs boson is thought to be so important is that it’s linked to the existence of the Higgs field, which appears to have been in force immediately after the Big Bang throughout  the universe, and the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs mechanism through which all the particles known to us acquire mass. The problem physicists were faced with was the explanation of the way in which particles acquire the masses we know that they have today and also the existence of such great differences in the masses, even among those particles which we know do not have another internal structure. So what was needed was a mechanism that explains how the various elemental particles acquire their mass. This is a problem that arose as early as the 1960s in the so-called Standard Model.

According to the Standard Model, the four interactions which there are in physics are transmitted through particular particles which are also carriers of these forces. The weak nuclear force is transmitted through the W+, W- and Z bosons (a discovery which also happened at CERN and which won the Nobel prize); the electromagnetic force between photons; the strong nuclear through the gluons; and, finally, gravity which is believed to be transmitted through the graviton, which has not yet been traced experimentally (although experiments aimed at finding it are under way). Now the W and Z particles, which are responsible for the weak interactions (thanks to which the stars and the sun produce energy in their interiors) have mass, while the photons, which are the electromagnetic force bearers (thanks to which telecommunications, the transmission of light and a series of other such phenomena are possible) do not have any. 

This was one of the difficulties the Higgs field proposal sought to address. Why was there such a great difference of masses between the force bearing particles? Besides there was the question of why there was a difference of mass? The Higgs mechanism, or, more precisely, the Englert-Brout-Higgs, from the names of the three scientists who first proposed it, manages to explain elegantly the observed differences of mass, and the existence of the Higgs particle confirms this mechanism.
Now the manner in which the Higgs mechanism interprets the existence of masses is quite a technical subject in modern field theory. But you can imagine it as a layer of snow or the surface of a lake, where different particles, as they travel, encounter different resistance. It’s precisely this resistance and difficulty of movement due to the Higgs field that we measure as the mass of the particles.

P. Are there any other theories that could explain the existence of mass?
P.H Yes, there are other theories that could explain, through a variety of mechanisms, the manner in which particles gain their mass and the problem of the prioritization of the masses. For example, the theories  that suggest the existence of other dimensions of space or theories of supersymmetry (SUSY) which posit suspersymmetric partners for the particles we know so far. Of course, these supersymmetric partners have a far greater mass than the particles we know and so it’s very difficult to locate them with today’s detectors.
Also, despite the strong indications that we now have regarding its existence, I must tell you that we don’t know whether the Higgs is a fundamental particle, as forecast in the Standard Model, or whether it’s a more complex particle or even whether it’s a whole family of particles with properties we don’t know.

P. How long have the ATLAS and CMS experiments been ongoing?
P.H. These experiments were planned about three decades ago, as far back as 1983. They actually started with the opening of CERN’s new accelerator, the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), which was inaugurated in December 2009. So it’s the work of decades, and dozens of research teams and thousands of people from all over the world have been involved.
 The experiments began three years ago and the data collection on the matters under investigation is forecast to last as long as the LHC accelerator’s functioning, which, as far as I know, is until 2020.

P. About how many collisions have taken place within that time?
P.H. I’d say we’ve had about a few trillion events (for the record that a million billion or a quadrillion), among which we’re looking for a few dozen that might correspond to the Higgs. These are collisions of bundles of protons which have an energy of about 8TeV. So you realize how difficult it is to detect them. If you like, that’s why two different experiments, ATLAS and CMS were planned and put into operation from the beginning to look for something similar.

P. The data that led to the recent statement came from which part of the experiment in terms of time? What are the chances of error and how high are they thought to be?
P.H. The results presented this month are based on data from the whole of 2011 and the first six months of 2012. I’d just like to remind you that there had been an earlier announcement based on the 2011 data, but that one had a large statistical fluctuation and so we needed to wait for the analysis of more data to be able to form a better statistical evaluation of the result. To be precise, both ATLAS and CMS announced their results with a statistical significance of 5 sigmas. This means that the likelihood of error is about 1 in 3,000,000. But actually, the fact that the sign of the existence of the particle has been confirmed by two different research teams, in my view, leaves even less room for doubt. I now think that the margin of error is about 1.0GeV in the measurement of the mass of the Higgs, which was found to be126 GeV by ATLAS and 125.5 by CMS. This margin of error is due to the construction of the detectors which, as I said before, were used in the two experiments.

In an accelerator that collides bundles of protons, the physical procedures are such that the likelihood of producing a Higgs boson is raised significantly by an increase in the energy of the collision. For example, production of a Higgs boson in 2011, when the LHC was working with energies of 3.5 TeV in each bundle was 27% less probable than in 2012, when there were 4TeV in each bundle. Precisely because we’re dealing with a particle that’s exceptionally rare, statistics play an important role and a large sample needs to be collected. This means that in the coming months we’ll be in a position to form a more accurate picture of the properties of the particle that’s been observed. During this particular time, both ATLAS and CMS will have processed more data and from the first months of 2012 will have almost trebled the total amount of data processed. They’ll therefore be in a position to give us a better picture of the properties of the particle.

P. Let’s go on to the impact of the news, especially here in Greece. You’ll be aware that everyone’s talking about the “God particle”, the “experiment of the century” and other weighty or portentous matters. On the one hand, it really is a very important achievement and the stir is no doubt justified. On the other, you know very well that, as a people, we Greeks have a tendency to sound off on any subject under the sun, whether we’re qualified to do so or not. How do you see this scenario, now that you have, as it were, the benefit of distance?
P.H. For a start, and as you know,  the term “God particle” is one which is not accepted by the scientific community and actually annoys most high energy physicists. Higgs himself, in an earlier interview, expressed his reservations about the term and the reactions it would cause among those who believe in God. In any case, the name was given by the editor of the Nobel prize winning physicist Leon Lederman. In 1994, Lederman wanted to use the expression “The Goddamn Particle” in the title of a book of his, but his editor urged him not to do so and to put “The God Particle” insteadSince then, this has, unfortunately, become standard and has done more to provoke reactions than to represent the scientific significance of the particle.

As regards the impact of the news in Greece, what has made the biggest impression on me  is the number of people who have lost no time in underrating the importance of the discovery, to the extent that it would appear not to give direct answers or to have any direct benefit or improvement in our lives. This may be just my impression, but I also read an excellent article, to which I refer you, which led me to believe that there was this kind of communication management and in which some weaknesses in the journalistic approach are analyzed (The Boson and the Memorandum- journalists of bewilderment.

You might say that this reaction is to some extent justified, if you think about the economic and social problems facing us. When you’re constantly hearing about suicides and you’re experiencing the difficulties or meeting your obligations and so on, it may well be that the discovery of the Higgs boson and the importance of the Standard Model sound highly irrelevant. But there’s another interpretation of this nihilistic, or, if you prefer, dismissive reaction to the discovery, which I believe has its significance. 

In my view, it’s an indication of the level of public discourse in Greece and the way in which the public sphere is formed. Unfortunately, even though hours are wasted on television with political gossip (as political reporting is often dubbed) commensurate time isn’t devoted to the presentation of scientific achievements in which Greek research teams are taking part through the projects of international co-operation which they’re engaged on. There are dozens of research groups in the country with international involvements (even on the experiments we’re discussing) and people with a significant contribution to their field of science who are persevering despite the difficulties. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the position they occupy in the public sphere is non-existent and the few times they do get to make an appearance, it’s as something exotic and out of the ordinary. There’s no sense that they’re people who are close to us and are thriving and might actually constitute a different model of life. 

I think that public discourse and the Greek public sphere is to a large extent out of joint and in my view this is one of the factors connected with the specific features of the economic crisis in the country. Permit me to explain that what I’ve just said is not a defence of the supremacy of science and of “experts”, nor does it indicate reservations about what in recent years has come to be called “technocratic discourse”- which is often, and in my opinion wrongly identified with scientific. Because there’s another point here: in my view scientific discourse can be and is a factor in posing questions and formulating doubts, and the fact that it uses a strictly defined language and a particular methodology does not automatically close the door to any kind of uncertainty. And this is where I would draw the distinction between technocratic discourse, which claims to be absolutely certain how to manage problems and to provide solutions.

On the other hand, we have to be able to discern whether the reactions to the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs  boson (including those from some of the clergy) are related to the communication package or the scientific event itself. It’s my impression that it’s more the first. Certainly, there were some exaggerations in the coverage of the statement and I understand that. In any case, the hype may well have been an attempt to justify the lack of knowledge of the real content of the discovery, for which we, as scientists probably ought to share some of the blame. As I’ve said, it’s an exceptionally difficult and technical problem which, in conjunction with the almost one-dimensional nature of the Greek public sphere, favours recourse to hyperbole.

P. Do you have a picture of how the same discussion has unfolded in other countries?
P.H. I don’t have a detailed and full picture. But I do know that the discovery was a global event for the media and dominated the front pages  of lots of newspapers from Australia to India, Brazil to Norway and some countries in Africa, as well. In fact, the CERN’s main building there’s a board where they’ve collected all the front pages of the newspapers that mentioned it and the number’s really impressive. I think the amount of enthusiasm varied  from country to country and between cultures. At the same time, it shows the responsibility of the scientific community when it has the opportunity to produce events of global interest and world-wide coverage.
Something that might be worth sharing with you, since it has a theological dimension: it’s the e-mail I received from a co-worker of ours at the University of Rajasthan, in India. It was news of the foundation of the first temple to the Higgs boson in some part of India. Since Hinduism is polytheistic, the particle’s been accorded the status of a divinity. Apart from that, Fr. Gabriele Gionti, an astronomer from the Vatican Observatory visited CERN on the day of the announcement and shared the enthusiasm of the researchers. I think the breadth of the reactions indicates how deep the discussion is about the relationship between religion and science. Unlike the way in which a kind of anti-theism  is being projected today, with a variety of charges being leveled at religion. 

There’s a profound critique of the views of two well-known atheists of our time, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins in a recent book by the Marxist historian and philosopher Terry Eagleton, which is well worth the read (Reason, Faith and Revolution). Any discussion on the subject cannot, in my view, be exhausted by the choice between the science of enlightenment and the religion of obscurantism. Religion and science may not occupy one and the same field, but we still need more extensive concepts and ideas than the one above to describe the relationship between them.

P. Since you’ve referred to the theological projections of this discovery and you’ve served both disciplines, physics and theology, tell us what your first feelings are about this step forwards in our knowledge.
P.H. Personally I feel a little uncomfortable with that question, which I’ve had put to me by co-workers here at CERN, as well, who know about my inclination towards theology. To be honest, and at the risk of disappointing you, I don’t at this moment see how the discovery of the Higgs boson might directly affect theological thought. At least  don’t understand why it should affect it any more than the likely discovery of gravitational waves. the W and Z bosons, anti-matter or dark matter. It’s an idea which was proposed 50 years ago and actually forms part of a model which we know doesn’t tell  us everything about the universe we observe today.

As Rolf Heuer, the Director General of CERN observed, the Higgs boson is part of a model (the so-called Standard Model), which describes 4% of the matter that makes up the universe, the rest being practically unknown  to us. Of course, there’s hope that something might be discovered about what we call dark matter by the LHC or other experiments, but, again, I don’t see what the theological implications might be. I don’t think conclusions can easily be drawn and if we need anything, it is, n my opinion, to think about and redefine the field of this dialogue and its tools. This may be due to my own ignorance, but I would see this as a priority, given, if you like, the new field of scientific discoveries we’re entering with the LHC at CERN and other large experiments throughout the world.

At the same time I’d like to say that I don’t share, or at least don’t understand, the unease of those who claim that the discovery of the Higgs particle may indicate something about the existence (or otherwise) of God, nor, on the other hand, the exaggerated celebrations. As I mentioned, as part of the Standard Model, the Higgs boson is responsible for 4%, but even if- and it’s likely-we find something at CERN concerning dark matter and we then learn about another 26%, there’ll still be plenty that’s not known. The discovery of the Higgs is a small point, which probably raises more questions than the answers it gives. In the first place, we need to investigate the properties of this particle more fully. Then we need to find what it is that gives mass to the Higgs itself, and a series of other questions. But this possibility of continuously asking questions is the only path by which  science can advance and its on this possibility, in my opinion, that it’s worth talking theologically. The discovery reminds us of the constant thinking about the meaning and content of theology, which, in my view, is, above all others, the sphere where new questions are being asked and addressed all the time.
It’s the attitude we adopt to things and in this case to science. We expect it to provide us with certainties about the world or we cultivate the sensitivity of the quest for new meanings and the positing of new questions, on the basis of the tools we have at our disposal.
In the end I think of the words of Elytis:
“Somewhere, it seems, they’ll be relaxing
though there’s no houses or people at all
I hear guitars and other laughs that aren’t close by
Maybe far away in the embers of the heavens
Andromeda, the Bear or Virgo…
So is solitude perhaps the same in all
the worlds?”
This may be the problem that’s important, and to answer it we just have to try to investigate and not abandon the effort.

P. These are really interesting subjects you’re touching on. But let’s get back to CERN. Are there any other experiments being carried out there at the moment?
P.H. Well, of course, at the moment the four basic LHC experiments are ongoing: ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb and they’re called this because they analyze data from the LHC (Large Hadron Collider). There are also two smaller experiments, TOTEM and LHCf which are concentrating on protons and heavy ions. These experiments take place along the length of the 27 kilometre ring of the accelerator, in different areas. Then there are those taking place in the other accelerators at CERN, the so-called non LHC experiments, among which I’d number COMPASS and SHINE, which take date from the Super Proton Synchrotron; DIRAC, which studies the strong force binding quarks and takes data from the Proton Synchrotron; CLOUD, which studies cosmic radiation; and ACE, AEGIS, ALPHA, ASACUSA and ATRAP which are based on the CERN antiproton decelerator.

P. When do you expect the research procedures concerning the Higgs boson to have been completed?
P.H. After the first announcement of the results, an extension of about 7 weeks was given for the LHC to continue working, which means that the collection of data will continue until December. We need more analysis, as I mentioned, so that we can understand the Higgs boson and can measure its properties fully. Thereafter, from February 2013 until 2014, the collider will close, so that we can make adjustments and trials on the subsystems before it starts working again. But this time it’ll be able to reach double the level of energy, the aim being 14 TeV. At these energy levels, we expect even more important discoveries and certainly a whole lot of work is ready and waiting for physicists in the next few years.

P. Do you know if there’s a plan for the next important scientific goal at CERN?
P.H. Apart from looking for the Higgs, the LHC is continuing its study of the properties of quarks  and is trying to understand what happened in the first seconds after the big bang and the ways in which matter interacted in those first few stages.  Why, for example, did quarks stop being free and united to form protons and neutrons. What’s the reason behind what we now call asymptotic freedom and what is it that causes it? Why is it that, although matter and antimatter were produced in equal quantities, it now seems that matter is dominant and they have not been dematerialized? 

 Apart from that, while the matter we know about constitutes only 4% of the matter of the universe, the LHC will be trying to understand what happened to the other 26% that forms what we call dark matter.  There are a lot of really interesting questions in the research programme of the LHC and even if not all of them have yet been answered, but I think that the physics of these new energies- which we’ve managed for the fist time to see experimentally- will allow us to formulate new questions or to confirm older hypotheses. And finally, as you know, at the same time as our experiments at CERN other large ones are being planned or are already running, such as the experiment to detect gravitational waves, the neutrino detection (in both of which a good number of Greek scientists are taking part), the results for the measurements of the Planck satellite and so on, and all of these are working towards fitting more pieces into the picture that physics is looking for.

P. How about the Greek presence at CERN?
P.H. At this moment , there’s a very strong Greek research presence at CERN. Research teams from the Universities of Athens, Thessaloniki and Ioannina, as well as from the Metsovio Technical University are participating in both ATLAS and CMS. Besides this, the University of Athens is taking part in the ALICE experiment, which is the one I’m working on. I hope I haven’t forgotten any team. I’d rather not mention names, because there are rather a lot and I don’t want to miss anyone out.

Apart from that, quite a number of Greek scientists are working on the non-LHC experiments I referred to. There’s Greek participation on the theoretical side, where the head of the theory department at CERN at the moment is Ignatios Antoniadis, the theoretical physicist, as well as on the experimental branch. And there are also a good number of Greek students here writing their doctoral theses and undergraduates who come for the summer school  that’s organized every year by CERN at this time. I should add that Greece was one of the first member countries to take part in the creation of the European Organization for Nuclear Research and is always represented on the governing board.

P. May we turn for a moment to your theological interests. Your post-graduate treatise was to do with the work of the great modern Patristics scholar Fr. George Florovsky. How far do you think his thinking can contribute to the current dialogue between theology and the sciences?
P.H. That’s difficult question that would need quite a lot of time to expand into a detailed answer. And it’s not easy to give an answer, because I can’t recall Florovsky himself making any direct reference to the relationship between religion and science in any of the texts we have. But I think a sketch of the answer would be based on the fact that science is part of the culture of any given period and is part of particular historical and cultural contexts. From this point of view, any scientific discovery and its reception goes towards shaping culture as a way of life, although we know from the history of scientific discoveries that this doesn’t always happen immediately, but rather needs a certain distance of time. It’s undeniable, though, that, as it evolves, science shapes our way of life to a large degree and is part of our culture.

So within this context it’s worth having a look at the way in which theology interacts with the sciences. What is the proposal for life and culture that each has to make? What sort of approach should you have in speaking about the word of God in the face of today’s scientific achievements and, by extension, contemporary society? To that question, Florovsky certainly has a lot to offer. His contribution is  really marvelous here as are his thoughts on the way in which Scripture and the thoughts of the Fathers discourse with the culture of each era. Especially the importance and meaning that tradition has in this dialogue. Indeed, both in his book Scripture and Tradition: an Orthodox View and, indeed, in the whole of his work, Florovsky poses the above questions in an apposite manner and opens the discussion.

Another thing I think his work can teach us is the care and system with which he himself converses with the philosophical movements that were blossoming at that time and the way in which he comments on them. His references to existentialism, the philosophy of Heidegger, Sartre and Levinas and his efforts to construct a theological discourse against them is undertaken with typical sensitivity, which, in my view, is essential for a dialogue between theology and the other sciences. In Florovsky’s work we see neither facile anathemas nor frivolous celebrations of the superiority of Orthodoxy and I believe that the avoidance of those two elements is a particularly useful paradigm for people who are concerned about the dialogue between religion and the sciences.

P. The doctoral thesis you’re working on has to do with the theological perspective on the natural environment. From your own research, how do you see contemporary theological thought coming to grips with the problems of creation?
P.H. I think there’s a lot of vitality in theological thought at the moment as regards the problems of creation and particularly the environment and I’d say that this represents an opportunity for a renewal of theological discourse. The intensity and extent of the problem are, in my view, a chance to produce a contemporary theological discourse and, I’d say, meeting this challenge presupposes serious theological reflection. Naturally, I recognize the danger, which has been pointed out by Orthodox theologians, that the environment is an easy area for a show of force and that our discourse could easily be misconstrued as idle chatter. But at the same time I’d say that the unprecedented nature of the challenge and the threat posed to humanity and creation allow us to reflect theologically in entirely new ways.
Within the realm of Orthodox theology I notice an underlying tension between the moral and ontological approaches to the problem of ecology, which it seems to me derives in large measure from the ideal of restoring a harmonious picture between people and creation- a harmony of paradise. I wouldn’t want to deny the importance of that picture at all, but it does raise the question of how useful it is for the handling of today’s ecological crisis, which as universal features, both as regards its extent and also its impact on other subsystems (e.g. the economy, security, politics and so on). Perhaps what we need is another form of theological discourse which will, of course, be grounded in tradition and the eschatological expectation of a paradise, but will also take into account some elements of the crisis as described by sociology and the natural sciences. And this is where Florovsky’s thought is particularly helpful. My own personal answer is positive. In this direction I think that the work of the Metropolitan of Pergamum on the ecological crisis has opened up new paths for theological thought as a whole. I wouldn’t dwell so much on the notion of people as priests of creation (an subject of discussion for a decade now), but rather on the fact that he locates the special position of people in relation to the rest of creation in the possibility of a personal relationship, rather than in our rationality. An approach such as that allows us today to discuss the ecological problem more in terms of a relationship between identity and hetericity or otherness and the way in which people deal with their environment. This is an enduring tension between the two, but I think that this tension lies deep in the core of Christianity and its historical course.
It’s here where, in my view, an interesting field of dialogue is opening up between theology and science. How can both of them contribute to the management of such a serious problem, the repercussions of which we experience every day, even if we refuse to see them as such (you know, people need to enlist dangers into their symbolic system in order to react, and sometimes this procedure fails!)? Contrary to the numerous efforts at dialogue that have taken place so far and which were concerned with a) proof of the existence or otherwise of God; and b) a discussion about the beginning and stating point of the Creation of the world, I think that today the field of the ecological crisis offers us a new opportunity for such a dialogue (with different qualitative characteristics, as you realize). How does science contribute to this, in what way can Churches contribute, what is the scientific and theological dialogue that will help us to realize the problem and also to avoid the exaggerations that make people distrustful? I think that theological thought can work hand in hand with science to address these problems and I believe they are a challenge to engage in a fruitful dialogue, which could embrace a wider public.

P. Thank you for the time you’ve given us, the valuable information and the reflections you’ve shared.
P.H. Thank you.



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