A fast heartbeat. Snow whirling up. Adrenaline shooting through the veins. And a CUPRA Ateca Limited Edition drifting through the winter landscape. G-forces, acceleration, meters per second squared, illustrated here with a very clear example. A physical quantity that translates into pure pleasure. Car lovers know that, adrenaline junkies anyway. But acceleration also serves a much larger, more essential purpose – and here the word “essential” is being used in the right context for once, because it is really about the essentials, the essence, the core of the matter. Scientists use acceleration to answer questions like “Where do we come from?”, “Why are we here?” and “What’s at the edge of the universe?”
Twelve years ago, the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN) built a twenty-seven-kilometer circular tunnel a hundred meters below the Earth’s surface. In the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particles are accelerated to almost the speed of light in order to slam them into each other at a certain point. The energy released corresponds to the conditions that existed one millionth of a millionth of a second after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Here experimental physicists are conducting research that defies the typical boundaries of our understanding. They spend every day trying to find explanations for the impossible, taking the next step in a direction no one has ever taken before.
“Never be afraid to ask the big questions and dare to go one step further than everyone else.”
The South Korean-born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han argues that we are currently living in a “point-time”. In response to the constant acceleration, we perceive time as asynchronous, jumping from one point in time to the next. Time hopping, so to speak. The opposite would be flow – absorbing the moment while, completely immersed in one thing, we perceive time only as a blurred line that flies past. While driving a car, for example. Where the only thing that matters is accelerating, braking, steering, finding the apex and letting yourself be carried out of the curve at the right moment. Or maintaining a drift in the snow. The perfect interaction of precisely timed throttle blips and smooth counter-steering. Like here at Flüela Pass in Switzerland, 2,383 meters above sea level. In a CUPRA Ateca Limited Edition. An accelerator in its own right.
CUPRA, which stands for Cup Racing, was originally born as a sporty version of SEAT. After some top performances in motorsport, the petrolheads in Barcelona decided to develop CUPRA into an independent brand. Powerful, natural and not exclusive, yet also good-looking, comfortable and with a premium look and feel. “The most contemporary interpretation of sportiness.” So something of everything, just as everything of everything has to be something today. A path that required courage and of course also triggered criticism. They could have just left everything the way it was. Instead, the brand lives up to its slogan: “Create Your Own Path.” Made for creators, CUPRA says of itself. For creators who go their own way.
The big picture, farsightedness – works best from up high. Like here on the Flüela Pass. Or very deep underground. In the particle accelerator. “Never be afraid to ask the big questions and dare to go one step further than everyone else,” James Beacham once said in a TED talk. His research at CERN deals with dark matter and the search for other unknown particles. That’s an enormous task, one that Beacham says requires a great deal of curiosity. Psychologist William McDougall once described curiosity as the most important core of motivation and the basis for special scientific and cultural achievements. But why are we curious? Beacham explains it like this: There is a gap between what we know and what we can observe. And that doesn’t fit into our worldview. We aren’t satisfied with this condition, so we fill this gap with curiosity. Curiosity is a fire in the belly that we naturally carry within us.
“Curiosity is a fire in the belly that we naturally carry within us.”
A fire that drives us. Curiosity and courage, coupled with a bigger view of things, result in the perfect combination for progress. And sometimes coincidence plays a role too. That doesn’t sound particularly scientific, but it’s a fact: “Since the introduction of quantum physics, the factor of chance can no longer be ignored,” wrote science journalist Norbert Lossau. “Chance actually directs the microcosm. In the atomic world, individual events are fundamentally no longer precisely predictable.”
Which brings us back to gaps that need to be closed. A challenge that people like James Beacham have dedicated their lives to. When he was a little boy, he would ask the typical questions: Why is the sky blue? Why do stars twinkle? Why does the river flow downhill? The young Beacham was not satisfied with answers like “Because that’s the way it is.” Instead, he became a particle physicist at CERN. His research begins where our human knowledge ends. It deals with the really big questions. And with acceleration.