Roll Over, Einstein?

I find it odd that someone who counts on his fingers would even attempt to write about physics.  But there was an article in the paper a couple of weeks ago that grabbed my attention and hasn’t let go.

Particle physicists at Cern, the European particle physics laboratory, have been researching sub atomic particles called neutrinos.  Neutrinos do not carry an electric charge, which means they’re not affected by the electromagnetic forces that act on charged particles like electrons and protons. So these infinitesimal particles are able to travel great distances through matter without being affected by it. Essentially neutrinos move through all matter without being stopped—you, me, lead, planets, even the Sun.  Bizarrely, according to a physicist friend, it is possible to trap some of the weak ones with a dry cleaning fluid.

Anyhow, scientists have been shooting them on a 730km (450 miles) journey through the Earth from Cern near Geneva, Switzerland to the Gran Sasso lab in Italy. What was remarkable about the experiments is it appears that the neutrinos seem to arrive sixty billionths of a second faster than they would have been had they been traveling at the speed of light in a vacuum.

Which, if eventually proven to be accurate, would be the most important sixty billionths of a second in the history of physics.  It would overturn Einstein’s theory of relativity and turn our explained world inexplicable.  Because, if the experiment is eventually proven correct, it sets the stage for blurring the line between the past and present and decimates the notion of cause and effect.  (The last sentence is over my head—that is, the why of it.  Someone who actually understands this will need to explain it in a comment, ‘cause I sure can’t.)  But just a glimpse of the idea itself is, for me, a mind fuck.  I somehow see Superman rapidly flying backwards around the Earth again and again at super speed in order to change the past.

As you might expect, physicists can’t and won’t believe in that 60 billionth.  Some simply don’t trust the results. (“I’ll eat my shorts if this is true.”) Others have differing rationales, for example, suggesting that different gravitational effects at the two different locations might have affected the measuring clocks.  A few have quickly come up with a “New Physics” that still maintains Einstein’s theory albeit with modifications.

Even the scientists at Cern, who have been conducting the experiments over a long period of time, are skeptical.  In fact, they’ve put out a call for other physicists to go after their results.  To try the experiment (and others) to see if it could possibly be repeated somewhere else. They themselves are creating new experiments to try to explain/overturn their own findings.

On some level, it doesn’t matter to me if this experiment turns out to be accurate or not.  I don’t expect to do much time traveling.  It’s the notion that everything we believe can, in a heartbeat, (and years of experimentation is but a heartbeat of time), be turned on its head leaving us with little or no explanation about the world in which we live.

I love that idea.  Maybe because it fits with my own experience that knowing is often only that which we perceive at a given moment.  And that knowing can, and very often does, change over time.  Sometime quite quickly.

Maybe I love the idea because I believe in the fluidity of knowledge.  Hell, with all the data that’s been streaming in from outer space for twenty or more years, we’re bound to discover that what we believe isn’t what it is.

Maybe I love the idea because as a parent I’ve lived through the growth and changes my sons have gone through and watched how mutable a life can be.

Maybe I love the idea because I still believe that people change.  Or, at least have the capacity for change.  And I’m not talking just around the edges.  I’m talking core.  Most of us know people who have gone through one type of “conversion” or another.  Religious, political, cultural.  Deep enough changes to recreate themselves.

Maybe I love the idea because artists have shown over and over throughout time that what we take for granted, what we see, can be seen so differently that our eyes open to unconsidered possibilities.

Or maybe I love the idea because it thrills me to know I know nothing.

So good luck scientists, no matter how the 60 billionth turns out.  You’ve already made my day.

Video link NEUTRINO SONG-Corrigan Brothers

“What is to give light must endure burning.” Viktor Frankl