Barbara Hand Clow pointed to an interesting — even “earth-shattering,” no; let’s call it “dimension-shattering,” or “dimension blending”— news event that occurred on October 28, 2011, the end of the Calleman version of the Mayan Calendar: “Exactly on that day, physics announced that the Faster-than-Light Neutrino experiment was to be rerun, and if the results were the same, Einstein’s Relativity Theory would have to be challenged by physics.”
For if neutrinos can penetrate matter as if it isn’t solid, then is it solid?
And wait a minute, “faster than the speed of light?” Huh? Not possible! Well, not possible within the current framework of our most advanced scientific thinking. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible; it just means that, like all epistemological frameworks, Einsteinian physics sets up a certain structure of unprovable assumptions beyond which we cannot go lest we fall through space forever.
So interesting, how we humans keep trying to construct an epistemological framework that will avoid the “infinite regress,” limit the limitless, set a secure, stable, steady, forever foundation upon which we can stand. There is no such thing! All frameworks, no matter how grand, are mere posits in the mysterious void, this presence, this timeless being, within which all possibilities arise and subside and arise again.
Here’s one reporter that took note of possible implications of what we have framed up as “neutrinos” and their weird behavior. Thanks to the guardian.
In this year of political revolution and upheaval, the greatest subversive may turn out to be a tiny particle
November 22, 2011
by Jonathan Jones
What does history look like? This year has produced its images of revolution and riot and the humiliation and death of dictators. But will any of these familiar pictures in the news or the stories they illustrate prove as consequential as this abstract, colourful and ethereal picture of the tracks of tiny particles called neutrinos?
The neutrino – a constituent of nature that is not just microscopic but interacts so weakly with the rest of matter that it is a spectral voyager through immensities of rock or metal – may prove the true revolutionary, the real subversive, of our time.
Forget V for Vendetta masks and the Spanish election. The surface excitement of politics has absolutely no weight in the scale of historical significance we are talking about here. A second experiment, it was announced last week, appears to confirm this September’s startling announcement that neutrinos sent from Cern in Switzerland to receptive “bricks” at the Gran Sasso laboratory 450 miles away in Italy seemed to arrive a little faster than the speed of light.
“Appears”, “seemed” – there are plenty of further tests and checks to be done before physicists can treat this experimental finding as even close to a true discovery. Already, a second team at the same laboratory have questioned the latest as well as the earlier findings in the last few days. The scale of such a blow to one of the central claims of modern science – that nothing can travel faster than light – would contradict, to put it mildly, a picture of the universe that has evolved since Albert Einstein.
Reports on this story have been understandably cautious. Leading physicists voice extreme scepticism. The field of quantum mechanics that deals with tiny phenomena like the neutrino is, in any case, so hard to comprehend that one of its greatest authorities, Richard P Feynman, said of it: “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
No wonder public discussion of this most unexpected scientific development has so far been muted and respectful, waiting for the expert community that discovered the anomaly by accident – the Opera experiment at Gran Sasso was devised to isolate different varieties of neutrino, not to test Einstein – to work out what it all means, or doesn’t. But it’s time to rush in where science writers fear to tread. It is bad for our culture to treat something on this scale as just a question for the physics world.
If the public cannot see vast and terrible meanings in a finding like this, we truly live in CP Snow’s “two cultures” where experts have conversations of interest only to themselves, and the greatest questions of nature are reduced to over-professionalised seminar fodder.
Great moments in science are never only about science. History shows that scientific developments – even apparently technical and narrow discoveries that seem entirely internal to a discipline – are connected in rich and complex ways with the world around them. Just as a play by Shakespeare reflects and shapes the ideas and passions of Renaissance Britain to its last syllable, so do scientific theories.
Who would think of sealing off Copernicus from the wider history of the world? His assertion that the earth orbits the sun instead of sitting at the heart of the universe marked the end of the middle ages. Galileo’s empirical defence of Copernicus in Baroque Italy rightly made him a hero, not just of science, but of reason itself, his moral dilemmas dramatised as the predicament of the modern intellectual in Bertolt Brecht’s play Galileo. The story of science is the story of intellectual freedom, of technology, of our “ascent”, as its great exponent Jacob Bronowski showed.
“The leitmotif which I recognise in Galileo’s work is the passionate fight against any kind of dogma based on authority. Only experience and careful reflection are accepted by him a criteria of truth” – so wroteEinstein. Today, the authority whose powerful ideas are potentially contradicted by an experiment is Einstein himself. What does that mean, not scientifically, but culturally – what does it say about us and our time?
The Times had no trouble 92 years ago in announcing the fall of a previous authority. On 7 November 1919, after a joint meeting of the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society heard that British observations of an eclipse in west Africa confirmed predictions about the gravitational bending of starlight in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, the Thunderer’s headline graciously acknowledged a German intellectual victory: “Revolution in Science – New Theory of the Universe – Newtonian ideas overthrown.”
If Newtonianism died in 1919, so did many other assumptions and institutions. It is not hard for us to see how Einstein’s work – his first paper on special relativity was submitted to a journal in 1905 – fits into the maelstrom of change at the start of the 20th century. When Einstein was comprehending light, Picasso was seeing a mask of stone in the face of Gertrude Stein, Gaudi imagining houses as jewelled caverns, Lenin watching for the moment of destiny. When the Times announced a revolution in science, many countries were menaced by revolutions in politics. The fall of Newton matched the fall of the Habsburgs and Romanovs.
Today, are we also seeing such profound changes in the social world that somehow the very foundations of nature change in sympathy? Anyone who thinks this an absurd claim – obviously I mean that nature changes in our imagination, to our comprehension, not in essence – needs to consider relativity itself. Einstein’s theory cannot be seen as a dry technical solution to problems raised by late 19th-century science. It was born in the revolutionary age of the early 20th century, as much a cultural creation of that time as Schoenberg’s music.
What changes today might match the possible threat to Einstein’s universe? Economic shakes judder the foundations of the western world as dangerously as these experimental results would shake the fabric of science, should they be confirmed. The universal democratising, or anarchic, forces of the social media age bring all authority into doubt, even as this experiment menaces the greatest authority in modern science.
On the other hand, new possibilities blossom: democracy spreads as an ideal, and new generations speak out against the old. The world is as unmoored, as ripe with menace and possibility, today as it was a century ago. This strange moment in science is the perfect expression of our strange times. Even if the results are overturned and Einstein’s universe endures, the panic would be revealing, for the very readiness to contemplate something so extreme might be a response to extreme crises in the world. Even science is on the verge of a nervous breakdown or a riot, it seems
Real changes happen at fundamental levels. That is why the image of the neutrino’s path is the true, troubling and beautiful historic image of 2011.