The Neutrinos Just Served Us a Slice of Humble Pie
“Think of it as being shot before the trigger is pulled… The universe would be a whole lot harder to understand without this link between cause and effect.“ – astro-physicist, Adam Frank
Breaking the Speed of Light
The quote above comes from an exciting article at NPR (as well as the BBC) discussing a recent study that re-affirms that the Speed of Light has been broken (by the release of a wily bunch of neutrinos). Take a moment to absorb this…
Frank continues, “If this result were true … then the structure of the world might be very different from what we believe. Einstein’s theory of relativity is built on the idea that there is an absolute cosmic speed limit — that light is the thing traveling at this speed is beside the point. Among other things, the existence of that speed limit sets the structure of causality in the Universe.”
From Frank’s assessment, one can see that breaking the speed of light jostles the very foundation of what we understand about physics. This would not be the first time in history that scientists would have to go back to the drawing board in order to (perhaps) come up with a hypothetically ‘better’ theory to help explain causality in the Universe. Newton’s explanation of physics had to be altered with Einstein’s reinterpretation and added insights (see quantum physics).
Essentially, each emerging theory of physics has been built with elements from, or the knowledge of, previous physics theories. That is, we’ve never had to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when we’ve come up with new physics theories. We have always had the ability to use aspects of what was previously understood as long as that knowledge remained available and accessible. Why not learn from history?
Now that our once stable foundation of physics is shaken (again), I would argue that we are provided with an opportune moment for deep reflection. Instead of stubbornly and ignorantly ignoring a reoccurring theme, I would suggest we use this moment to sit down for a second, take a deep breath, reflect and enjoy that slice of humble pie baked by our own supercilious arrogance and served to us by a wily bunch of neutrinos.
The Empowering Taste of Humble Pie
With an acknowledgement that these results will remain contestable, I see the study’s current findings as absolutely empowering. Breaking the speed of light is fascinating, the consequences however, are scientifically humbling: We don’t actually know what we think we know. Specifically, we can’t seem to define, predict or pre-state any sort of law that would explain or entail how the universe functions. Perhaps, as Heraclitus once said (2700 years ago) it simply just “bubbles forth.”
What if we acknowledged the one reoccurring theme that has emerged throughout the history of theoretical and applicable physics? “Uncertainty” is the theme and embracing it could prove to be a wonderful learning experience. The ‘humbling’ knowledge becomes empowering only if it is acknowledged as such. “Aye, there’s the rub.” It could mean that instead of boldly pressing forward, waving our technocratic and economic flags of pompous certainty, we take this moment to eat our slice of humble pie with dignity. We take this moment to reflect a little more about the ontology of what we think we know. We take this moment to realize that if WE’RE not right (most of the time), perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge other people with other perspectives that may be different or run counter to our own.
Maybe we’re ALL a little off in our theories (and will continue to be off in our new theories) because the complexity of a theory will always be less complex than the complexity of reality. Which leaves us with ‘uncertainty’ as the status quo and humbleness as perhaps our quasi-new prerequisite. I can almost guarantee, there will always be more humble pie to eat later on. Why not enjoy a small slice now?