Oct 2, 2011

Relativity remains relatively unchallenged

Have I mentioned my personal 'affinity' to those bubble-brains at bigthink.com? I guess I have - their poster boy physicist Dr. Michio Kaku regularly d-explains the world by oversimplifying some piece of natural sciences. Some might smile about it, others yawn - I think it is actually dangerous.
Well, here it is.
The recent piece is tied to a freshly published paper about some accelerator-experiment in which some particles seem not to obey the speed-limit.
In his article "Breaking the speed of light and contemplating the demise of relativity" Dr. Kaku states that the scientists reported that they have recorded particles appearing to travel faster than the speed of light. Um, maybe. Maybe not. The scientists explicitly stated that they publish their data to stimulate a wider discussion as they wish to figure out what makes those particles to *appear* to be faster than light.
All is based on the measurement of time - done by a synchronization via GPS signals. Some speculate about possible errors there. It is a very solid and open way to do science: discuss possible sources of error.
Dr. Kaku is not interested in that.
He is interested in the smoke, the bang, the glitter, the gut-feeling of science.
So he reminds us of special relativity - and does it wrong. No, GPS-Satellites don't get the position wrong because of their speed. The dominating effect is the low gravitation - and so *general relativity*. Funny, that GPS with all its relativity-corrections to the clocks is used for time-synchronization of this experiment? Dr. Kaku turns Einsteins concept upside down. He asks "So why is light speed the maximum speed in the universe?" and answers "as you approach the speed of light… time stops…"etc.
It is the other way around: Einstein *assumed* that the speed of light is maximum - and looked for the consequences.
What about his 'contemplating the demise of relativity'? Nothing exciting there, just "all textbooks have to be rewritten", etc., and "what a headache!". Sure. How boring can science be?
I believe the original presse-release is so much more exciting and elucidating than that science-babble. It shows how real science works.
http://public.web.cern.ch/press/pressreleases/Releases2011/PR19.11E.html

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree, but what will be, when a particle is moving faster than light? What is imaginary mass? What will be if particle is moving for short in higher dimension?

Anonymous said...

C'mon! equations are NOT physics!!!!
There are no infinite quantities in physics even if an equation predicts them. An imaginary mass have a perfectly understandable sense, all you have to do is to comprehend what an imaginary number is. Special relativity does not impose an upper limit to the speed of an object, it imposes an upper limit to the speed that I can measure of an object... for Newton's sake!!! it is not the same thing!!!, got it?

Carsten Hucho said...

Thank you for the comments.
Even though any thought is appreciated, I believe a minimum knowledge of the scientific methods and tools is of great help.
It is not always possible to have 'an opinion' on a result.
Comments should of course always show respect of other commentators' input - and usually there should be no reason to post them anonymously.
Some remarks: Equations are part of the language used to describe physical phenomena - it is an language-extension (this is one reason why some physics-facts are not explainable in everyday language).
The base for special relativity is the assumption of a *real* upper limit of the speed of light - being constant in vacuum in any reference frame. It is not the limit of a measurement. ("got it?!")