Skip to main content

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

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?!")

Popular posts from this blog

Academics should be blogging? No.

"blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now" The London School of Economics and Political Science states in one of their, yes, Blogs . It is wrong. The arguments just seem so right: "faster communication of scientific results", "rapid interaction with colleagues" "responsibility to give back results to the public". All nice, all cuddly and warm, all good. But wrong. It might be true for scientoid babble. But this is not how science works.  Scientists usually follow scientific methods to obtain results. They devise, for example, experiments to measure a quantity while keeping the boundary-conditions in a defined range. They do discuss their aims, problems, techniques, preliminary results with colleagues - they talk about deviations and errors, successes and failures. But they don't do that wikipedia-style by asking anybody for an opinion . Scientific discussion needs a set

My guinea pig wants beer!

Rather involuntary train rides (especially long ones, going to boring places for a boring event) are good for updates on some thoughts lingering in the lower levels of the brain-at-ease. My latest trip (from Berlin to Bonn) unearthed the never-ending squabble about the elusive 'free will'. Neuroscientists make headlines proving with alacrity the absence of free will by experimenting with brain-signals that precede the apparent willful act - by as much as seven seconds! Measuring brain-activity way before the human guinea pig actually presses a button with whatever hand or finger he desires, they predict with breathtaking reproducibility the choice to be made. So what? Is that the end of free will? I am afraid that those neuroscientists would accept only non-predictability as a definite sign of free will. But non-predictability results from two possible scenarios: a) a random event (without a cause) b) an event triggered by something outside of the system (but caused).

No theory - no money!

A neuroscientist I was talking to recently complained that the Higgs-research,even the Neutrino-fluke at CERN is getting humungous funding while neuroscience is struggling for support at a much more modest level. This, despite the undisputed fact that understanding our brain, and ultimately ourselves, is the most exciting challenge around. Henry Markram of EPFL in Switzerland   is one of the guys aiming for big, big funding to simulate the complete brain. After founding the brain institute and developing methods to analyze and then reconstruct elements of the brain in a supercomputer he now applies for 1.5 Billion Euro in EU-funding for the 'flagship-projects' of Blue Brain -and many believe his project is simply too big to fail. Some call the project daring, others audacious. It is one of the so very few really expensive life-science endeavours. Why aren't there more like that around? Why do we seem to accept the bills for monstrous physics experiments more easily? Is