Don’t bet against Einstein. Smarter people and actual scientists have said as much in response to the flurry of news about neutrinos breaking light speed. I believe the CERN results are accurate, but I also believe that three or four dimensional space restricts its residents to 186,000 miles per second. The neutrino news has raced across headlines and blogs; I only weigh in because it is a) fabulous, and b) musical.
A century of physics supports Relativity’s postulation that nothing can exceed the speed of light, and I am stupidly devoted to the idea that Einstein had special access to the thoughts of the ‘Old One.’ That said, these new results may echo more accurately old Albert’s reaction to quantum uncertainty: Yes, the results are accurate; No, this cannot be the final word. He was a bit of a curmudgeon when faced with quantum theory, but he earned it.
The curious, ghostly neutrino is also a notorious troublemaker. It sets the bar for weak interaction (exceeded, maybe, only by WIMPS?), guards its signature against all detection, and suggests its existence more often than not as nothing more than a bit of missing energy.
To top all that, the barely-there rapscallion has its own unique symmetry breaking qualities. Most particles exhibit both clockwise and counter-clockwise spins. The neutrino, however, spins counter-clockwise exclusively. So what’s that about? And what’s the story with other oscillations believed to be exclusive to the neutrino? Read more from Chelsea Whyte, one of New Scientist’s reporters, a slayer at the vanguard of the next generation of science writing.
I’m betting the farm on dimensional burrowing. I think (Based on intuition? Blind faith in Einstein? Fanciful belief in the awesome?) that the neutrino is a thresholder, flitting in and out of traditional space-time. The particle, effectively the grand prize in the entire intensity frontier of physics, interacts so seldom that it retains its mystery. Who can say it doesn’t punch through our universe through a private worm hole? I can’t certainly, and it’s really quite fun to say that it does. The short of it: neutrinos take a shortcut through space and time that makes them appear to move faster than light, which confines its journey to the traditional racetracks. But, critically, at no point does the particle itself actually exceed the speed of the photon.
Einstein once bet against his own intuition. His work on relativity suggested an expanding universe, but he believed that current experimental results and prevailing science confirmed a static cosmos. And so he introduced the cosmological constant to balance equations. Then Edwin Hubble observed the redshift way out there in space and thereby confirmed the expansion of the universe. Einstein called the cosmological constant his greatest blunder. Fantastically, in 1998 when the expansion was shown to be accelerating, physicists resurrected that blunder to articulate the dynamics of dark energy.
Honestly, though, you want to gamble against this guy? Here he is with Rabindranath Tagore. I only chose this photo because how can it be possible? And, well, cross-dimensional magic.
It’s exciting to see physics in upheaval. The next decades will assault Einstein as both gravitational waves and the graviton (a dimensional bleeder, itself) become more and more observable.
On another note, I am head-over-heels thrilled that the neutrino just won itself some prestige. It’s always been weird, but never exactly tantalizing to the general public. When Fermilab’s atom-smashing Tevatron shut down on September 30, the high-energy frontier moved soundly to Europe and the Large Hadron Collider. The end of that trail-blazer is in some ways tragic, if only because it was continuing to break ground and might still have made discoveries. But the doom-and-gloom was overblown, and the grand machine had an absolutely glorious run. Fermilab now shifts its focus to the intensity frontier. And how fabulous is the timing? Right when the neutrino upends physics, the leading theoretical physics lab in the United States prepares to lead the way in neutrino experimentation? It’s beautiful.
And on yet another note, all these scientists hunting for extra-dimensional signatures in neutrinos or in the wreckage of proton collisions within the LHC are missing much more obvious evidence of the phenomenon: Beth Gibbons.
Stand close to the Portishead vocalist during a performance of “Wandering Star.” I dare you to deny that Gibbons’ voice breaks dimensional boundaries, shatters time, and enhances reality. She tunnels into 11-dimensional space-time and drags your heart through your ears and along for the ride. The entire band killed it, but she took me to another world.
If seeing young Robert Plant wail was like looking directly at the sun, then Beth Gibbons is the moon. Emotion-laced and raw as an open wound. I had the privilege of seeing Portishead in New York and Montreal this past week, and my belief in a deeper universe has been unshakably affirmed. She even steps out of time and transforms when she sings – the moment before she grabs the microphone she is anyone’s cute and embarrassed mother. Afterwards, she’s the spirit of the primordial forest. Her voice makes light look sluggish – absolutely superluminal. For real, the emotion and beauty in their music cannot be overstated.
You don’t need neutrinos to confirm dimensional burrowing, okay? But gods above, I hope they do the trick. Otherwise it’ll be restricted to the fancy of sensitive artsy types and theoretical physicists.