Faster-than-Light neutrinos do Crash our Cornerstone


from XKCD - A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language

Do we laugh – physicists are often making grandiose claims of fundamental discoveries ?  Or talk it down as the normal progress of science, stretching the boundaries to establish a more comprehensive theory? Revolutionary theories build on one another, says the Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach.

But Achenbach is wrong. Einstein in 1905 derived ‘special’ relativity from the principle of causality. The Guardian struck it right (like Sky News) in writing of a “cornerstone” threatened and seeing the new results as “wreaking havoc with the fundamental principle of cause and effect”.  They quote the head of particle theory at Oxford University (Subir Sarkar):  nothing faster-than-light of Einstein’s (special) relativity “… essentially underpins our understanding of space and time and causality, which is the fact that cause comes before effect.”

The laws of physics as we know them dictate that information cannot be communicated faster than the speed of light in a vacuum “cause cannot come after effect and that is absolutely fundamental to our construction of the physical universe. If we do not have causality, we are buggered.”

Sarkar and others are speaking up for our cornerstones, showing realist physics has survived the perversion of anti-causal quantum physics –  so much is encouraging.

Einsteinian realists know the new result, if confirmed, really is a fundamental challenge. The small excess on the speed of transmission (60ns or 0.001%) has been checked and re-checked. The transmission distance has been measured (in the rotating frame of the Earth) to an accuracy of 20cm (less than 1ns).

Let’s remember that the speed-of-light is not an absolute, because of the Shapiro delay of a gravitational field, but the difference along paths through the atmosphere and through the solid Earth is tiny. Despite Alan Kostelecky of Indiana University postulating speed-up by an ‘unknown field that lurks in the vacuum’, any effect of matter would likely delay rather than advance a light wave or neutrino wave.

Let’s hold to causality being the ‘cornerstone’ and look to neutrinos (wave-fields?) being shown consistent with that, rather than fantasising about time-travel !

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2 Responses to Faster-than-Light neutrinos do Crash our Cornerstone

  1. Anonymous Cardiff astrophysicist says:

    Special relativity follows from simple geometric considerations and the observation that c is the same in all frames of reference — causality is a consequence, not a premise.

    Then higher-dimensional theories could easily explain an apparent “shortcut” at high energy levels which particles could take.

    But theoretical problems aside: people have let themselves get het up about a single experiment, not yet peer-reviewed. Wait for the *second* detection of “superluminal neutrinos” — then get excited.

    • crisisinphysics says:

      Did ‘cause’ not ‘precede’ effect before Einstein’s theory of (special) relativity, or only since 1905? Giving “higher-dimensional theories” the status of scientific theory, when such mathematical speculation with no empirical basis is properly termed pseudo-science, shows something is wrong in the kingdom of physics. Of course, Ed is not alone – New Scientist’s editor gives the queen of wacky physics, Lisa Grossman, space to proclaim the neutrino result
      “…could be first evidence for a reality built out of extra dimensions” (New Scientist 1 October).
      What’s more remarkable is the array of physicists like Frank Close and even publicist Jim Khalili who have lined up for principle – for causality in the physical world – despite their failure to publicly denounce the violation of causality by modern versions of quantum theory.

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