This and that about the speed of light


A random artwork of mine

The latest finding that the speed of light may not be constant has to be accurate because the news of the finding has reached me 20 days after first reported. Whatever impedance that existed between the news first getting reported on April 28 and it reaching me this morning can be compared to what light traveling incomprehensible distances through space must encounter.

Normally, I am very up to femtosecond on such matters. (A femtosecond is a millionth of a billionth of a second.) In this particular case, if I were to employ femtosecond as the basic unit of measurement, I am so outdated that it is pointless even calculating by how much. So instead, I am going to pretend that the finding, from my vantage point, is very fresh because they just reached me.

For some inexplicable reason I woke up this morning thinking about the speed of light and what it might mean to travel faster than that. One of the mindfuck consequences of traveling faster than light is that effect happens before cause has had a chance to come into being. While you wrap your mind around that, I must move on because I am going faster than light this morning.

Three scientists, Marcel Urban of the Université du Paris-Sud and Gerd Leuchs and Luis Sánchez-Soto, from the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Light in Erlangen, Germany, have separately published findings that suggest that light seems to change its speed depending on how and what it interacts with as it goes around. The basic contention, as I understand, is that there are virtual particles that constantly swing between existence and non-existence, interact with radiation. Light is made of photons which interact with these charged virtual particles causing impedance. That impedance changes the speed of light or that’s what I understand. I am pretty sure that it is not as neat as I make it appear here. But then we are talking virtual particles going in and out of existence at will. At that level of physics or reality, it makes zero sense to apply our imperfect logic based on very ordinary, everyday experiences.

The speed of light as popularly understood always refers to its speed in a vacuum where there is no impedance whatsoever. Since space is supposed to have virtual particles it cannot be regarded as a vacuum and hence the speed of light can conceivably vary. The finding is important because all our physics is based on the assumption that the speed of light is constant. When you couple this finding with the one in September, 2011, that said that neutrinos, the electrically neutral subatomic particles, do indeed travel faster than light at 299,798,454 meters a second, and you understand why we have a problem.

I had written this soon after that finding was announced:

“Scientists at the Gran Sasso, one of the world’s largest physics laboratories, have announced that neutrinos travel 5996 meters a second faster. That is 19,671.916 feet or 3.72574166 miles. That figure may not seem like a lot in and of itself but when you consider the absurdly long distances in the universe this would make an absurdly big difference.

The scientists conducted the experiment to measure the speed of neutrinos by sending them from the European particle physics lab called CERN to the Gran Sasso on a 730 milometer underground journey repeatedly for three years. Some 15,000 neutrinos were used in the experiment but it is not known how many were harmed. (I had to slip that silly little crack in).

This finding is so enormously big that scientists around the world are probably looking askance at its implications, which are that everything that we know to be reality as determined by the Einsteinian physics could stand fundamentally disrupted.”

It is beginning to seem that seen from the standpoints of these two unrelated findings, coming two years apart, light appears to lose some of its aura. That light is the ultimate cool fact of the universe which cannot be trifled with at all may be losing some shine. If neutrinos can travel faster than light and virtual particles can impede light so as to change its speed, then what are we left with really?

If I were to apply the principle that effect may preempt cause to me personally, what it might mean is that I came into being without being conceived by my parents. If this does not make me divine, then what does? Just asking.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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