Saturday, September 24, 2011

At least one thing can travel faster than the speed of light, and it's not KY Gov. Steve Beshear running away from a debate

Jay Wile wonders: do the results of the recent experiment at CERN on neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light necessarily overturn Einstein's special theory of relativity?
Suppose the results stand up and are confirmed by another lab. Does that mean special relativity is wrong? Not necessarily. Special relativity does not forbid all faster-than-light travel. It only forbids faster-than-light travel for particles with mass that start out traveling under the speed of light. This is because the equations of special relativity indicate it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate a particle with mass through the speed of light. However, if a particle with mass is created with an initial velocity greater than the speed of light, that is not a problem. Indeed, scientists even have a name for such a particle – the tachyon. The particle is hypothetical, of course, but it is consistent with special relativity.

The “neutrinos” being detected are formed in collisions between high-energy protons and stationary carbon atoms. While we think we understand the reaction that produces these neutrinos, it could be that there is something unexpected going on in the reaction, and that effect is causing particles to be produced with an initial velocity that is faster than the speed of light. As a result, the particles being detected aren’t neutrinos at all. Instead, they are some form of tachyon.

In the end, then, this is a very interesting result, but I seriously doubt it will be confirmed. If confirmed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that special relativity is wrong. It could mean that we have finally detected the elusive tachyon! That would be quite amazing, since our current understanding of physics says that we shouldn’t be able to detect tachyons with the OPERA detector. Of course, our current understanding of physics also says that special relativity is inconsistent with neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light.
Read the rest here.

9 comments:

Singring said...

So let me get this straight - when creationist Dr Wile says that theoretical particles in quantum theory (tachyons) are 'things' and uses them as a potential explanation for an observed physical phenomenon - then that's perfectly fine and worthy of trumpeting at VR (use of the word 'thing' included!). But when an atheist points to particles in quantum theory as 'things' with observed physical effects that contradict some of the fundamental axioms of logic, then that's just ridiculous?

A fascianting display of cognitive dissonance.

Thomas said...

"Dr Wile says that theoretical particles in quantum theory (tachyons) are 'things.'"

Er, Singring, where do you see Dr. Wile referring to particles as "things." Because I don't see it.

Singring said...

'Er, Singring, where do you see Dr. Wile referring to particles as "things." Because I don't see it.'

I'm saying Martin is referring to them as 'things'. Look at the title of his post.

Thomas said...

"I'm saying Martin is referring to them as 'things'."

"[W]hen creationist Dr Wile says that theoretical particles in quantum theory (tachyons) are 'things'...."

Singring said...

'"I'm saying Martin is referring to them as 'things'."

"[W]hen creationist Dr Wile says that theoretical particles in quantum theory (tachyons) are 'things'...."'

Certainly my wording is bad as it often is, I admit.

But read in that sentence and you see that I am trying to illustrate that Martin by his use of terminology - not Dr Wile himself - is labeling tachyons as 'things' when previously he wouldn't even consider an atom a 'thing' (hence my use of apostrophes - I was using Martin's terminology to highlight the fact that he now sees 'thing's where he does not when other sources talk about particles - let alone theoretical particles).

Whence the change of heart?

Singring said...

To sharpen my point:

Thomas, what do you think would be Martin's response if Hawking were to refer to physically measureable occurrences at the particle level, draw from them conclusions about the particles invovled and based on those conclusions arrive at the ultimate conclusion that it is quite possible that the universe arose spontaneously?

Well, we actually already know the answer: Martin would say that he doesn't think the particles in question have any reality to them (he even goes so far as to say that atoms don't). Therefore, it is not justified to draw conclusions on the origin of the universe from these particles (correct me if I'm wrong, Martin).

Yet when Dr Wile speculates wildly about theoretical particles like tachyons (that we don't even have empirical evidence for as yet) to explain physical measurements, then Martin seems so impressed with it that he links it to his blog.

Would you not agree that this is a prime example of having it both ways?

Martin Cothran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Maybe you would care to point out that place where I said that subatomic particles were not "things"--or, for that matter, where I made any declaration other than that it was a widely held belief among quantum physicists that atoms were no more than scientific constructs.

If I used the term "thing" at all, then I would have been using it in context of the prior discussion to mean physical object, but I'm pretty sure I didn't even do that.

And you have a bad habit of taking my descriptions of others positions (in this case quantum physicists) and assuming that I take those positions. In fact, I am pretty sure that you have criticized me both for taking the positions of the quantum physicists I am describing and for rejecting quantum physics.

Talk about cognitive dissonance.

And do you really read my obviously tongue in cheek titles like this literally? I suppose you think I really think it is possible for Gov. Steve Beshear to travel faster than the speed of light too.

I'm willing to give a try, anyway.

But clearly Wile and other scientists are discussing this are talking as if a tachyon is a physical object. It would be interesting to know how that view squares with the reigning view in physics as to the exact physical nature of subatomic particles.

But if there is an inconsistency there, then it isn't mine--it's an inconsistency within science itself, one that would cast doubt, not on my belief, but the science at whose altar you worship.

Singring said...

'Maybe you would care to point out that place where I said that subatomic particles were not "things"'

You have referred several times to atoms being no more than mathematical constructs or concepts. Are you now telling me that you believe an atom has a physical, objective reality? That it is real and physical if we are there to observe it or not?

'And you have a bad habit of taking my descriptions of others positions (in this case quantum physicists) and assuming that I take those positions.'

I'm sorry if that is the case.

But in my defense: it is virtually impossible to figure out what exactly you actually do believe. Every time we get down to the nitty gritty, you simply change teh subject or go silent.

First you cite the Copenhagen interpretation of QT to justify the belief that logic and causality somehow still apply on the quantum scale, but when asked a direct question to confirm whether you actually accept the Copenhagen interpretation ('do you believe that particles have an objective reality when we do not observe them?') you curiously go silent. Now I happen to think we both know exactly why that is.

But maybe I'm wrong? Maybe you'd like to answer that question now and clear up this kind of confusion on my part?

'And do you really read my obviously tongue in cheek titles like this literally?'

Do you really think a surgeon thinks the heart has a teleological 'purpose' when he talks about its purpose as the pumping of blood? If you insist on alledging that myself and other scientists who use the word 'purpose' in every day language are making a tacit commitment to Aristotelean teleology, then you shouldn't be surprised when people think that when you use the word 'thing' to refer to a tachyon, you actually mean it.

'But if there is an inconsistency there, then it isn't mine--it's an inconsistency within science itself, one that would cast doubt, not on my belief, but the science at whose altar you worship.'

1.) Inconsistencies in language do not necessarily mean and inconsitency in the concepts discussed.

2.) Unlike logic and dogmatic metaphysics, science thrives on inconsistencies within itself, because it is forever self-correcting and self-reflecting. If there were no inconsistencies, there would be nothing to resolve and no need for further research, now would there? It is precisely the inconsistencies between the predictions of relativity and QT that are driving a lot of physics these days.