Love it. Another triumph of the scientific method. Which does so much better at revealing the secrets of reality than religions do.
An experiment to repeat a test of the speed of subatomic particles known as neutrinos has found that they do not travel faster than light.
Results announced in September suggested that neutrinos can exceed light speed, but were met with scepticism as that would upend Einstein's theory of relativity.
A test run by a different group at the same laboratory has now clocked them travelling at precisely light speed.
Now, this doesn't conclusively settle the question of whether it is possible for something to travel faster than the speed of light. Science never is settled. It always is open to fresh findings, new revelations, deeper insights.
But since last month bad wiring was considered to be a likely reason for the anomalous light-speed-shattering observation, and now Einstein has been proven right, the Theory of Relativity (which says nothing can surpass the speed of light) is on firm ground again.
This will disappoint those, like conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who hoped that a discovery of faster than light neutrinos would undermine confidence in other firmly held tenets of modern science -- like human caused global warming.
Krauthammer doesn't understand how the scientific method operates. Recently I heard a noted climatologist talk about how scientific knowledge is like a gigantic partially completed jigsaw puzzle.
Finding out that one piece of the puzzle has been incorrectly placed doesn't mean the rest of the picture put together by science is incorrect. It just means that what was previously considered to be a reliable bit of knowledge now has to be removed and replaced by a blank spot, a scientific question mark.
This is why I said that even if neutrinos had been proven to travel faster than light (which they haven't, given the most recent experiment), the Theory of Relativity would still be valid.
It just would need to be recognized as having exceptions in certain circumstances, just as Newton's laws of motion remained valid after Einstein came up with his explanation of how time and space behave in circumstances far removed from everyday human experience.
What's so admirable about the scientific method is how truth is valued as the highest goal.
A team called Opera made the initial finding that neutrinos appeared to go faster than the speed of light. If this claim had held up, the Opera scientists would have been credited with a marvelous scientific discovery.
Yet here's how a member of the Opera team reacted to the latest experiment:
Doubts about the Opera results were heightened last month when researchers said they had found a flaw in the technical setup that could have distorted the experiment’s figures.
Antonio Ereditato, a member of the Opera team and the head of the Albert Einstein Center for Fundamental Physics, said he welcomed the latest results.
“These results are in line with our recent findings about the possible misfunctioning of some of the components of our experimental setup,” he said.
Asked whether he was disappointed, he said: “This is the way science goes. What matters is the global progress of scientific knowledge.”
Yes. Kudos to Dr. Ereditano.
He recognizes that the overall jigsaw puzzle of knowledge is what's important, not getting pats on the scientific back (even a Nobel prize) for having expanded the bounds of the completed picture of reality.
Imagine if a religious believer had made a corresponding spiritual "discovery." Well, I don't have to imagine it, because on this blog true-believing commenters frequently talk about their supposed discoveries of higher realms of reality.
They don't demonstrate the humility and openness of scientists. When questioned whether their supposed knowledge might be wrong, usually they say "I know what I've experienced."
Well, the Opera team also knew what they experienced: evidence of faster than light neutrinos. But they realized that experiments can be faulty; observations can be unreliable; what seems to be true may be erroneous.
I'll end with some quotes from Richard Dawkins' "The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True."
And atoms are far far smaller than bacteria. The whole world is made of incredibly tiny things, much too small to be visible to the naked eye -- and yet none of the myths or so-called holy books that people, even now, think were given to us by an all-knowing god, mentions them at all!
In fact, when you look at those myths and stories, you can see that they don't contain any of the knowledge that science has patiently worked out.
They don't tell us how big or how old the universe is; they don't tell us how to treat cancer; they don't explain gravity or the internal combustion engine; they don't tell us about germs, or nuclear fusion, or electricity, or anaesthetics.
In fact, unsurprisingly, the stories in holy books don't contain any more information about the world than was known to the primitive peoples who first started telling them! If these 'holy books' really were written, or dictated, or inspired by all-knowing gods, don't you think it's odd that those gods said nothing about any of these important and useful things?