Wednesday, January 03, 2007

News!  (Four or so years old, but check this out!)

Category: Issue 5, News Winners

A Special Day

I read this story in today’s paper – or maybe it was yesterday’s paper —on page three – or maybe it was page five.  There was a picture of Einstein looking at something he was holding in his hand, between thumb and forefinger, I think, and Einstein appears to be quite serious, even pissed off. 

I always look at an Einstein article when his picture appears in the newspaper, if only to have a glance.  After all, Einstein is responsible for the formula, “E equals M.C., squared”, and everyone knows that’s important because without it we couldn’t have Relativity, or Star Trek repeats involving fictional yet cool technological ways to get around The Whole Thing.  So I glanced at the headline when I saw Einstein’s picture. 

The headline said something like, “Einstein Wouldn’t be Pleased.”  Even then, I wasn’t too worried about it; Einstein did, after all, famously say, “God does not play dice with the universe,” and since then, Mankind’s discovered (hell, I’ve even discovered, through independent research) that sure, as a matter of fact, He does.  Einstein doesn’t have to be right about everything.  Everybody thinks it’s kind of cute now, that Einstein said that.  Nobody is upset anymore about the idea of God playing dice, even though Einstein didn’t like it.  Einstein was right about a lot of things, so it’s OK, even kind of sweet and humanizing, if he was wrong here or there. 

So I thought, initially, that the article with the picture would be about something like that – maybe a report on a Science Fair at some college where Einstein was quoted as having remarked about the dice, or maybe a collection of self-consciously, but somehow movingly, retouched photos of Einstein, at an Art Gallery somewhere, showing his hair combed properly and his shirt on frontwards, and wearing matching socks.  There are all kinds of minor reasons Einstein might not be pleased (he probably wouldn’t have cared one way or the other about his socks, for example); I thought that since the article was on page three (or five?) that it couldn’t be anything BIG. 

But whoa. 

I started reading the article and almost immediately I started worrying about the fact that it was only on page three (or five?).  I was reminded of all the times I’ve seen reports that huge meteors have just skimmed, slammed, whizzed past the earth, closer than the moon, and missed!— reports that don’t show up until page eight or nine of the Real newspaper, several weeks after the fact, or show up in the Entertainment Section of the Tabloid in the Movies section… if they show up at all. 

It seems to me that the news that a huge asteroid almost hit the earth, and didn’t, is at least as newsworthy as, say, the fact that no one was seriously hurt at the 2002 G8 conference, or that there may or may not be a new smoking by-law, or that some three burly policemen got scared and had to shoot a defenseless runaway calf in Calgary that one time.  All these have made the front page.  The asteroids never do.  Are “They” trying to avoid panicking the citizens?  Is that it?  I’m not sure what is going on, but it’s not getting by me, not for a minute.  The asteroid story was BIG.  The latest asteroid was really big.  There was a quote from a scientist of some description saying something along the lines of, “Well, we never saw it coming; but luckily, it couldn’t have hit us.”  WHAT?? 

This report about Einstein seemed like it was a bigger story than that.  When I read it, I realized that Einstein wouldn’t be pleased.  A lot of people are already not pleased.  Even I am not pleased!  What’s this doing, not on the front page?

It made me think that I should have a glance at the front page of the Entertainment Section.  I’m willing to bet there’ll be a movie review involving this subject on the front page of the Entertainment Section within a couple of years, even though it may still not have reached the real, serious, Front Page by then.  We must think of the inexorable path the Truth has always taken (at least since someone invented books and movies):  from Physics and Philosophy, through to Science Fiction and thence to The Big Screen, round about through the youth of Today, and back into Tomorrow.  At least there’s a path, from science’s best guess at What the Fuck is Going On?  to blockbuster hits like,  What the Fuck is Going On: The Movie.  How else is any ordinary person to find out that we’re constantly always being narrowly missed by huge boulders from space, unless Hollywood tells us?  Begrudgingly, the People behind the newspaper admit they’d better mention the damn thing, because we know already.  What would we do without our beloved Free Press?  What would IT do, without The Big Screen? 

Anyways, I didn’t get to the Entertainment Section (and probably missed something else big), because I was too worried about what the Einstein article said as I went along, reading it.  It was in absolutely classic, dry,  Don’t-Panic-the-Public, Just-Report-the-Facts style.  The article explained as how it seems to some scientists in Australia, I think it was, that … GET THISThe speed of light is slowing down


Yes.  They did some tests on something or other, and assuming the ions were spinning, or shot-putting, or vaulting, as fast as ions always, always do (or something like that – it may not have been ions),  then,  assuming the speed of light is whatever number (I forget but I know there is one) that Einstein said it would always be, then… then… the tests should have come out differently than they did.  (Something like that.)  So they did their tests and their math again, and they still got the same results. 

Now, there are other physicists and scientists from places other than Australia, running the same tests and doing the same math, trying to fix things up.  Everybody is hoping that it’s just something about Australia, the same thing that makes their toilets go backwards, but that the Australian results don’t Mean anything about what’s True.  But so far, it doesn’t look good.  One of the non-Australian scientists in the article said something like, “Nobody is going to be pleased by this result.”  I remember reading this in the article.  Vividly. 

Does anybody out there realize just what this means?  (Yes, I know that if Spielberg doesn’t, you can bet that he already has somebody On It.  But I mean, otherwise?)

Listen, people!

If the Speed of Light is slowing down (or, if the ions aren’t acting like they obviously do, or something like that) , then it’s basically the End of the World as We Know It.  Einstein figured that the Speed of Light was a Constant.  A constant constant, so it would Never Change.  You could use it like you could use your alcoholic Uncle Doug, to predict the future, or explain the past, given that Uncle Doug was coming, or had come, over.  You could, in other words, explain Christmas with it.  You could use the Speed of Light/Uncle Doug in any problem, like, how fast your bus would get downtown at the Speed of Light, if it didn’t have to stop for red lights and if it only had one passenger on it—say, you— who never disembarked.  If you figured out how big the bus was, plus the size of the driver and passenger, then given Uncle Doug ‘s driving at, or being identical to, the Speed of Light, you could easily see what time you’d have to leave for work to get there in time to grab a coffee first. (Or something like that.)  Also you could figure out how far away various stars and galaxies were.  (You would not necessarily, however, be able to see potentially lethal meteorites until they had already gone by.  But, hey.)

The point is that if Einstein’s belief that the Speed of Light is Constant ain’t True, then all of these calculations are always gonna be slightly off!!! OR SOMETHING!!!!  Oh sure, you could still use Einstein’s physics and probably always get to work on time, but (a) no you couldn’t; you’re probably too stupid and/or uneducated; and (b) everyone knows you could use Newton’s physics to get to work on time, too.  You could use your DAWG.

The point is, everybody knows Newton’s physics isn’t Trooo, but just a close enough approximation for mundane purposes.  Dogs, likewise, we can always expect to be in the ballpark, ruffly right (agghhh), and so forth, but we don’t expect anything from them in the way of Truth.  Everybody knows we just use Newtonian Physics and Dawgs because they’re handier.  We don’t really need to know what’s really going on, to get by, but we always felt that we could.  If we were too busy not being physicists, philosophers, science fiction writers or movie producers, we still felt secure in the knowledge that someone was busy, and that they, ergo we,  had a nice secure, stable Foundation to go on.  The (one and only) Speed of Light.  Yay!  An objective, actual, exact time (sort of) that the bus will arrive downtown. 

But now, oh damn.  It’s like, if you’re going to stick to the Speed of Light being Constant, you have to argue that the bus is really going slower than it is and that Uncle Doug is drinking less than he is, which is unthinkable; or you could argue that somehow you and the bus are gaining weight as you go, without eating anything, or that what all of this really means is that there were red lights on the way which, until now, we hadn’t detected.  Hidden variables are going to spring out of culverts like embarrassed partridges, only to be shot.  The carnage is awful to contemplate.  What’s going to happen?  What are we going to DO? 

The Speed of Light was, is, dammit, supposed to be Constant.  Something you can rely on in your equations, to figure out exactly (kind of) what’s going on.  If the Speed of Light isn’t a Constant, then even Relativity isn’t fer shur.  The newspaper article said so.  And if Relativity isn’t even fer shur, what is?  Where does this leave us with respect to Einstein, and the Art Gallery, and the state of the Free Press?    What if the universe is playing dice with God? 

I, for one, am going to remember the day I found out about this Speed of Light problem as being either on a Wednesday or a Thursday in August of 2002.  I remember the very moment, but I don’t remember the exact date.  Sort of like finding out about the deaths of John Kennedy, John Lennon, or (I suppose) Kurt Kobain [and/or Saddam Hussein—ed].  Even if John Lennon isn’t really dead, and the whole thing is just a matter of the way the toilets operate in Australia, this is still always going to have been a Special Day to me.  Scary.  As if there wasn’t anything to cling to, not even Uncle Doug, or Relativity. 

Posted by julianyway on 01/03 at 01:41 AM | Permalink
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