The Los Angeles Times today quotes physicist Dave Goldberg as saying that, if neutrinos can indeed go faster than the speed of light (as some Italian researchers appear to have discovered), then Einstein’s famed theory of special relativity is wrong. All wrong.
“Basically, all of special relativity would be wrong,” said Drexel University physics professor Dave Goldberg, referring to Einstein’s 1905 theory establishing that light travels at a constant speed, regardless of how fast an observer is traveling, and that nothing in the universe can go faster than it.
I can’t help but wonder if he misspoke. All of special relativity would be wrong?
Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Einstein’s theory of special relativity might be incomplete (in the same way that Newton’s theories were incomplete)? Einstein’s equations, after all, led physicists on the right trail to the atomic bomb, which functioned exactly as theorized.
The Times also quotes Goldberg as speaking more cautiously, saying the following:
What does it mean? I don’t know. The list of things we believe we understand still have to be true. You’d have to have another theory that makes them all work, but also accounts for this.
In other words, special relativity seems to explain a lot. We take it as part of our background knowledge. So the Italians’ neutrino result is akin to a researcher of psychic phenomena claiming statistically significant effects under laboratory conditions: if there’s really anything to the result, we’ll need a new scientific theory to account for it, because we certainly don’t have one now.
Physicist Stephen Parke is also quoted in the Times article. He says that, if neutrinos can move faster than light, then time travel might be, in principle, possible:
“If you have particles traveling faster than the speed of light, you can in principle go back in time. So you can be your own grandmother. As you can imagine, that causes some problems,” said Stephen Parke, a theoretical particle physicist at Fermilab in Batavia, Ill.
Obviously, one of those problems has to do with cause and effect. You can’t, after all, have a cause precede an effect if the effect beats the cause into the future! And that’s what neutrinos might be doing: beating light into the future.
And I wonder what happens to the block universe if Einstein’s special theory of relativity is upended. Here’s physicist Brian Cox explaining the block universe. Notice his reliance on Einstein in formulating his explanation: