It seems amazing to me that there are some who are taking great glee in knocking the possible failures of Albert Einstein. The failure is still very much in doubt and I admit that regardless of the outcome, my grasp of Physics was always tenuous at best, that being my weakest school subject. So please do correct my understandings, most cribbed from others with knowledge but do not expect me to comprehend what you are going on about.
What I have learnt is that there are these things called ‘neutrinos.’ They sound more like an Italian breakfast cereal to me but the New Scientist states that neutrinos have, “a neutral charge and nearly zero mass and are the shadiest of particles, rarely interacting with ordinary matter and slipping through our bodies, buildings and the Earth at a rate of trillions per second.” Only very occasionally do they bump into an atom and give off a signal so that we know that they are there.
Anyhow, the results of a recent experiment at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), the giant particle accelerator near Geneva, seem to attack one of physics’ sacred cows: Einstein’s postulate that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
“In the experiment, physicists saw that streams of neutrinos — tiny, ghostly particles which seldom interact with other matter — were traveling just above the speed of light. But this is impossible if Einstein’s theory of relativity is correct. So was Einstein wrong?
Einstein’s near-mythic fame rests on his theory of relativity, which says that the speed of light in a vacuum, approximately 186,282 miles per second, is the ultimate speed limit. Nothing in the universe can travel faster.
In the CERN experiment, physicists fired a beam of neutrinos toward a detector in Gran Sasso, Italy, 454 miles away. Using highly sophisticated equipment, the CERN physicists tracked some 15,000 neutrinos over a period of three years. The neutrinos seemed to be reaching the detector 60 nanoseconds (a nanosecond is one-billionth of a second) faster than light. That may be a minute discrepancy, but it should not occur if Einstein’s theory of relativity is correct.
The CERN team has scrutinized its results and hasn’t been able to find any obvious errors. Physicists everywhere are scratching their heads. Could it be that another scientific revolution is at hand? Are we witnessing a paradigm shift? (Saswato Das, in the New York Times).”
There are so many things in our life that are based on Einstein’s theories: Nuclear energy and the atom bomb, lasers, global positioning systems (satnavs to you and me), telescopes and scanners that peer into the human body. I cannot understand how he might be incorrect if all of the above are based on his theory. A lot of testing will be done to test out those tiny neutrinos and see if they are indeed moving at 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. If it is correct, then jokes such as this will become far more widespread. "…We don't allow faster-than-light neutrinos in here," says the barman. A neutrino walks into a bar…"
66 years after his death, what if Einstein’s work was proven to be a failure?
I find the neutrino an inspiration this Shabbat Shuvah. We think we have it all worked out and then a tiny, incy, bitty neutrino comes along and throws a spanner in the works. I guess if Einstein were alive, he might be rather upset with these neutrinos, although of course he might still be proven correct.
We have just begun a new year with all of its potential intact – unless of course you are a Scottish Jew! I do hope that we have had as near as one ever gets to a year of complete wholeness and all that we might want to do is replicate it and build upon it. More than likely, though, there are many things that we would like to change and new challenges that have presented them over the course of the previous year.
As we said lechayyim – to life – on Rosh Hashanah, so I hope that we will also do so as we face adversity. We know that Jewish tradition has taught us to praise God in difficult, sad times as well as upon joyous occasions. In doing so, we express our hope that, despite sometimes not being able to comprehend what or why something has occurred or how one might progress from the moment the future will allow us in.
If Einstein can read a pearly newspaper or has access to the internet, then I hope that he is happy with his lot. More importantly, I hope that the satisfaction with his Theory of Relativity, provided him with a lifetime of nachas. To be happy with now, to work out how to react to the discovery of a fast-moving neutrino, to move forward just a bit and to have been part of progression, in that I believe is great satisfaction.
Einstein wasn't always right. He never completed his "unified theory" that would unite all of physics, a primer for how the universe really works. Yet how the universe works is still an unsolved question and in many ways, I hope that it remains so. The universe is constantly changing and so are we, in our understanding, as a species and also as individuals. But may we understand or at least perceive happiness in our attainments during this coming year, whether they be with a ground-breaking theory for our species, or just as importantly, a ‘eureka’ moment for ourselves when we achieve beyond our abilities. In that moment is found God and at that time we truly shuv, return to the essence of our being and our relationship with the Divine.