Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Speed of Appearances

The neutrinos from CERN were showing up at Gran Sasso a few billionths of a second early—in other words, they appeared to be getting from Switzerland to Italy faster than light would travel the same distance. (Clay Dillow, Popsci, 09.22.2011)

I've always thought there was something odd about the universal speed limit. The only good reason I've ever heard for the speed of light as something special is that it determines the simultaneity of visual appearances. When two things happen at the same time, you have to be standing at an equal distance to both events in order to see them as happening at the same time. We see the light from stars that are thousands and millions of years old. (The point being: the "visible universe" is not how it is right now, nor even how it was at a given point in the past; rather, it reaches all the way back into time.) Etc. And think of something like lightning. It appears before the eye before it appears before the ear.

It's because the the visual image is the primary sense we give to "appearance" that "the speed of light" seems (seems!) so absolute. Real instantaneity belongs to appearances. Intuition is the medium of that immediacy.

So I'm not really surprised that scientist have found neutrinos that travel faster than light. It had to happen.

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