Breaking the speed of light

On 22 September, a group of Italian scientists reportedly broke the speed of light. They were measuring a beam of neutrinos sent from Geneva, over 500 miles away. The science is way too complicated for me. But the notion that this effort may overturn one of our most fundamental “laws” of physics fascinates me. Astrophysicist Adam Frank says that what’s being challenged here is “the structure of causality in the Universe” because it’s based on “an absolute cosmic speed limit.”

We’ve heard for a century-plus that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Our experience and all of our learning are based on the notion of time as linear. And if that turns out to be a faulty assumption, then time travel might be more than just the whacky dreams of sci-fi authors.

There’s also a more immediate implication. I scanned the responses to Adam Frank’s blog entry–about 140 in just a few days. They were a microcosm of how we react when we’re confronted with the limits of our own knowing. We have lots of ways of avoiding our blind spots. We

  • Toss out something we know, even when it isn’t responsive…
  • Agree or disagree with someone without verifying that what we understood is what the other person was saying…
  • Ask almost no questions that could lead to any learning …
  • Use the topic as a springboard to other agendas [politics, human nature, God, ‘truth…’]
  • Make light of it all [“Oh dear…just when we were getting comfortable” …”Back in the ’70’s Fast Eddie Coon had a Chevelle with a blueprinted 427 in it and I’m sure we went faster than light on Beach St.”]

Part of my role as a coach is to surface and challenge the assumptions that inform my clients’ thinking. So when my son Michael, who loves physics, spent most of last evening trying to help me grasp the significance of the Italian experiment, I got another jolting reminder of how hard it is to be on the blind side of those conversations.

“You have to forget what you know,” he kept saying. “Look only at what’s in front of you.” I struggled mightily. As I told him, I could follow his reasoning [if he went slowly enough] but I couldn’t reconstruct it. The conversation took me back to our conversations last spring about gaming and how hard it was for me to see even when I was looking.

How do we know when we’re up against the limits of our own awareness?

  • We have no patience for the other person’s point of view [usually because we’re so wrapped up in conveying–ie, defending–the righteousness of our own].
  • We have a sense that something else–something bigger, more significant–is in the wings but we can’t quite see it.
  • We lack curiosity. Something new comes along and we see no value in it. Or we automatically judge it. If it fits with our world view, it’s good and we move on. If it doesn’t fit, it’s bad and we move on.

Why’s this important? For me, it’s a matter of engagement. I want to be as involved and connected with the world as possible. I like the way Albert Einstein summed it up. There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.




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