Faster Than Light Ethics

For anybody who is interested in physics – or who loves science fiction – this is really exciting news: CERN thinks then might have sent neutrinos at faster than the speed of light. Here it is reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, and ScienceNOW (and io9 has a skeptical post too).

Exceeding the speed of light is supposed to be impossible. It might still be impossible, the results are too shockingly improbable to immediately accept. Faster than light travel violates Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Approaching the speed of light things get really weird, then everything hits infinity and that’s just not supposed to happen.

But what’s this got to do with ethics? Something I love about science:

“Please check our results.”

CERN knows they’ve done something crazy. Like cold-fusion-impossible. So what do they do? They ask for others to check and see if these are reproducible results.

This is ethically beautiful. In the absence of certainly they ask for help. It is humble (we need help).  It is skeptical (this needs checking). It is charitable (you know how to help us).

Good science embodies these virtues. Of course these virtues are also good just to keep from looking like fools when things don’t pan out. But let’s stay on the positive side. Good science is a beautiful thing. Whether or not the results are true, the process is worth it.

And results like these can also make pure research “worth it” too. Too bad the US doesn’t have a superconducting super collider to help check the results.

UPDATE: Science fiction authors are of course excited. My own thoughts: if this experiment is correct, we might not be able to send vehicles faster than light, but we will be able to send information faster than light in the form of encoded pulses of neutrinos. And that is really cool. I wonder how fast they can go?…


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