As much good and bad as there is in the world, and just as much as there is in the world, these are fascinating times to be alive. Watching the premiere this past weekend of the HBO prohibition-era historical drama Boardwalk Empire, a scene in which the wife of an FBI agent disparaged the depravity of the era—half-intended as a joke given how prudish some of the culture depicted seems now—reminded me that, in all likelihood, someone will at some point look back on the youth of this century and say the same thing.

But for us cave dwellers in the meantime until that next glorious future unfurls, we feel as though we’re constantly standing on the precipice of landmark discovery, of some great and encouraging find that’s forever going to change our history. In my lifetime, humanity mapped its own genome, the democratic spread of knowledge grew ad infinitum thanks to the Internet, and just this past week, scientists may have discovered that neutrinos are capable of traveling faster than the speed of light—something that much of modern physics is based around the impossibility of.

The experiment took place at the world’s largest physics lab, at Cern in Geneva, Switzerland, and involved shooting particles over 700 kilometers to a corresponding lab in Gran Sasso, Italy. The particles, sub-atomic muon neutrinos (there are apparently different kinds of neutrinos, and I expect one could devote an entire Ph.D. to any of them, so I’ll claim no knowledge of what the types are or what they mean), arrived from Cern to Gran Sasso in 0.0024 seconds, which is some 60 billionths of a second faster than they were supposed to.

It doesn’t sound like much. I mean, it’s not Marty McFly going back to 1885, but they did the experiment over 16,000 times and consistently came out with the same results, so the potential is there to confirm the discovery of something that travels faster than light, which no one thought could happen.

I’m not a physicist, and in fact what I know about the speed of light is pretty much limited to what the Science Channel tells me when Morgan Freeman goes Through The Wormhole. Light is supposed to be the fastest thing in the universe and matter isn’t matter anymore when it reaches it. So when I hear something like scientists talking about how these particles may have, in effect, traveled through time, it’s not the physics I’m interested in, it’s how easily all of our knowledge can be unseated.

As a people, we like to be really certain of things. It’s why we name animals, travel in space and list ingredients on the sides of shampoo bottles. When it comes to things like the mechanics of the universe, we don’t have a clue how things actually work, but we have theories that make sense on paper and that usually is good enough for people to get to bed at night. And as far as theories go, e=mc2 is like the rockstar of rockstars. To have to toss it out because the speed of light isn’t what we thought it was would require a rebuilding of a lot of the knowledge base of modern physics.

Which is awesome.

I mean that. It’s great to have something come along like this and show us how little we actually know about the universe and the sundry dimensions we occupy. It’s a reason for the species to keep going: There’s still more to learn.

Maybe these neutrinos did supersede the speed of light and maybe they didn’t. The best part about it—and I’m sure any physicist worth a damn would gladly disagree with me here—is that it shows that although we’ve come a long way, there are still more discoveries to be made than we even know, and that just because we put rules on the world around us doesn’t mean the world is going to follow those rules.

Love it,

JJ Koczan

jj@theaquarian.com

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