THE NATURE OF MATERIAL REALITY -
The “secrets of the Universe” is something science does not claim to have! The recent finding that the speed of light may have been exceeded is like a ripple in the Spacetime of scientific understanding. This scientific research into the speed of light is significant because it relates to nothing more than the nature of reality itself. Or, using the term in its all-inclusive, scientific sense---the reality of “Nature.” The study of “objects” at or near light-speeds is just part of the attempt by science to discover what we, everything around us, and everything in which it all exists---is made of and how it works. The true nature of material reality.
Of course, most of us are mainly concerned with more mundane matters. Nothing wrong with that---Humans have survived to date by ascribing the phenomenon of reality to the whims of spirit-beings and continuing their main quest to fill their bellies and reproduce. Like fish---who are probably quite un-curious about water---some of us have no discernible interest whatsoever in knowing the true nature of the “medium” in which we “swim”---nor any great interest in the underlying composition of our own bodies. It is the wondrous audacity of science to attempt figure it all out.
The nature of light and the manner of its travel through this reality has profound implications for everything we see and everything we are. Light is both “matter” and “energy.” “Particles” and “waves.” Depends on how it is “observed“ in experiments. Science suspects that all of material reality is similar to light in that it is composed of “energy fields” rather than just an agglomeration of specific “particles,” pieces or bits. Science has postulated that the matter of which we are made is mostly “empty space” held together by the various forces---but even that is questionable in the sense that space is anything but empty. And here, I refer to the so-called “fabric” of space. Scientists are very curious “fish” indeed---they want to know the nature of the “water” that all these waves and particles are swimming around in. In other words, what is it that light (and all other electromagnetic forces) are speeding around in and through (sometimes referred to as the “fabric“ of spacetime…see below).
If life seems to be “spinning” madly, that might be because, at its very heart, it is! Within the atoms that compose the molecules of which we are made, some electrons (or electron-energy-waves) are circling their atomic nuclei at speeds very close to the speed of light---and therefore, manifesting “relativistic effects” (on a small scale - see below) right within the very matter we see all around us.
REALITY IS A NEBULOUS CONCEPT AT BEST -
Physicists can predict the behavior of matter to an incredible degree---but they don’t always understand why their predictions work. Scientists visualize light and other electromagnetic interactions as “particle-wave dualities” or “energy fields.” This means that light can sometimes appear to act like individual particles and at other times act like a wave. The truth is that these visualizations are the best, most workable and most productive ways for scientists to imagine how the sea of waves, rays, particles and energy fields work. Visualization and imagination are essential for scientists to do their research and formulate their theories.
Limitations of the speed of light factored into the birth of the Universe and the eventual creation of this Galaxy, our Solar System and the very materials of which our bodies are made. Scientifically speaking, the speed of light and near-light speed relates to everything---including who we Humans are and how we arrived at our present condition. Light-speed limits have affected how matter was “condensed” out of the primal soup, how it was transported and carried by and through an expanding Universe, and how it was transformed into the Universe we see today---and also how we “see“ it now!
Without electromagnetic interactions we would have no sense of space or reality. However, what we do “see” is, at best, is an approximation of reality which has been reassembled by our neural networks and brains into a “picture of the world.” What we Humans see as light is one small part of the spectrum of electromagnetic interaction---but it comprises a wondrous perception which feeds, complements and stimulates our curious natures and conscious awareness.
For science (for all of us) all our technological sensory aids---from binoculars to electron microscopes to radio telescopes---are also dependent upon electromagnetic interactions when they are used to measure our Universe. Thus, what we Humans consider perceived reality, whether directly sensed by our eyes or enhanced by technological aids such as telescopes, is dependent upon electromagnetic particles and interactions almost exclusively. The point is that this magnificent perception of the electromagnetic particles and interactions entering our senses and then our brains, is a rather incomplete and not a perfect representation of reality.
Everything we see is conditional, restricted and qualified---we cannot escape the limitations of our senses or the limitations on the speed of light---even when we use modern instruments. Our space telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the colossal James Webb telescope (to be launched in 2016) may be able to resolve distant objects a billion or more light years farther out than our naked eyes, but these instruments still cannot see distant objects in real time. Just as our Human eyes can only see the photons falling upon our retinas, the great telescopes can only detect the electromagnetic information falling upon their sensors. The world we perceive---the universe as we know it---is only a model created from the information that has been transmitted through Space, but is not arriving in real time due to the finite, limiting speed of the information carrier (in this case, photons of light or other electromagnetic signals). What we perceive---either with our eyes or even with the great telescopes---is a distorted view of something that is not absolute reality. Therefore, it is wondrously audacious of science to attempt figuring it all out.
RELATIVISTIC SPEEDS -
There are many aspects to fast-moving objects of which I will just briefly mention those most famous, Einstein “relativistic effects” that occur at speeds approaching light speed…
Objects and/or people do not have to be moving right at the speed of light before the strange, “relativistic effects” begin to manifest---you know, the ones where you, traveling at tremendous speeds on a space ship, will age at a slower rate than your counterpart here on Earth. That’s all very interesting but another subject for another time. And besides, at the relatively “slow” speeds we travel today, relativistic effects are barely detectable. But they have been detected, measured and proven again and again. That’s why anything that proves Einstein “wrong” is of monumental importance to science.
PRACTICAL LIMITS OF TRANSFER OF “INFORMATION” -
Our eyes are able to see only a small portion of these electromagnetic wave-particle constructs but science is fascinated by them all. Thus the importance of “radio telescopes” which are not dependent on the narrow range of “visible” light and are able to see through gas clouds and other opaque material in Space. All these forms of electromagnetism are, however, limited.
“Information”---both in the sense of electromagnetic communications and in the sense of one part (or just one particle) of the Universe interacting with another part of the Universe---is limited in transmission by the speed of light. On a cosmic level, the expansion of the Universe is limited by light-speed. But for the immediate, practical purposes of all electronic, radio and TV communications---especially those traveling to and from our space craft in the distant reaches of this Solar System and beyond---are effectively limited by the speed of light. That’s why there is a time-lag in remotely controlling say, a Mars orbiting satellite or a Mars Rover type vehicle. This time-lag depends on the distance between Earth and Mars, which varies from 4 light-minutes to 20 light minutes. Controlling these space vehicles at a distance is like having to properly turn the steering wheel of your car some 4-20 minutes before the planned maneuver is to be accomplished.
FAR OUT STUFF -
The mere whiff of a suggestion that light-speed has been exceeded by mere nanoseconds is enough to rekindle all that wild speculation about “time travel” for Humans through “worm holes” or dimensions curving back on themselves---but that‘s far out. However, if someone would discover a “dimension” through which we could send and receive radio signals and circumvent the limits of the speed of light---now that sounds a bit more probable. But still far out…
One scientist has re-posited the notion that there could be “a cosmic shortcut through another dimension,” saying that physics theory is full of unseen dimensions that would allow neutrinos to beat the speed of light.
Another scientist in Indiana, Kostelecky, theorizes that there are situations when the “background” [Spacetime “fabric”] is different in different areas of the Universe, not perfectly symmetrical as Einstein says. Those changes in background may alter both the speed of light and the speed of neutrinos. This appeals to me in the sense that the very fabric of Spacetime could be rippled by more than just the gravity of large objects---it may have its own natural variations. Also, the idea of “dimensions” is not so far-fetched in the sense that String Theory postulates all sorts of “folded” and “hidden” dimensions.
WHAT “DIMENSION” ARE WE IN -
Remember that, in the Big Bang Theory, the Big Bang was not born into a space or area at some “local” time and local location, but rather, space and time were born (came into existence) right along with the Big Bang. Because space and time were born along with this Universe, the speed limit of light effectively keeps us from ever “seeing” anything beyond our Universe. Or, due to the added speed of the expansion of the Universe, there are things at the very edge of Space we are also perpetually unable to see because the speed of light over such great distances---combined with the speed of the expanding (receding from us) Universe makes it impossible for the light (electromagnetic information) to ever reach our sensors and antennas. We live in a cone of darkness---a huge area and expanding---but limited nonetheless.
Einstein initially rejected the notion that space and time were integral---an idea first promoted by Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909), who announced in 1908 that “Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality".
Einstein at first referred to this “Four-dimensional Minkowski spacetime” as "superfluous learnedness" but soon changed his mind---the concept and language of spacetime (known technically as tensor mathematics) proved to be essential in deriving his theory of general relativity.
- Rudy Wittshirk
Next: part three: Science Shaking Up Science