Albert Einstein published his theory of special relativity 106 years ago. It’s the theory that famously told us that energy and mass (i.e., matter) are equivalent and interchangeable. He came up with an elegant formula to describe it in mathematical terms: E=MC2. Stated simply, a small amount of mass equals a whole lot of energy. It quickly explained one of the great mysteries of the time, how the sun was able to produce so much energy without quickly burning out.
Another result of his theory was to establish the speed of light as a universal limit. Nothing can go faster than 186,282 miles per second. This speed limit is the bedrock that modern physics is based on. Since relativity was announced, thousands of observations have been made and thousands of experiments have been conducted to test it. Every single one of them has held the limit to be true and accurate. That is, every single one except the one reported by CERN two weeks ago.
CERN is the gigantic high-energy physics lab in Switzerland. It seems they’ve been playing around with a weird little subatomic particle called a neutrino. For the past few months they’ve been shooting them through 454 miles of rock and timing how fast they get to their destination at another lab in Italy. The problem is, they’ve been arriving sooner than expected. 60 nanoseconds sooner. Now, that’s not a very long duration (there are a billion nanoseconds in one second) but the result was still far outside what was supposed to be happening according to Einstein’s theory. CERN wisely decided not to claim that they’ve overturned Einstein’s work. Instead, they’ve asked other labs around the world to try to duplicate their experiment. If it is duplicated and only if it’s duplicated, relativity will have to be reexamined.
If CERN’s findings stand it will rock the foundations of modern physics. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be too surprised if it’s confirmed that Einstein’s theory of relativity has a major flaw in it. After all, relativity does not agree with the other great theory of the twentieth century, quantum mechanics. One or the other, or both, have to be wrong on some level. Einstein spent the second half of his life looking for a solution to that problem but failed. More recently, String Theory has been at the center of the quest to reconcile the two theories but it isn’t standing up to the challenge either. My expectation is that no reconciliation will occur until physicists are willing to turn their sights within and add consciousness to their study. Consciousness is the ultimate reality. It’s where physics is pointing. That’s where the next layer of answers are. Physicists need the guts to connect the dots. Maybe this will give them a shove in that direction. But they’re a stubborn bunch. I wouldn’t expect them to change direction any time soon.