Aug 14 2010

Maybe we can go really fast after all?

Category: science,spaceharmonicminer @ 8:10 am

Rethinking Einstein: The end of space-time Much more at the link.

IT WAS a speech that changed the way we think of space and time. The year was 1908, and the German mathematician Hermann Minkowski had been trying to make sense of Albert Einstein’s hot new idea – what we now know as special relativity – describing how things shrink as they move faster and time becomes distorted. “Henceforth space by itself and time by itself are doomed to fade into the mere shadows,” Minkowski proclaimed, “and only a union of the two will preserve an independent reality.”

And so space-time – the malleable fabric whose geometry can be changed by the gravity of stars, planets and matter – was born. It is a concept that has served us well, but if physicist Petr Horava is right, it may be no more than a mirage. Horava, who is at the University of California, Berkeley, wants to rip this fabric apart and set time and space free from one another in order to come up with a unified theory that reconciles the disparate worlds of quantum mechanics and gravity – one the most pressing challenges to modern physics.

Since Horava published his work in January 2009, it has received an astonishing amount of attention. Already, more than 250 papers have been written about it. Some researchers have started using it to explain away the twin cosmological mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. Others are finding that black holes might not behave as we thought. If Horava’s idea is right, it could forever change our conception of space and time and lead us to a “theory of everything”, applicable to all matter and the forces that act on it.

OK, I admit it. Whenever I run across one of these stories suggesting Einstein might be wrong about some aspect of relativity, I get excited, because if he was wrong about something, maybe he was also wrong about the speed of light being an absolute speed limit for everything except maybe “communication” between entangled particles and other exotica.

Because if we can’t ever go faster than the speed of light, it’s hard to see how interstellar travel ever becomes popular, and I like the idea of somebody someday zipping over to the next star system for lunch.

Of course, if interstellar travel really is impossible, we don’t have to sweat visits from unfriendly aliens who got mad at us when we didn’t write, and blew up the solar system, or just sterilized it.  On the other hand, if there AREN’T any aliens, or unfriendly ones anyway, it would be cool to terraform a few dozen other earthlike worlds (if there are any) and get a little lebensraum.  And it’s a cinch there aren’t any earthlike worlds (besides earth, of course) in our solar system.

So maybe I’m cheering the relativity revisionists, hoping one of them will find a loophole in the cosmic speed limit.

Who needed dark matter anyway?  And there is already enough dark energy in faculty meetings to keep the universe flying apart for the indeterminate future.

2 Responses to “Maybe we can go really fast after all?”

  1. innermore says:

    Miner, since you seem so curious, I have a theoretical can of worms I was wondering how you would inspect. In this article, like many, I’ve always noticed the exclusion of the obvious. When they talk about the main components of reality: space and time, or space, time and energy, they fail to include the observer. The perceiver. Isn’t the important but forgotten element in this formula consciousness itself?, or the consciousness of, or conscience? I know, our “scientific method” never includes this component. Instead, it “compensates” for consciousness in the interest of assuring “objectivity”.

    If you want to know about interstellar travel, look it up in any religious text. Elijah went somewhere. Jesus and the angels came and went from somewhere, somehow. Tribal shamans talk about traveling to the moon and back all the time. Where do you suppose the “afterlife” will take place? Not here. These myths have nothing to do with modern physics, yet; which I believe is precisely why we will never be able to zip over to the next galaxy until we “discover” consciousness (and its “primitive” relatives like: God, thought, choice, ethics, values, morals, and all those other “mythy” emotional things).

    I know it’s been mentioned before but I’m serious, does this theory sound that crazy? Putting Pro-Vida and George Noory aside, a partial example of this would be the power of prayer experiments; where prayer’s “power” was measured as directly proportionate to the “belief” in that power by the subject, or subjects. The same was “true” in some telepathy experiments as well.

  2. Mike C says:

    innermore, ever heard of Heisenberg? Miner, have you considered the red shift? Some few of us are not surprised that light is slowing down. Now, specifically define energy. Not what it does, not how it is measured, what are the physical characteristics of energy. When someone else decides how to interpret the observations, you never know what is outside of the microscopes view.

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