Those Pesky Neutrinos! They are making a bid for a spot on the Galaxies’ “The Universe has Talent” reality show! Or are they vying for a Ripley record for “Universe’s fastest subatomic particle?”
Don’t they know that their need for speed is wreaking havoc in the physics world? Don’t they know they are challenging the infallibility of the physicist’s sacred scripture: the Standard Model?!
Yes. I’m being tongue-in-cheek. And yes, I know I am stretching it just a little when I compare the Standard Model to religious scripture.
Yet I submit to you that we can gain profound insight by doing just that.
Let me explain!
When news from CERN regarding the speed demon neutrinos hit the mainstream news, it reminded me of a conversation had some 33 years ago.
I had just graduated from college with a degree in Philosophy. Having discovered that there were no in-house philosophy positions, I opted for the next best thing: making my living by counting men’s underwear at a major department store.
There I became friends with a fellow employee who was a seminary student working his way through school as the department store’s suit salesman.
One Friday evening Bill (I really don’t remember his name) came up to me and with excitement in his voice made the follow claim:
I have the proof of the existence of God!
Needless to say, as a philosophy major I was intrigued!
His claim went something like this, “Einstein’s physics proves that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. This means that that there is an absolute in the universe! Since an absolute exists—and God is absolute—God exists.”
Think about his claim given the results reported by the CERN laboratory! If Bill continued to subscribe to this “proof” of the existence of God, he no doubt finds the claims from CERN a challenge to his “proof-based” paradigm of God (aka Faith).
Now imagine with me a minute that he finished his studies in the seminary and became a minister. In this leadership role he has taught members of his church to base their faith in God on this “absolute” regarding the speed of light. Had this happened, a whole community could now be facing the following dilemma: to either deny the results of the CERN experiment (at the very least hope that CERN is wrong) or to update their model that God’s existence is linked to the inability of things to move faster than the speed of light.
Members of our hapless—and imaginary— “faith community” are not the only ones faced with this “either/or” choice. Scientists subscribing to physics’ Standard Model find themselves in the proverbial “same boat.”
“Oh really?” you may be asking. We see evidence of this from the science community where we find their initial skepticism to the neutrino’s bid in the following statement:
In fact, the result would be so revolutionary that it’s sure to be met with skepticism all over the world. (1)
That skepticism is natural, and I maintain is “humanly natural.” It reflects the discipline’s investment in the current Standard Model (aka paradigm), and an understanding of the “costs” involved in updating it.
Drawing from Thomas’ Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, I submit that what we see at play in both the physicists and the faith community is a propensity to discount data that is an anomaly to the model. With just a little digging into neutrino story one can find evidence of efforts to discount data. You see, the neutrinos have been telling their story of a lot longer than reported to the general public.
This isn’t an isolated anomaly, but has been going on for years. The team has now measured some 15,000 batches of neutrinos coming across that distance, and they say they’ve reached a point where the statistical significance is such that, were they trying to prove anything else, it would count as as formal scientific discovery. But try as they might, they can’t explain what’s happening. (2)
Additional evidence of science’s discounting of data can be found in the case of the 1987a supernova:
The MINOS experiment a few years back already found evidence that neutrinos might move faster than the speed of light c, namely at 1.000051 (+/- 0.000029) c. Supernova1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud 168 thousand light-years away indicated at most a tiny increase over the speed of light. 23 neutrinos were seen over 13 seconds arriving 3 hours earlier than the light. (3)
Let me conclude summarizing how both groups are handling the news about the speedy neutrinos. Both based their model / paradigm / worldview on a previous, human created model / paradigm / worldview. When faced with observational anomalies (the CERN results), we humans also draw from our human nature as “definers.” In fact, we cannot escape it. And as a result, they will forever wrestle with the question:
Shall I live in the past with models that are now inadequate to account for all observations, or do I accept the challenge of moving on?
(1) Science Now, “Neutrinos Travel Faster than Light, According to One Experiment”
(3) Science 2.0, “A Million Times The Speed Of Light”