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article imageOp-Ed: Einstein’s Error

By Alexander Baron     Sep 24, 2011 in Science
Geneva - There has been much talk over the past couple of days about Einstein’s famous equation and his Theory of Special Relativity being wrong. As usual, this is nothing new.
The announcement that scientists appear to have discovered a neutrino that travels faster than light is of course the sort of story that catches the imagination of even the non-scientific amongst us, but some of the speculation this has led to already is ludicrous, such as:
“Particles that move faster than light are essentially moving backwards in time, which could make the phrase cause and effect obsolete.”
Essentially or actually? Time travel is one of those things that has long fascinated mankind, but a little common sense reveals that it is really a nonsense. In a way it’s a bit like those giant insects you see in some of those old B Movies. Remember Them? This was a 1954 science fiction film that led to ordinary ants mutating into “giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.”
An ordinary ant can lift about fifty times its own weight; extrapolating that to giant ants, they would be enormously powerful indeed. In fact, an ant the size of a human being wouldn’t be able to lift its own bodyweight, and one the size of a house wouldn’t even be able to crawl. Think about it.
By the same token, travelling in time either backwards or forwards violates certain fundamental principles that condemn it forever to remain in the realms of science fiction, not least being the conservation of energy. But aren’t we getting a bit ahead of ourselves?
All that appears to have been observed so far, with the emphasis on appears, is that some neutrinos have travelled faster than light, ie photons. What is missing from this equation? How about the words in vacuo?
The point being that light travels at lower speeds through gases, and even lower through liquids, so we can only determine if a particular particle is travelling faster than light if we can arrange an in vacuo experiment, which for the distances of necessity involved, would be extremely difficult. Leaving that aside, has everyone suddenly forgotten tachyons? These are theoretical particles that always travel faster than light, and the concept has been around for a long time, so whatever observations have been made at CERN, there is nothing to get excited about, at least not until they have been replicated.
Finally, back in the 1990s, I came across a couple of books by a character named A.H. Winterflood. One was called Newton’s Error, and the other was called Einstein’s Error; the third edition of which appeared in 1986. The books were self-published, and as the author lived in London, I wrote to him and requested an interview, which he politely declined, because if I recall, I was honest enough – or dumb enough – to admit that the mathematics which he expounded was beyond me.
Having said that, he was clearly not a crank; I may take another look at his books again sometime in the future, suffice it to say that if I recall, the errors which he claimed to have found did not seem extremely significant, although an error in Newtonian physics would surely be quite something.
He was not in the first flush of youth then, and although a quick sweep of cyberspace has turned up no obituaries for him, it is not a big assumption to assume he is now dead. It may though behove our atomic physicists and mathematicians to dig out his work, and see if this particular aspect of it stands up, although it remains to be seen what if any impact either he, Einstein, or any successor to Einstein will have on the real world.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Einstein, velocity of light, Speed of light, photons, neutrinos
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