Category Archives: Science

Is science deterministic?

In his article in the New York Times, Jim Holt argues that science is deterministic (see the last few paragraphs): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/books/review/knocking-on-heavens-door-by-lisa-randall-book-review.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

The obvious question in my mind is, is it? Jim is basically arguing that since the current theories of physics all point to a bunch of elementary particles & forces that makes up everything as well as the rules that govern their interaction, then science must be deterministic. That is, the rules govern how any two things would interact or three things or even more.  Given a set of parameters, then the interaction will always be the same given the rules we have.

Now that is certainly an interesting thought. It would mean that no one is responsible for their actions and that science is no better than some religions out there given that a deterministic science would take away free will and therefore morality. I would think that what we see as the determinism in science is our lack of understanding of all the rules. We may have most of it but it’s always the little details that gets us. Quantum mechanics is well known for its wave functions that describes probabilities of events. It is perhaps these probabilities that does away with determinism. But who knows really? It does certainly raise an interesting topic for a Sunday morning though.

Can neutrinos travel faster than light?

Update: For a better explanation of exactly what’s going on and why it’s making news, please read this very well written article from Wired: http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2011/09/neutrinos-and-the-speed-of-light-a-primer-on-the-cern-study/

A new discovery by a team of physicists at CERN in an experiment dubbed “OPERA” has important implications for physics and our understanding of the physical universe.  As reported by Reuters and others, this discovery will force us to rethink Einstein’s famous E = mc2 equation postulated in a series of thought experiments in 1905 if it holds up.

The experiment involved shooting streams of neutrinos, upwards of 16,000 streams from CERN in Geneva, Switzerland to a detector in Gran Sasso, Italy some 730+ km away.  The team of physicists found that the neutrinos are covering that distance in less time than light would in a second.  About 60 nanoseconds less with a margin of error of 10 nanoseconds, which is a statistically significant result.  The team of physicists have ruled out all the possible errors they can think of and have now released the full results of their experiments for the world to scrutinize.

This discovery, while important, won’t mean a whole lot to us in the everyday world.  It just means that Einstein’s universal speed limit of 186,282 miles a second may not be accurate after all.  While experiments since 1905 have pretty much verified Einstein’s theory, this result may just force us to re-evaluate the underlying explanations of the nature of the universe a bit more to accommodate this puzzling result.  I for one am very interested to see what the outcome is.