Sunday, September 25, 2011

Faster than Lightspeed

Oh dear, I really shouldn't get cute so much with titles, since my writings won't be indexed and no one will be able to get my take on the news of the day. CERN right? That superconducting supercollider or whateverthehell ya whatchamacallit. That border-crossing machine mostly underground where particles, so-called, can be accelerated pretty much the way you might swing a bolero and let fly a rock with more energy than you could get without the windup.

I'd thought they were all about collisions and detecting new particles  - that Higgs boson, again so-called, to be emitted (which really shouldn't apply to particulate matter at all) from the collision of things with more energy than they would ever have "in nature."

But I guess once you have a great machine, there are lots and lots of things you can do with it, and this one let them fling some neutrinos underground through rock to Italy where, with some degree of reliable assurance that the neutrinos arriving at the receiving end bore some relation approximating identity to the ones flung out from CERN, they would be detected.

Do the math, crunch the number and these things seem to have accomplished the transit at something greater than the one bedrock limit we've been pretty certain of up 'til now. Lightspeed wasn't supposed to be transgressable.

Maybe this is just a teaser experiment to be sure we all know that the cost of the machine can be fully justified by the surprising nature of its results.

We're all still looking for surprises, aren't we? Something really cool to get infinite energy into our cars. Some new way to think of money so that we can realize "debt" doesn't really define the condition of all the manipulative power we collectively wield up against the popular sentiment that there isn't enough to pay our bills.

We listen to readings about the economy the way we do the weather, and it fills our days with a cloudy feeling, no matter how much possibility remains for our particular daily outings. These grand science experiments loom also in the background, well beyond our ability to understand their import, but lending a sense, perhaps, of hopeful anticipation.

Where once we got an atom bomb, maybe this time there will be something a little bit less problematical.

Or maybe we won't want to see it because the problem is that we don't have any way to change our mind about what it might mean.

Every day now, I'm faced with my own ignorance about things important to my daily work. These get combine with things I'd really just like to understand to make me feel impressively impotent against the enormity of what I really can't get a handle on.

Like do they have insurance in China now that they have all those cars? What happens to a driver who hits a pedestrian in a system without lawyers and transparent judicial processes? What do the schools really feel like to the majority of kids whose work is never rewarded, no matter the 10 hours per day they must put in? What is really going on with No Child Left Behind, and are we really becoming still more addicted to quasi-quantitative measures for school effectiveness?

Idle questions, surely, but working as I do across cultures, I become impressed that beneath the wreckage of our schools we still allow impressive numbers of self-motivated individuals to pursue dreams toward improvement. Some realize these dreams with impact for the greater good, and not always because they chase after some monetary reward. For my work, I really need to know what the motivations are in China.

Does parental and societal pressure there lead to wonders similar to those we believe that we enjoy over here? Does the implicit intense competition in the face of certain knowledge that there is always someone right behind you willing to work that much harder lead to great accomplishments? Neither here nor there?

I'm getting the sense that Chinese workers, like workers in civilized places the world over, are used to long mid-day siestas, and are a bit baffled by our long workdays and unpalatable cold and hasty lunches. Maybe their Euro-style civilized workday is payback for the relentless pressure they felt in school.

I played and lollygaggled and did my basement science experiments and so now I enjoy the payback of no time in any day to ponder or read a book or consider answers to those many things I remain so curious about. This is what drives the American economy, and I'm almost proud of my hard work. But I'm also wondering if a different kind of productivity is MIA. The kind which led some among my kind to invent this CERN time-machine.

You know it makes me uncomfortable that I am valued in my work partially because I know the Chinese language. I think that's the easy part of cultural border-crossings. The really hard part is to make contact culture to culture not just for the purpose of making friends or doing business, but for the purpose of making education actually happen.

It no longer makes sense to assume that Chinese want to study in the US because we are that much better at stuff than they are. We aren't. One assumption might be that the only difference in accomplishment is that we are temporarily ascendant - that we have all the money and power - and that visiting Chinese would like to learn as much about us as possible so that they can take over that ascendant role.

But a better assumption, and the one which makes it possible for me to remain excited about my work, is that it is the differences which define the value of the education. The assumption of one party having some advantage over the other leaves the education as more of an economic transaction. Trading for comparative advantage leads to benefits for both parties to the trade for sure, but education is supposed to have a direction from ignorance to enlightenment.

I guess that's the same as the direction implied by economic transactions where the net distribution of goods and efforts means that everyone is better off than before the transaction. Despite the cloudy outlook, more of us than ever before can live in comfort and relative security with full bellies and temperature-controlled dry spaces in which to weather come-what-may.

But the end seems near. Our load upon the environment is going to break the limits of the earth's carrying power. What really will happen when that as yet un-posited limit gets transgressed? Or maybe the question is why we don't identify that limit as a universal constant, the way we once did with lightspeed? It really is the limit between life and death, and we, collectively, act like Cher now, thinking that we can cheat death with technology. Maybe in just the way that we cheated the ultimate limit of lightspeed with this supercollider.

I suspect or maybe just hope that someday real soon some among us will start to awaken to the necessary and fairly obvious conclusion that it isn't the lightspeed barrier which has been transgressed. Instead, we've transgressed a definitional barrier without even recognizing it.

Information has long been known to be unlimited by particulate transmission limits. This falls out from certain principles of quantum physics where identities distributed in time and space can be established such that knowing some characteristic at one end entails instant knowledge at the other. No matter that the spatial separation negates the possibility for the information to be transmitted.

The data is now out for analysis, but the one thing which won't happen because it can't happen is for the scientists examining the data to come up with an alternative framework for the interpretation. They will be looking for systematic measurement errors or calculation effects which caused the results to only seem as though the neutrinos could have beaten light to their receivers.

But if they did consider receiver and sender both to be a part of a single identity to begin with, well then I'm guessing that the measurement of arrival before the expected appointment is really nothing other than a measure of the degree of ambiguity in the extent of thingness of the thing being measured. It's the looking glass that's been transgressed. There will be no Higg's boson, since there is a limit to particulate reality.

The measure was a measure of the predictability of the neutrinos' arrival which turned out to have been something greater than unity; a measure, perhaps, of the extraordinary effort expended in making sure the reception was good.

I mean these neutrinos are apparently capable of a kind of shape shifting and so why can't the cloud within which speed can be detected (someTHING has to be detected to start at someWHERE and finish at somePLACE) be large enough to accommodate the lightspeed excess?

If the lightspeed constant remains intact, and assuming no gross errors yet undiscovered, then this greater than lightspeed measure is not a detection so much as a prediction of detection having enough certainty to be nearly identical to actual detection. Sort of like the perfect translation I long for, where I can 'go native' and really understand what the hell is going on when the discussions become animated and hilarious.

I can feel left out in English too, especially when watching a movie. But we all know that solid sense of being native to what's being said. There are always new expressions or words but negotiating their meaning happens quickly and with assurance. Which also creates lots of trouble.

I watch translators who work for us to provide meaningful lectures from the alien tongue of the presenters. I can get pretty frustrated knowing enough Chinese to tell when the translator just moved ahead with what she assumed was being said, and missed the point entirely because its ironic twists was being signaled beyond the subtlety of the non-native translator.

The fact is - maybe this is the only ultimate "fact" - that we can't really know the nature of reality 'out there.' It will always remain elusive, the way that "foreign language" must, but also the way that any other must. It would after all be pretty uninteresting to live in a social world where no communication was necessary. Probably even more uninteresting than one where it isn't possible.

The impulse to communicate is emotional, I think. The sum total of all the things we know or can know rendered into the vector of an impulse. (and yes, I'm bored with this too. There is no way to bring it home without, well, learning yet another language which it is beyond the span of any possible life for me to learn it in).

And so the time will come before too very long when we will once again examine our impulses. What did we think we would discover by this super-collider, if not the limits of our own ability to go native within whatever it is that still is and must ever remain outside our mind's apprehension. Did we really need this expense of energy and money just to en-state the obvious?

And what if the current model were to remain intact, augmented by the further elaboration of the Higgs boson contribution? When would boredom set in? When would we realize that the solutions we must seek now regard the political impulse to drive beyond all reasonable limits?

The Good News is that the shifted figure of emotion as part of the fundament, allows consciousness a role in transformation. Change your mind and change the world.

Well, see ya next time. It's been a nice languid few hours without work, and never enough time to finish a thought. Maybe Christmas?

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