There is a certain sort of person who, when confronted with stories of galactic empires or, really, any SF which proposes traveling faster than the speed of light, will whine, “But nothing can go faster than the speed of light. Noooothing.”
I have always dismissed such arguments on two grounds: one, there may turn out to be some as-yet-unguessed-at method of bypassing or working around this limitation. (“But it’s a basic tent of phyyyysics,” they whine.) Two: it makes for a good story, stop whining and enjoy the ride.
So it was with great pleasure that I read this article, which essentially said that scientists at Cern have detected neutrinos traveling FASTER than the speed of light.
Let me repeat that:
FASTER than the speed of light.
FASTER than the speed of light.
FASTER than the speed of light.
Now I know that a test result that seems to overturn a basic tenet of physics is going to take a LOT of verification before the rule books have to be rewritten. But as one commentator pointed out: the scientists at CERN knew their results are likely to be highly controversial, and so they’ve undoubtedly checked the experiment over as carefully as they can, which, being scientists at a top research lab, is pretty darned carefully.
In the meantime, I am going to reread one of my favorite short story collections, “Billion Year Spree,” a work which I now feel free to consider speculative fiction. And as I read it, a little part of my brain will be going, “Bite me, speed of light Nazis!”
Ah, but the whole thrust of my OP had to do with how exceeding the speed of light affects my enjoyment of SF, and others’ responses to it in SF terms. I’m not interested in debating the theoretical implications, merely noting how it has changed one of the basic arguments among SF readers. Hence, Cafe Society.
The one thing that always peeves me whenever you have science fiction in which breaking the speed of light is as easy as speeding on the highway is that they almost never acknowledge that time travel comes part and parcel with it (or give some reason why it doesn’t). It’s particularly grating when within the story, there exists a separate means of time travel, especially if that’s something presented as extremely rare, valuable or dangerous.
That said, I can usually suspend my disbelief well enough to nevertheless enjoy these things (if I couldn’t, there just would be too few things left to enjoy).
I have no problem with FTL travel in science fiction, which is really just a subset of fantasy. It’s when people start proposing manned interstellar travel as a serious possibility that I start to roll my eyes. The neutrino observation is fascinating but, taking my cue from the actual physicists on this board and elsewhere, I’m going to wait to see what’s really going on.
FTL travels suspends the laws of physics. And the laws of logic, and economics, and political science, and basic common sense. Upping the speed of light by an infinitesimal fraction of a percent doesn’t change that. At all.
I agree that having FTL is stories is enjoyable magic. But it’s simply magic. It gets you aliens and new planets and space battles and weird stars and other fun stuff, which is great … as long as you are aware that they are the exact equivalents of ghosts and goblins and unicorns and heaven and hell, and used in the same way for the same purposes.
As soon as you try to make the case that one’s science and one’s magic and look at the difference, then you are going to get attitude in your face. If your enjoyment of SF depends entirely on your being either stupid about or deliberately ignorant of what real science is, what else could you possibly expect?
ETA: Wait, there’s an anthology titled Billion Year Spree? I only know the nonfiction book by Brian Aldiss. What are you referring to?
The guys at Cern reported their results. They’re pretty good at experimental physics … some of the best, if not the best, in the world. Until someone finds a flaw in their experiment … faster than light travel has been demonstrated to exist. Granted, it’s a neutrinos-only thing, but the camel’s nose is in the tent, baby! You’re the one who’s flying in the face of science now.
My mistake, got the titles conflated. It’s Galactic Empires (Volume one and two) both edited by Brian Aldiss. Wonderful reads, both of them. To be fair, “Billion Year Spree” is a HELL of a title, I’m not surprised I remembered it rather than “Galactic Empires Volume I”.
It’s really not the speed of light that prevents interstellar travel, it’s energy and acceleration. If you could get a spaceship up to .9c, you could explore a fair chunk of the galaxy, thanks in part to relativistic effects. (Though if you stay out long enough, by your clock, you won’t be able to go back to your time.) The problem is, where do you get the energy to accelerate a large object, even an unmanned probe, to anywhere near that velocity? And if you’re sticking humans on that ship, how do you keep them from being crushed into atom-thin paste by the acceleration?
The current result is a lot more meaningful than any of the other “FTL experiments” that crop up in the popular press every year or two, in that nobody (including the experimenters themselves) is really sure what’s going on yet. So far, nobody’s been able to find an explanation other than FTL. But there are such an incredibly large number of possible explanations that the fact that nobody has found one yet is not actually all that interesting.
Not really, since the experiment has not yet been independently replicated. Fermilab is working on it right now; if they see this effect, too, then we can (tentatively) say that it’s been demonstrated to exist. But only tentatively.
I have known mathematically that FTL was possible. The proof of it is something that any college student, let alone a professor, could see. It is so obvious and so trivial that it is pooh-poohed and dismissed as fast as creationism is today.
So I will laugh when it takes the vaunted poindexters of the world five more years to see what I saw over 30 years ago.
Of course, if I could write and speak academician, I could probably qualify for some sort of honorary award or prize.
So to my more erudite Dopers; I tell you the proof, you write the long and complicated requisite paper, and we’ll share the honor…you need first year college physics and math. nothing more. ***that’s ***how simple it is.
Why would you accelerate the ship? That’s stupid. You actually move the entire universe around the ship.
The engine that does this would obviously be fueled by a boiler reminiscent of one found in a coal-powered 19th century dreadnought, but it will be fed orbs of pure dark matter instead of fossil fuels.
Whoah, there hoss. The best possible interpretation on the Cern results right now is “Hey, we don’t understand this result we’re seeing – any of you guys want to take a crack at it and tell us if we’re doing something wrong?”
It’s a far, far cry from saying that the speed of light has been exceeded for sure.
Well, more likely they took inspiration from that bet Stephen Hawking made that Cygnus X-1 was not a black hole, even though much of Hawking’s work was about black holes and would be invalidated as a result. His rationale was that his life’s work might be proved wrong, but at least he’d get the solace of a four-year subscription to a favored magazine.