Saturday, October 1, 2011


 This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.  

Things have been busy lately. We finished up “Little Shop of Horrors”, which was a lot of fun by the way. Even though all I really got to see of the show was knees. Yes, I was hiding under the counter working a puppet. So I got to see knees. 

For the final night we had a technical issue with the device that lowered a screen over the shop part of the set. So we weren't able to have the set changes done the same way as the earlier shows. But despite a certain degree of panic in the crew, the show went on and was probably, from the audience perspective, about the same as all the other shows. We adapted.

Adaptation happens all the time. Circumstances change. And we have to respond to change. We adjust to the weather, and we must adjust to changing climate. But these require different rates of adaptation. Adapting to changing weather can range from wearing shorts, to putting on a jacket. While changing climate could mean planting different crops.

Science also has to adapt to change. Theories come and go based on how well the describe the world we see. Plate tectonics is very good at explaining earthquakes and other geological processes, so it is a well entrenched theory. But if someday a theory explained things better, scientists would certainly adapt to the new theory.

Right now there is news that brings into question a fundamental premise of the Theory of Relativity. Which is one of the best supported scientific theories out there. You see, the big collider in Europe generated some particles (neutrinos) that arrived at a detector in Italy before the Theory of Relativity predicted. 

Relativity says that nothing can go faster than the speed of light, but these neutrinos appear to have done just that. Arriving hundreds of miles away before light would have arrived. It was mere nanoseconds early, but it was measurable. (If you don't know a nanosecond is a billionth of a second.) 

Now if this was a regular feature of neutrinos then we should have seen it before. A supernova (a type of exploding star) releases lots of neutrinos and light. There was a big supernova several years back and neutrinos were detected from it. But not the days before the light arrived that this result would have implied. (The neutrinos were detected before the light, but it was due to the process that created the neutrinos occurring before the process that created the light. So it presented no problem for Relativity.)

Now the scientists started looking for explanations for what they saw. And it looks like the explanation might be fairly simple. To calculated the distance between the collider and the detector they used a particular model of the lumpy bumpy planet we live on. The same model that your GPS is based on. And Relativity doesn't suffer any problems if the detector is a few inches closer to the collider than they had calculated. 

So this was about adaptation. Not of the scientists to some new fundamental truth, “throwing out all we'd learned before” like many headlines might have proclaimed. But of trying to reconcile what the Universe tells us about the way it works and our own assumptions. In this case, about the shape of the world. Which is changing. Due to plate tectonics. 

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