I have had a lifelong interest in science and reading in general. As a youth, thanks to Andrew Carnegie and public libraries, I devoured all the science-related material I could find. It may have begun with Tom Swift, I can’t recall for sure. That would have been some 66 or 67 years ago, but read them I did. I found Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ novels about Tarzan and John Carter, and I read Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz before I realized the allegorical meanings of those marvelous works. When I discovered science fiction, I could hardly get enough of it. I didn’t then realize that I was coming of age in a golden era of science. Many of those science fiction authors were themselves, in their day jobs, scientists and engineers, so it is little wonder that their writing was suffused with verisimilitude. The jargon was current, the topics imaginative but usually within the bounds of what was theoretically possible, at least back then.
While the meaning of life still eludes me, I have come to enjoy science as a marvelous gift derived from the learned, competitive process that has evolved in the community of rational people and delivered in ever so neat information packages. It is all of a piece, a common acceptance of rationality among people of scientific leanings, that human understanding should proceed incrementally, building on hypotheses and theories that approach certitude asymptotically.
Thus it was with satisfaction that I read an online report this morning confirming that Albert Einstein was correct after all about the speed of light being an absolute limit. The world is still predictable, time travel, as delightful, frightening and amusing as it might be, is still not in the cards, and the physical limits of space travel still stand as daunting as ever. Reality is not at all what it often seems to be – one must build understanding incrementally and verify it with repeatable testing.
It is especially satisfying to hear the scientists accept the new results, content with the process. Speaking of the Opera team that first reported the measurement discrepancy, CERN’s director expressed it well when he said,
“Whatever the result, the Opera experiment has behaved with perfect scientific integrity in opening their measurement to broad scrutiny.”
With apologies to Dickens, one might imagine the finger of the Spectre of Science Future pointing at man: “Look, you are confined by the laws of Nature to this Blue Marble. You must act rationally in planning for your future. This is your home and it will be what you make of it.”
Rest in peace, Albert. You were right again.