7:00 AM EDT, October 4, 2011
Mac Nachlas' letter suggests that the results of a recent European experiment not only raises entirely new doubt about Albert Einstein's theories but also reveals a failure of the U.S. to keep up with other devolved countries in its investment in basic research ("Faster than light? Research will benefit America in ways we can't foresee," Sept. 27.) I think Mr. Nachlas may be jumping to conclusions in two different directions at once (a phenomenon which itself may bear investigation by those who monitor the laws of physics).
First, there has been at least one previous experiment (done at an American University, I believe in the 1920s or 1930s) which showed that it was possible for particles to exceed the speed of light. Yet physicists have continued to view the world as Einstein described it, just as they continue to view it to a great extent as Newton described it. Perhaps we need to await further developments before we take alarm at the recent experiment.
And I question that the U.S. as a society is investing less in basic research in proportion to its more mundane and perhaps more destructive research than other societies of comparable capacity. The originators of scientific discovery and the technology that such discovery produces are astonishingly cosmopolitan in the modern world. And the uses to which new knowledge is put by the U.S. are little different than in other societies. The starving North Koreans, with a GNP comparable to Arkansas, developed an atomic bomb, and the British lost a cruiser to the Argentine Navy and a cheap but neat little missile invented by the French allies.
But I fear all this reflects weakness, not in America's devotion to basic research, but in man's character, and that predates Einstein or Newton or Ptolemy. In George Bernard Shaw's Man And Superman, Satan says to Don Juan "I tell you that in the arts of peace, Man is a bungler — His heart is in his weapons!" Now there is a conclusion that perhaps Mac and I, and the Devil, could join hands with the ghost of Shaw and skip rope to.
Bootz Mercer, Randallstown
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