Friday, October 7, 2011

Particle physics humour

It is often said that there are only five jokes. Probably true – most jokes are a variation on a theme. I have written, or rather compiled, two joke books. This was in the year that our first child was born and I was the sole income earner, so I wrote five books. Don’t talk to me about inspiration and waiting for the muse.

To compile these I trawled through the internet and other joke books, eliminated (for the adult book) most of the sexist and all of the racist ones, basically chose what amused me or I thought might amuse others, and rewrote them all to make them New Zealandy.

In each book I inserted one joke I had made up but at this distance – nearly 10 years – I am not certain which are mine. I’m pretty sure about the one in the Penguin for adults but have no clue about the Puffin for children. (You have no idea how hard it was promoting these: one radio interviewer in the deep south said that actually he had a bit of a reputation as a raconteur and joke-teller. My Popperian prediction: anyone who prides himself on his joke-telling has no sense of humour. And so it proved. He asked me about my theory of humour. And he wasn’t even German. But I digress.) 

The other day I saw a joke that was new and could never have been thought up before Cern announced  its amazing possible result. There are many jokes about the neutrino result and its implications for Einstein’s theory of relativity but this one is the most sophisticated, and is possibly the most sophisticated joke ever: 
The barman says, “We don’t serve neutrinos in here.” A neutrino walks into a bar.
Best bit from that Guardian report:
Subir Sarkar, head of particle theory at Oxford University, said: “If this is proved to be true it would be a massive, massive event. It is something nobody was expecting.
“The constancy of the speed of light essentially underpins our understanding of space and time and causality, which is the fact that cause comes before effect.”
The key point underlying causality is that the laws of physics as we know them dictate that information cannot be communicated faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, added Sarkar.
“Cause cannot come after effect and that is absolutely fundamental to our construction of the physical universe. If we do not have causality, we are buggered.”
I bet it’s a measurement or interpretation error, but the devout Popperian part of me hopes it’s true and that all physics has just been up-ended. Capitalism is not the only area that works by creative destruction.


Stephanie said...

I read the article in your post and didn't see any mention of accounting for the motion of the earth during the time of the experiment; I mean 600th of a second over 730km ... Still, every spring you can leave NZ for LA and arrive an hour before you have left, so why not a neutrino?

Stephen Stratford said...

I gather they did account for the earth moving but I have no idea how they can be so confident of the precision. Must involve an atomic clock. Possibly.