Picture – Beautiful and rhizomatic (let me add) neutrino track events photo taken by LNS at MIT (The Conrad Research Group, link).

We are very much astonished by this result, but a result is never a discovery until other people confirm it. When you get such a result you want to make sure you made no mistakes, that there are no nasty things going on you didn’t think of. We spent months and months doing checks and we have not been able to find any errors. If there is a problem, it must be a tough, nasty effect, because trivial things we are clever enough to rule out.” ~ Antonio Ereditato, coordinator of the Opera project (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus), Guardian (link), UK, 22 Sept. 2011.

It is sometimes said that we should never believe a scientific theory until it is verified by experiment. But a famous astronomer has also stated that we should never believe an observation until it is confirmed by a theory.” ~ João Magueijo, Faster Than the Speed of Light, Penguin books, Feb. 2004 (early published in 2003).

So …, you and me -we all now- can change (e.g.) emails at 299.798,454 meters per second (warning: “suddenly ongoing” number hypotheses by a ‘clever‘ science team coordinator). That’s roughly a fraction of 20 parts per million more than last week (as the standard light speed stands for 299.792,458 m/s); i.e. 6 Km/s more (six, not … let us say nine Km more, still buzzes me for other reasons). Not -by all means-, reaching this amazing speed, I decided to depict (above) two different quotes for their stark contrast (all those underlined parts, made me smile a little, having in mind all the rest in context).

Surprised?! Don’t be. Science, fortunately moves on precisely this way. If a paradigmatic change occurs, that’s a healthy signal, not the contrary. My concern here today is not about change (along with their implications and applications, which could be huge), but rather -instead- when that change happened and to tribute those who have made that paradigm shift possible, creating an entire new research field possible to be exploited, Albert Einstein included. Ironically, the Ereditato OPERA et al. team paper starts on page 1 (image below) with a stream of no less than more than 100 authors, and it ends (conclusions, page 22) with an – at least – “enigmatic” phrase: We deliberately do not attempt any theoretical or phenomenological interpretation of the results (the full 24 pages work could be retrieved from arXiv). Having this in mind, I wonder if this recent paper did not forgot to mention someone.Superluminal theory or commonly know as Faster-than-light (FTL) communications and travel refer to the propagation of information or matter faster than the speed of light, a field with an enormous potential. Under the special theory of relativity (Wikipedia link), a particle (that has mass) with subluminal velocity needs infinite energy to accelerate to the speed of light, although special relativity does not forbid the existence of particles that travel faster than light at all times.

The “world” however seems to forget a paper done in 1998 by João Magueijo (Imperial College, London) on the Varying speed of light (VSL) theory of cosmology, proposing precisely that light speed was much higher in the early universe, by 60 orders of magnitude faster than its present value. João, was in fact the pioneer of VSL (along with John Moffat‘s early works). Their work starts like this (abstract):

We consider the cosmological implications of light traveling faster in the early Universe. We propose a prescription for deriving corrections to the cosmological evolution equations while the speed of light c is changing. We then show how the horizon, flatness, and cosmological constant problems may be solved. We also study cosmological perturbations in this scenario and show how one may solve the homogeneity and isotropy problems. As it stands, our scenario appears to most easily produce extreme homogeneity, requiring structure to be produced in the Standard Big Bang epoch. Producing significant perturbations during the earlier epoch would require a rather careful design of the function c(t). The large entropy inside the horizon nowadays can also be accounted for in this scenario. “, in Andreas Albrecht and João Magueijo; “A time varying speed of light as a solution to cosmological puzzles“, Physical Review D, Phys.Rev.D59:043516,1999 (the full 14 pages work published later in 1999 could be retrieved from arXiv).

João MagueijoPicture – João Magueijo (Imperial College, London).

A major work, onto which all his energies were necessary. Andreas and João fighted for years for their publication to pass the main journals, like Nature and Science. Later on, Magueijo decides to discuss his personal struggles pursuing VSL in his 2003 book, Faster Than The Speed of Light, The Story of a Scientific Speculation. For those who have actually read the book (not many let me say), do know that he spends most of its pages discussing, not VSL, but rather the counter aspect of conservationism and reductionism in Science, Academia and research. He does not spare Portugal also. Born in Évora (Alentejo, southern Portugal) in 1967, he mentions over several passages: I will never return. I now agree with him. Back in 2000 I spoke with several foreign as well as Portuguese physicists. No one knew him, or his work. Or if they did (yes, some did), nobody cared. They still do. For them, it was a sacrilege to open a little variation on Einstein‘s theory.

For what I have seen these days on newspapers and TV, the same conservationism keeps ruling, even if the media keeps inviting the most prominent commentators on the field, … the same as usual. Independently from the variation, they keep saying the same, or being skeptic. But I keep wondering if what they have is really a pure genuine scientific skepticism. Not surprised at all, let me add. Over my life, I have met mathematicians that do not know what a Voronoi tessellation is. Increasingly, the same goes on for a Johnson-Mehl. Or Portuguese physicists who have never heard about Per Bak‘s selforganized criticality. A massive mass-media delivered oblivion. Now gone worldwide, it seems.

Being skeptic is crucial (at some point). It’s one of the key ingredients in Science. Not however, when much before this present 2011 buzz OPERA paper, a small team on the other side of the planet,  in Australia, verified experimentally that Magueijo was right, a few months after his 1999 work (funny, … Einstein‘s theory was experimentally proved on São Tomé and Príncipe, also abroad, near the Equator). I do remember the news back then, but … hey, after one decade now, I do not have the link anymore – sorry, I’m not a physicist. Neither a mathematician. With patience, one of these days I will google it out. My memory is not what it was.

Fortunately, Magueijo‘s memory is not like ours. He knows where the right guys are. Or if he – by one good reason- misses them (as it was the case here), he goes after them. Not happy with Faster than Light,  in 2009, he decided to publish a second book: A Brilliant Darkness, an impressive account of the life and science of the vanished Italian physicist Ettore Majorana. For that, he random-walks the entire Italy, from one point to another, during months, even taking boats back and forth, grasping Majorana memoirs and the “fatal” accident and disappearance, still unsolved. Now that, I absolutely recommend as a good reading  for some Italian science team coordinators.

Back in 2001, living in a cheap hotel, for several weeks, in Kensington Road, while working daily at the Imperial College for a project aiming for new types of Neural Networks for Pollution control and forecasting, while the cold rain shuffled the windows outside, several times my thoughts went on what are the 10 key features present in a good scientist. I will spare you what I consider to be my 10 list (mail me one day if you feel curiosity about them) – anyway here are my first three: (3) honesty, (2) imagination and (1) courage. João, as I believe, had it all, namely the first one in tremendous proportions. 30 meters away from the Queen’s tower, daily on a cave, at the Imperial College main pub by 5 P.M, I had a couple of pints. Everyday I wished he was there, joining me: he do loves a good beer too. But he was definitively elsewhere on the campus, probably over another nearby pub at that hour. Never saw him. Never thought of climbing from my lab to his, in order to say hello. After one month, I left London.

For his amazing work and courage, as I said earlier last week over Twitter (link): “João Magueijo rocks! Neutrinos too. Both can travel faster than light. :-)“. Above all, those erratic neutrinos should be smiling now. Probably, by 60 orders of magnitude faster than its present value.