Faster Than the Speed of Light

When I was younger I wanted to study electrical engineering and physics. However, sometimes life does not carry you in direction you want to go. I remember how, as a child, from time to time I daydreamed that scientists are like super heroes, independently discovering amazing things, allowing their imagination to run freely. But once I grew up and became closer to real scientific institutions, my dream was crushed by the cold, bureaucratically institutionalized approach to science where more time was wasted dealing with human relations, emotions, and endless politics than time spent on actual science.

Of course, you may say that metaphysically speculating and imagining impossible things and theories is not the way to do physics. But correct me if I am wrong — Einstein discovered his famous theory of relativity because he was imagining he is riding beam of light. Tesla was playing with imaginary models of the Sun and the Moon in his mind when he invented the alternating motor.

If you are an educated physicist please turn OFF everything you have learned just for a minute, and just let your mind wander a bit into the unknown. Do not jump in with your scientific side of the brain saying, “What about Einstein’s theory”, or, “What about Heisenberg's uncertainty principle”.

Imagine speed faster than the speed of light. As I said, it is not important to think about how that violates existing theories. Just imagine that it is possible, and imagine that reality does not really care how we describe it in our theories.

Now, there have been quite a few times I have read an article where someone allegedly made a huge discovery — a discovery about an elusive particle that was moving faster than the speed of light. Usually ending with “... according to existing theories, this would cause the particle to travel backward in time. “


If there is something that violates existing theories, maybe those theories are not entirely correct in the first place, and maybe we should rethink usage of those theories as a future frame of reference. If reality is experimentally showing that something is not in align with the theory, would you doubt the theory or reality? Of course this is a difficult question that usually depends on the knowledge in your disposal and the experimental proofs you can repeat.

Regardless, let us continue with the imagination experiment.

Imagine that one particle moving at the speed of light needs 1 second for travelling from point A to the point B.

Now my question to you is, if the particle can really travel from point A to point B faster than the speed of light which answer is more natural?

1. To arrive at point B after -1 sec or backward in time? or

2. To arrive at point B after 0.999 sec from the time he started his journey?

Which option is more realistic to think of — backward movement of time or the particle arriving 0.001 sec earlier than the usual?

Intuitively, one would think the particle will get there faster instead of reversing in time. But this does not necessarily need to be true; currently best answer we can get is quite possibly “we do not know.”

What would observing such an event look like from our world?

My guess is that it would surely cause some very strange visual effects, or possibly we could not even detect it as it would not interact with matter moving at “normal” speeds.

Also, I am not trying to say that we cannot “manipulate time”, only that time will just continue going forward no matter what. And, according to what we know now “manipulation of time” is possible but there is a catch.

When I say “manipulation of time”, we are not actually manipulating time but rather behavior of all particles and interaction between them. Imagine that particles are frames of a movie. When you start playing the movie, you can choose the speed from zero to some number. This means you can stop the movie completely or play the movie very fast, but you cannot go reverse. Every time you turn the projector on it will go forward only, with the speed you’ve adjusted earlier.

As previously said, if experiment has shown to violate Einstein’s equation of relativity, it may be the case that we should not use that equation to explain what is going on there, at least not for that specific case.

Now, you can turn ON the knowledge you have.

Not long after the articles about particles moving faster than the speed of light went public, it was discovered that the measurements made for the experiment in Italy were wrong due to error created by incorrectly adjusted equipment. *1 Everything is still OK; we are still limited by the speed of light. The cage is still there and we do not have to worry — Einstein is safe.

Yes, current knowledge says that possibility of moving faster than the speed of light is not a way how reality works. Although we still have many holes in our knowledge and we can argue whether we know enough, but my thought experiment probably can be easily dismissed with existing knowledge.

Now, the only thing left is to understand why I would still insist on carrying out this thought experiment, why I am still looking for possibility that something can actually move faster than the what is consider as maximal speed in the universe.

Maybe it is purely hope.

Imagine that we learn that there is no way to travel faster than the speed of light. There are, no wormholes, no negative energy, no possibility to artificially expand or contract space time — that would pretty much mean that we are stuck in our solar system until the Sun burns up, or until some cosmic explosion wipes us all out.

You probably know the story about gorillas that are captured in the wild and then put in a cage. At first they will try to fight the cage. They will shake the bars with those amazingly strong arms and they will kick, punch, and throw whatever they find in the cage at the bars. They will try to smash it just to escape that prison. Usually kept alone, after the while they will stop, they will start feeling very lonely, sad, and after some time get really depressed. All the anger will disappear, the spark will leave their eyes, and they will give up. One more sad thing will follow, at that moment even if someone opens the cage and leave the door open, the animal will stay inside of the cage. It will not try to escape or get out. There in that cage it will be just a shell of what once was a fearsome animal.

I guess that is the same reason I am trying to think about physics in a different way, regardless of being wrong 99.999+ of the time. I will continue to look for that small fraction of percent where I could be right — the one fraction that will allow us to leave the cage. Even for the price of pretending I am a depressed animal in order to trick my captor into leaving that door open for me. Prospect that we will forever be captive on this planet sounds horrifying to me. Or, maybe, reality is more like in the Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince, and all we need is a bite of a snake to set us free.

Recently I saw a comic that shows a panel with the title: “Number of Google results for ‘Einstein was __ (wrong/right)’”, and then below it is a chart showing a significant number of those who still think Einstein is wrong.
In conclusion at the bottom there is a punch line “It still amazes me how people think so highly of themselves.” *2

From my point of view it is not a matter of wanting to be smarter or proving someone wrong, it is just a matter of believing that maybe there is something more, something new or different then what we thought it is.
Something calling to be discovered.

“Imagination is more than you think.
Do not try to put bars and locks around it.
Set your imagination free, and one day it will
amaze you more than you could ever hope for.”

Notes & References: