Paul Greenberg

It was big news last fall. Not just nationally or internationally but for the universe.

The eminent scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced that they had recorded a minute particle -- a neutrino -- traveling faster than light. Which is impossible according to Einstein and everything else we've learned about the universe, theoretically and experimentally, over the past century.

This wasn't just news, it was a revolution in man's knowledge, overturning the basis of everything we thought we knew about the nature of the universe. The physicists at the giant particle accelerator near Geneva reported that the neutrinos they'd fired through the Alps had shown up at their destination in Italy 60 billionths of a second faster than light would have done over the same distance.

It was as if a respected institute of mathematics had announced that 2 plus 2 doesn't quite equal 4 after all.

Physicists around the world betrayed some skepticism about the report, but physics buffs went ga-ga. Assorted scientists, magazine editors and amateur particle-watchers around the globe were captivated by the news.

What did it mean? Beats me all to pieces. But the news got the guys in lab coats all excited.

If the speed of light wasn't the max -- and Herr Doktor Einstein was wrong -- what would that do to the laws of the universe, which had suddenly been repealed? What could mankind do with this information? Was time travel possible? Fantastic voyages of speculation were launched that would make your average sci-fi story sound unimaginative.

The news came over the AP wire last Wednesday.

Researchers at CERN say they might have, well, after further review, it seems that there could have been, um, something of a teeny-tiny boo-boo of a mistake. A spokesman for CERN told the AP that scientists had "found a problem" with the stop-watch, or whatever they use to measure the speed of the neutrinos.

Other reports in Science magazine blamed a bad connection in a fiber optic cable. More experiments are, as you can guess, planned.

Once again, Einstein has been confirmed by an experiment that originally contradicted him. It was a familiar pattern even in his lifetime: Einstein would be "proved" wrong by the experimental evidence, whereupon he would dismiss the results of the experiment as impossible, as any genius could plainly see.

Sure enough, it would be the experiment that proved wrong, not Einstein. The human mind really is something, or at least Einstein's was.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.