Paul Greenberg

How could he have been so sure about his theories? Because all through those long, lonely days at his day job in the patent office, he'd thought, he'd imagined, he'd visualized some things through. Thought Experiments, he called his mental gymnastics. And they proved more reliable than a lot of the field work with telescopes and mirrors and radio discs and who knows what else.

Young Einstein's days may have been long and lonely, but they were anything but empty. The young clerk who imagined himself some kind of physicist, was surrounded by his own ideas, thoughts, theories ... all aswirl in his ever-active mind, waiting for him to use them to make a universe out of all this seeming chaos.

He let there be light at a constant speed in a sea of relativity, and all the pieces of his universal theory fell into dazzling place. And he pronounced it good.

All he'd needed was his own reason and imagination and daring -- and an unshakable faith that man could understand the whole Creation. If he would just think its mysteries through. Till all would be revealed. As he put it, "The Lord God may be cunning, but he's not malicious." If the Creator's works are mysterious, they are not impenetrable. Day by day uttereth speech, sang the Psalmist, and night unto night showeth knowledge. The answers are out there; they just wait to be found, and Herr Einstein would find them. Again and again.

Now another experiment has proven faulty, not Einstein. What a pity in its way. The news from Geneva had opened so many possibilities, including a lot for humor. The discovery that a neutrino could theoretically arrive at one place before it had left another inspired my nomination for Joke of the Year 2011:

"Get out of here," says the bartender. "We don't serve no faster-than-light neutrinos here!"

A neutrino walks into a bar.

Now it all turns out to have been a loose connection or something -- an alternator on the blink, a gizmo on the wrong setting, a cable not quite plugged in. Aw shucks. What a letdown.

Even more satisfying than all the neutrino jokes circulating among members of scientific faculties around the world was the sight of all those physicists genuinely excited about a scientific discovery. Even if, as it turns out, the discovery wasn't genuine. Ah, well, back to the particle accelerator.

Homo Faber, Man the Toolmaker, strikes again. What do you suppose is Latin for Man the Ever Gullible?


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.