Upheavals in Physics: The Speed of Light Exceeded (Chuck Missler)

Some scientists now claim they have broken the ultimate speed barrier: the speed of light.

Particle physicists at the NEC Research Institute at Princeton apparently have indicated that light pulses can be accelerated to up to 300 times their normal velocity of 186,282 miles per second.

In work carried out by Dr. Lijun Wang, a pulse of light was transmitted towards a chamber filled with specially treated cesium gas. Before the pulse had fully entered the chamber, it had gone right through it and traveled an additional 60 feet across the laboratory. In effect it appeared to exist in two places at once, a phenomenon that Dr. Wang explains by saying it traveled 300 times faster than the normal velocity of light.

(Exact details of the findings remain confidential because they have been submitted to the international scientific journal, Nature, for review prior to possible publication.)

The implications would appear to be staggering. It could shatter Einstein's Theory of Relativity, since it depends in part on the speed of light being a constant and unbreachable. Needless to say, this research is destined to cause continuing controversy among physicists. (Barry Setterfield's controversial suggestions that the speed of light is not a constant have been highlighted in our Personal Update journal for many years.)

One interpretation of the Princeton experiment suggests that light arrived at its destination almost before it has started its journey: In effect, it appeared to be leaping forward in time. One of the possibilities is that if light could travel forward in time, it could carry information. This would breach one of the basic principles in physics-causality, which says that a cause must come before an effect.

In Italy, another group of physicists has also succeeded in breaking the light speed barrier. In a recently published paper,
physicists at the Italian National Research Council described how they propagated microwaves at 25% above normal light speed. The group also speculates that
it could prove possible to transmit information faster than light.

Dr. Guenter Nimtz, of Cologne University, recently gave a paper to a conference in Edinburgh describing how information can be sent faster than light. He believes, however, that this will not breach the principle of causality because the time taken to interpret the signal would fritter away all the savings. "The most likely application for this is not in time travel but in speeding up the way signals move through computer circuits," he said.

Dr. Raymond Chiao, professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley, who is familiar with Wang's work, said he was impressed by the findings. Separate experiments carried out by Chiao indicate simultaneous multiple localities. He has shown that in certain circumstances photons-the particles which constitute light-could apparently jump between two points separated by a barrier in what appears to be zero time. The process, known as "tunneling," has been used to make some of the most sensitive electron microscopes.

The implications of Wang's experiments will, of course, arouse fierce debate. Many will question whether his work can be interpreted as proving that light can exceed its normal speed-suggesting that another mechanism may be at work.

Wang emphasizes that his experiments are relevant only to light and may not apply to other physical entities. But some scientists are beginning to accept that man may eventually exploit some of these characteristics for interstellar space travel.

The Nature of Reality

Wang's experiment is the latest and among the potentially most important evidences that the physical world may not operate according to the presently accepted conventions. In the new world that modern science is beginning to perceive, subatomic particles can apparently exist in two places at the same time-making no distinction between space and time.

The problem, according to Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, is that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Any instantaneous communication implied by the view of quantum physics would be tantamount to breaking the time barrier and would open the door to all kinds of unacceptable paradoxes.

Einstein and his colleagues were convinced that no "reasonable definition" of reality would permit such faster-than-light interconnections to exist. (Their argument is now known as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox, or EPR paradox for short.)

Rather than believing that some kind of faster-than-light communication was taking place, Niels Bohr offered another explanation: If subatomic particles do not exist until they are observed, then one could no longer think of them as independent "things."

Thus, Einstein was basing his argument on an error when he viewed twin particles as separate. They were part of an indivisible system, and it was meaningless to think of them otherwise. In time, most physicists sided with Bohr and became content that his interpretation was correct.

The Cosmos as a Hyper- Hologram?

There seems to be evidence accumulating to suggest that our world and everything in it are only ghostly images, projections from a higher level of reality so beyond our own that the real reality is literally beyond both space and time. The main architect of this astonishing idea includes one of the world's most eminent thinkers: University of London physicist David Bohm, a protégé of Einstein's and one of the world's most respected quantum physicists.

Bohm's work in plasma physics in the 1950s was considered a landmark. Earlier at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, he noticed that in plasmas (gases composed of high density electrons and positive ions) the particles stopped behaving like individuals and started behaving as if they were part of a larger and interconnected whole. Moving to Princeton University in 1947, there too he continued his work in the behavior of oceans of particles, noting their highly organized overall effects and their behaving as if they knew what each of the untold trillions of individual particles were doing.

Bohm's sense of the importance of interconnectedness, as well as years of dissatisfaction with the inability of standard theories to explain all of the phenomena encountered in quantum physics, left him searching. While at Princeton, Bohm and Einstein developed a supportive relationship and shared their mutual restlessness regarding the strange implications of current quantum theory.

One of the implications of Bohm's view has to do with the nature of location. Bohm's interpretation of quantum physics indicated that at the sub-quantum level location ceased to exist. All points in space become equal to all other points in space, and it was meaningless to speak of anything as being separate from anything else. Physicists call this property "non-locality."

The Bell Inequality

Bohm's ideas left most physicists unpersuaded, but they did stir the interest of a few. One of these was John Stewart Bell, a theoretical physicist at CERN, the center for atomic research at Geneva, Switzerland. Like Bohm, Bell had become discontented with the quantum theory and felt there had to be some alternative.

When Bell encountered Bohm's ideas, he wondered if there was some way of experimentally verifying non-locality. Freed up by a sabbatical in 1964, he developed an elegant mathematical approach which revealed how such a two-particle experiment could be performed - the now famed Bell Inequality.

The only problem was that it required a level of technological precision that was not yet available. To be certain that particles - such as those in the EPR paradox - were not using some normal means of communication, the basic operations of the experiment had to be performed in such an infinitesimally brief instant that there wouldn't be enough time for a ray of light to transit the distance separating the two particles. Light travels at about a foot in a nanosecond (thousand-millionth of a second). This meant that the instruments used in the experiment had to perform all the necessary operations within a few nanoseconds.

As technology improved it was finally possible to actually perform the two-particle experiment outlined by Bell. In 1982, a landmark experiment performed by a research team led by physicist Alain Aspect, Jean Dalibard, and Gérard Roger at the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Optics, in Paris, succeeded. They produced a series of twin photons by heating calcium atoms with lasers, allowed each photon to travel in opposite directions through 6.5 meters of pipe and pass through special filters that directed them toward one of two possible polarization analyzers.

It took each filter 10 nanoseconds to switch between one analyzer or the other, about 30 nanoseconds less than it took light to travel the entire 13 meters separating each set of photons. In this way Aspect and his colleagues were able to rule out any possibility of the photons communicating by any known physical process.

The experiment was a success. Just as quantum theory predicted, each photon was still able to correlate its angle of polarization with that of its twin. This meant that either Einstein's ban against faster-than-light communications was being violated, or the two photons were non-locally connected.

This experiment demonstrated that the web of subatomic particles which comprise our physical universe-the very fabric of "reality" itself-may possess what appears to be a "holographic" property.

Is Reality Only Virtual?

One of Bohm's most startling suggestions is that the tangible reality of our everyday lives is really a kind of illusion, like a holographic image.

Underlying it is a deeper order of existence, a vast and more primary level of reality that gives birth to all the objects and appearances of our physical world in much the same way that a piece of holographic film gives birth to a hologram. Bohm calls this deeper level of reality the implicate ("enfolded") order and he refers to our level of existence the explicate (unfolded) order.

Many physicists remain skeptical of Bohm's ideas, but among those who are sympathetic, however, are Roger Penrose of Oxford, the creator of the modern theory of black holes; Bernard d'Espagnat of the University of Paris, one of the leading authorities on the conceptual foundations of quantum theory, and Cambridge's Brian Josephson, winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize in physics. Josephson believes that Bohm's implicate order may someday even lead to the inclusion of God within the framework of science, a view which Josephson supports.

The holographic paradigm is still a developing concept and riddled with controversies. For decades science has chosen to ignore evidences that do not fit the standard theories. However, the volume of evidence has now reached the point that denial is no longer a viable option.

(The recent entertaining movie, The Thirteenth Floor, explores a "simulation within a simulation," with a plot involving virtual people inhabiting a virtual world with the participants transferring between levels.)

These notions are not very distant from the Biblical presentation of the physical world as being subordinate to the superior reality of the spiritual world.

The Bible, incidentally, is also unique among all religious books in that it also presents a universe of more than three dimensions, 6 reveals a Creator that is transcendent over His creation,7 and who entered time and space to create the ultimate paradox by fulfilling our future!