The Speed of Light is a Universal Invariant...

in a vacuum. In other media, it can be exceeded, as Oliver Heaviside (who ought to be a hero of this blog, but who for some reason is not, and about whom I have been reading) predicted back in 1888. I've always thought that one of the examples of particles travelling faster than light in a dielectric medium, the Cherenkov radiation of advanced nuclear reactors, is just beautiful. It makes me think of Elinor Wylie's Address to My Soul, for some reason.

My soul, be not disturbed
By planetary war;
Remain securely orbed
In this contracted star.

Fear not, pathetic flame;
Your sustenance is doubt:
Glassed in translucent dream
They cannot stuff you out.

Wear water, or a mask
Of unapparent cloud;
Be brave and never ask
A more defunctive shroud.

The universal points
Are shrunk into a flower;
Between in delicate joints
Chaos keeps no power.

The pure integral form,
Austere and silver-dark,
Is balanced on the storm
In its predestined arc.

Small as a sphere of rain
It slides along the groove
Whose path is furrowed plain
Among the suns that move.

The shapes of April buds
Outlive the phantom year:
Upon the void at odds
The dewdrop falls severe.

Five-petalled flame, be cold:
Be firm, dissolving star:
Accept the stricter mould
That makes you singular


Toni said…
I have no idea what this post is about. It is sort of funny that CERN disproving the Theory of Relativity occured so quickly after the scientists saying their assumptions on dark matter may be flawed. Surprised the various religions are not making more of it.
Martin Meenagh said…
Hi Toni--I was riffing a bit. CERN hasn't disproven the theory of relativity. c is a mathematical invariant in a vacuum. If a particle begins above it, it doesn't break it (like the mooted tachyon) because it never had to accelerate past it; if the experiment at CERN involved rock and fibreoptics, the rock 'speed of light' would have been less than a fibreoptic (they can't have fired the beam just through rock and not thought that); 750 km or so is long enough for tidal forces to disrupt the receptor a bit, and, well, the Italian readings could have just been plain wrong like Fleischer-Pons was all those years ago.

Oliver Heaviside is an interesting character though. Maxwell's equations, as understood today, are really his. The spectacular way in which he went totally mental at the end of his time--all furniture made out of granite, painted nails, references to himself as w.o.r.m etc--are also, well, just fascinating.

And I really like the poem, though it's sub-Emily Dickinson and yet more proof of my middlebrow tastes.

Hope all is well