Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Kung Fu Master who can Strike Faster Than Light

On September 2011 a team of researchers from CERN announced the result of OPERA experiment where they measured neutrinos traveling faster than light. That's right, faster than the speed of light. Einstein is probably rolling on his grave. As of now scientists still have difficulties explaining those results. It can only mean one of two things, either the experiment was wrong, or the long held theory of special relativity is wrong (or at least needs some fixing).

Now, I'm no rocket scientist nor particle physicist. My limited intellectual capacity is simply not enough to fully understand special relativity, which was formulated by Einstein a little more than a century ago. But at least I know that one of the most important consequences of the theory is that neither matter nor information can travel faster than light. The idea that matter (anything with mass) cannot move faster than light is somewhat acceptable to me. But information is an abstract concept, it has no mass, why can't it be transmitted faster than light? You may argue that information needs carrier, and since the fastest possible carrier is, well, light, the information can only travel as fast as light.

But don't you think there are ways to make information propagates faster then its carrier? Even before the OPERA experiment I have been wondering about this. If it's possible than we may not need exotic particles such as neutrinos to carry our information. All you need is a very fast Kung Fu Master with his very long and rigid staff.

Imagine this Master holding his staff on one end, and pointing the other end very closly to the opponent's nose. Without warning the Master strikes. The unlucky opponent has no chance of avoiding it because the Master's hands move so fast. And the staff is of course moving at the same speed as the hands. No object is moving faster than light in this scenario. Nevertheless, if the Master moves fast enough (perhaps slightly below speed of light), the opponent may feel the strike BEFORE he sees the Master's hand moving. This is because the staff only need to travel very short distance to reach the opponent's nose, while light needs to travel much farther from the Master's hands to the opponent's eyes. Hence, the information travels faster than light.

If you think a strike on the nose is not informative enough, then imagine the Master is using his staff to repetitively and accurately strike a computer keyboard. Assuming the Master is also an avid Internet users, he can probably tweet faster than light too.

Of course, The basic assumptions in the above thought experiment -- the fast moving Kung Fu Master and the super rigid staff -- are both practically impossible. Yet, apart from that do you see other fallacy on my way of thinking? I'm sure there is. As I a said, I'm no physicist. That's why I'm writing this. Hoping that someone will enlighten me.