Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Recently, important results were released from one of the foremost laboratories in the world, CERN. Neutrinos, a type of sub-atomic particle, do not travel faster than light. Now, you may be asking why this is news? According to Einstein's theories of relativity no particle can travel faster than light. The answer is that last September this same lab reported that they might have witnessed these particles traveling just slightly above the cosmic speed limit, the speed of light.

Now, it is of course true that general and special relativity are still just theories and there are a lot of questions that they cannot and do not answer. Scientists are still trying to resolve conflicts between these theories and the qualities observed in quantum mechanics. While both of these methods seem to have astoundingly accurate results in their respective areas of science (relativity in the macro and quantum mechanics in the micro), the two are essentially incompatible with each other. Nevertheless, these are the best theories out there now and within their respective fields have produced wondrous results. Things so basic to these theories, such as the assertion that no particle can travel faster than the speed of light, have been shown to hold up in many different experiments. Thus, if neutrinos were truly traveling faster then a significant portion of these sciences would need a complete overhaul! Alas, this was not the case. As Sergio Bertolucci presented in his results, it appears the results were erroneous due to a faulty element of the fiber-optic timing system.

I find one of the comments made by Bertolucci to be very telling. He mentioned that this final result was something that he had expected deep down even though many would have loved the excitement of having truly found these particles to be breaking the rules of science. To be part of a team that has discovered how relativity was not a sound theory would certainly have ensured these scientists a place in history. Science is replete with new discoveries rendering earlier ones obsolete. Whether they be that the earth is not flat to Einstein's theories replacing those of Newton, when massive discoveries are finally confirmed science generally abandons the old and begins to explore the new opportunities presented. Those who helped form these new opportunities are then immortalized. This is how the quest for objective truth perseveres.

One of the many flaws in this type of system is that when one thinks he has discovered something new it is not always so easy to give it up. How many times can a yeshiva student remember how he came up with a chiddush and although his chavrusah has adequately shown why this chiddush is wrong, the student just cannot let go. The discovery of objective truth is so powerful that its illusion is sometimes so tempting that one ends up net being able to let go. In the case with the neutrino we actually find scientists who appear to have acted with integrity and abandoned the previous findings when they could not be supported by further investigation.

This idea of bias is expressed very strongly in this week's parsha. The spies were unable to see the objective good of our beautiful land, Eretz Yisrael. Although Hashem had performed countless miracles and displayed that nothing stands in His way, the spies were unable to see past the enormous armies and fortified cities that they determined were impenetrable.

In our own lives we have so many biases that do not allow us to see things for what they truly are. Sometimes we are afraid of change, and other times we are driven by our personal desires. Regardless of the reason why, we often fall prey to seeing a very distorted view of reality. Klal Yisrael had been on the cusp of inheriting the Promised Land. However, one can only truly find his inheritance and place in this world if he is able to remove the "dusty glasses" that constantly cloud his vision.

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