I’m sure all of you have seen the T-shirt or poster of Albert Einstein wearing a police hat with his hand up saying: “299,792,458 m/s… not just a good idea, it’s the LAW”.

Well, it seems that some neutrinos are breaking the speed limit.

My gut reaction to this is that this is probably just the latest false alarm of some experimental result that supposedly “breaks relativity.” These seem to happen about once a year if you pay attention to nuclear and/or astro physics. The last big “threat” to relativity that I remember was a few years ago when some experimental result supposedly “proved” that certain particles had to be moving faster than light for certain sub-nuclear events to occur. The “entanglement” paradox is probably the longest running “threat” to relativity that has so far been hanging out there since it implies that information might be able to travel faster than light if you exploit the entanglement of paired fundamental particles.

These things tend to pop up, stir the waters for a while, and then fade away as small adjustments are made to the measured speed of light (a very, very difficult thing to measure) and/or corrections are made to the experimental apparatus or some other thing happens.

Now, as it happens, I don ‘t believe that the Theory of Relativity is “absolute truth” any more than I think any bit of “settled science” is. I do think it’s the best approximation we currently have of the nature of the universe at cosmological scales. However, as I have pointed out here in the past, Relativity has a fundamental problem. Relativity is based on the premise that space-time is “smooth.” Unfortunately Quantum Mechanics is based on the premise that space-time is “fuzzy.” Both work, but both simply can’t be right. The universe cannot be smooth and fuzzy at the same time. Or there is no way to wrap a human brain around such a concept.

So eventually there will be some reconciliation of relativity with quantum mechanics, or else we will have to eventually realize that we simply can’t explain the universe in one theory that works on the smallest and largest scales simultaneously.

My guess is that Relativity will have to be adjusted or modified to deal with the fuzziness of the universe at some point. Quantum Mechanics is more or less based entirely on actual experimental results while Relativity is a grand theory based on fundamental assumptions about the nature of space and time. Relativity is, perhaps, the single most beautiful scientific theory ever conceived. It is a breath-taking intellectual achievement that demonstrates the incredible imaginative ability of the human mind. It describes a universe that is so beautifully engineered that Einstein once famously said “If the universe is not as Relativity describes, then God missed a great opportunity.” Or something like that.

But I can’t help but think that very beauty is the reason it is unlikely to survive the gritty ugliness of Quantum Mechanics without significant alterations at some point in the future.