We should know by now not to trust a scientist when they utter the phrase “that is impossible”. I am no Albert Einstein but, thanks to hindsight, I can sit here and state that he was wrong in some regards.
The internet is rife with lists and examples of disproven theories and failed predictions.
- 1943 – T Watson, President IBM “I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers.”
- 1895 – Lord Kelvin, father of the Law of Thermodynamics “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.”
- 1934 – Albert Einstein “There is not the slightest indication that [nuclear energy] will ever be attainable.”
- 1920 – Lee De Forest, Inventor of the vacuum tube, pioneer in modern electronics talking about space travel “Such a manmade voyage will never occur in spite of all future advances.”
My favorite is from Robert Metcalfe, MIT grad/co-inventor of ethernet, when in 1995 he stated “But I predict the internet will soon go supernova and in 1996 will catastrophically collapse.”
And here we are …. How’d we get here?
Oh yeah … so … in researching some material for the sequel to my book, ‘A Prequel to Change’ , the protagonist is far from Earth and uses a supraluminal communication system. But it is being jammed by the bad guys so she has to find a work around.
As I work out plot points I try to keep them plausible … not factual, not actual … plausible is good enough to maintain the internally consistent fictional world my hero is trying to save. This requires quite a bit of reading and research and plot changes as I write science fiction and rely heavily on ‘speculative physics’ to build the story world … emphasis on speculative. That said, it is always nice when the physical rules of that world are consistent with the one you and I live in.
In this series, the action is taking place all over our solar system and encompasses vast distances. So the characters have to have the ability to be able to travel really really fast and need to be able to communicate in real-time at ranges that would take hours to simply say “hello” if they were forced to use conventional means of communication which, unfortunately, propagate as slowly as the speed of light. At the speed of light it would take well over an hour to send a message one-way from one end of the main asteroid belt to the other.
As I’ve stated in other posts, when I do this research, invariably I come across all the explanations as to why this or that is impossible. Usually it boils down to because either General Relativity or Special Relativity says so …
These are both brainchildren of Albert Einstein and as we note above … he is not right about all the possible nuances of his own theories. To put a finer point on it, the last few years have revealed phenomena about which conventional wisdom had previously said ‘no way, no how’.
Take for instance time crystals … In 2012 Frank Wilczek first proposed the concept that it should be possible to create a new state of matter controversially called “Time Crystals”.
From nature.com The Quest to crystallize time – “Time crystals are hypothetical structures that pulse without requiring any energy — like a ticking clock that never needs winding. The pattern repeats in time in much the same way that the atoms of a crystal repeat in space.”
Experts at the time howled in indignation that this was a perpetual motion machine and thus impossible. Other arguments were put forth that spoke to why this was impossible. One cannot simply violate the symmetry of Space/Time.
Lo and Behold … over the past 6 months two independent research teams using totally different approaches have created a brand-new phase of matter that satisfies the definition of a time crystal.
In much the same way, for the longest time ‘serious’ scientists tended to be overtly disdainful of any discussions of ‘negative energy’ and gravitons. But now serious work is being done on both … at places like CERN and elsewhere. The folks at CERN are keeping their eyes open for micro-black holes, dark matter, gravitons and even empirical proof of extra dimensions.
The mention of force fields was once ridiculed but in 1995 we created plasma windows which block matter but allow laser and electron beams to pass unimpeded. They are now commonly used industrially for electron beam welding.
Thus I should have little concern when my protagonist uses an Ansible device to send a signal to Earth 100 times faster than the speed of light.
I don’t mean by this to troll the scientific community … Scientists don’t have the luxury of being content with plausibility. They have to find consistent explanations for their observations. The downside is that this means that they are often forced to discard ideas until there is verifiable and reproducible evidence to support those ideas.
It is very encouraging that it only took time crystals five years to move from the realm of theoretical speculation to laboratory reality.