Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, August 07, 2002


It seems that there are serious Australian physicists who believe that either the charge of a single electron varies over time (which would invalidate the present formulation of the second law of thermodynamics) or the speed of light varies over time (invalidating the long accepted assumption that its speed is constant). Forced to choose between invalidating the second law of thermodynamics or accepting a varying speed of light, the scientists suspect that it is more likely that the speed of light is inconstant.

Paul Davies of Sydney's Macquarie University, says: "When one of the cornerstones of physics collapses, it's not obvious what you hang onto and what you discard."

That last part certainly makes sense.

Davies says that accepting variations in the speed of light "means giving up the theory of relativity and E=mc squared and all that sort of stuff. ...But two of the cherished laws of the universe are the law that electron charge shall not change and that the speed of light shall not change, so whichever way you look at it we're in trouble."

Davies also says that the reevaluation is based on new observations indicating that the structure of atoms emitting quasar light was slightly but significantly different from the structure of atoms in humans. The discrepancy implies that either the electron charge or the speed of light has changed over time.

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