Scientific Correctness: Zippy Travel
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 12 Mar 97 23:27:48 -0800
Subject: Scientific Correctness: Zippy Travel
Excerpted-from: The mini-Annals of Improbable Research ("mini-AIR")
Issue Number 1997-03
1997-03-11 Scientific Correctness: Zippy Travel
Here is the report on our SCIENTIFIC CORRECTNESS SURVEY #2. The
Is faster-than-light travel possible?
This survey drew an onslaught of opinions.
The vote was a landslide (72%) for the YES side. Thus, another
controversy is put to rest. Henceforth, it will be scientifically
correct to believe that faster-than-light travel is possible.
Opinions ranged from positive to negative, and from simple ("Yes")
to hideously complex. While the results are interesting, the
variety of methods used to obtain them is dazzling.
* * *
Some readers used fuzzy logic:
I have never really believed that light actually goes at the speed
of light. Have we any proof? I worked out that it should go at
root two times the speed of light (c) making the constant itself
* * *
Other readers used higher-level fuzzy logic:
This is an interesting question, coincidentally I was driving
through a Minnesota blizzard last week when my wife told me to
slow down because I was 'over driving my headlights.' I was so
excited I almost spilled my coffee because I thought that she
meant I was traveling faster than the speed of light, but then I
realized that she meant that because of the poor conditions, the
stopping distance for my car was greater than my visibility.
* * *
One reader used tangential logic:
Since light has yet to dawn on school boards here in Texas, we are
unable to answer this question.
* * *
Some took a theoretical bent:
Yes, but no matter what the destination, you always arrive at
My fraternity brother Charles Jones (MIT '63) created a faster-
than-light vehicle in 1960. A beam of light is reflected in a
mirror. Approaching the mirror, the light's velocity is (+)c.
After reflection it is -c. Ergo at the instant of reflection, its
velocity is 0. When the vehicle passes the mirror, it goes faster
--A. D. Snider
* * *
Others relied on advanced theories:
Faster than light travel IS possible but only if you are facing
It depends on how fast the light is going.
* * *
Some readers cited empirical evidence:
Of course. It is demonstrated every week in "Star Trek: The Next
Generation". They also demonstrate crystal power, telepathy,
reversal of the polarity of neutron fluxes in starboard power
couplings, and other facets of modern science.
No. No no no no no no. Most people think Star Trek has solved the
problem of faster-than-light travel. I am much more fascinated by
Star Trek's solution to the sound-in-a-vacuum problem.
"Yes!" E-mail uses delivery through electrical circuits, therefore
traveling at the speed of light (one of the reasons for its
popularity over the historically traditional US Postal "Service").
America OnLine uses these same electrical circuits. It is well
known that almost anything travels faster than AOL these days.
* * *
Not everyone relied on intellectual arguments. Two readers,
Charlie Cerf and Peter Thorp, sent in variants of the same
There was a young lady called Bright
who could travel much faster than light.
She departed one day
in a relative way
and returned on the previous night
* * *
Practical experience, too, was useful in solving the question:
Of course faster-than-light travel is possible. However, the
probability that your luggage will wind up at the wrong
destination increases as the cube of the velocity.
Yes. Faster than light travel is possible and can be readily
demonstrated by making the mistake of having two dates show up at
your place at the same time. I've done this and witnessed first
hand the flight, which happens so fast that you can't see it.
Yes, but tickets must be purchased at least three weeks in advance
and a Saturday night stay is required.
After my cat decided it was play time at 3 AM, he was forcefully
accelerated from the bed. Quickly, his velocity reached the of
light resulting in a mid-air white hot flash of spontaneous
combustion (matter to energy.) Conversely, all internal energies
(neuroelectrical, biochemical, etc.) were converted to matter. A
strange ash covered the room, very similar to scoopable litter.
The other possibility is that he landed on my camera equipment and
has been hiding ever since.
* * *
Finally, one response defied categorization:
Of course, as a physics teacher I tell my students that faster-
than-light travel is impossible, but that's just to crush their
1997-03-10 Call for Ig Nominations
If you have nominations for the 1997 Ig Nobel Prizes, please send
them in. As always the criterion is simple. Prizes are given "for
achievements that cannot or should not be reproduced."
For a complete list of previous year's winners, see our web site
(c) copyright 1997, The Annals of Improbable Research
© 1997 Peter Langston