With Eloise Kohler.
For anyone who has not watched the news, scanned the papers or listened to the radio, this week concluded with a discovery hitherto thought impossible. The speed of light was previously regarded as the ultimate velocity, yet neutrinos have been found to travel faster by a fraction of 20 parts per million. For the uninformed this may seem the teeniest of amounts, but the constancy of the speed of light forms the cornerstone of our understanding of time, space and essentially the universe as a whole. This one theorem (proposed by Einstein in his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905) leads to startling consequences. It has been utilized to work out, basically, everything: from the age of universe to whether there is any immediate danger from astrological objects – if it is shown to be flawed, virtually all of modern physics would have to be rethought.
Whilst this news proved alarming for at least one of us (her physics degree might be ever so useless now), the discovery also presents a new opportunity for scientists to present their own grand theory to elucidate the universe, and maybe other subjects might benefit from a similar reversal of ideas. So in light of this, we began to wonder which other commonly accepted ideas we’d like to see thrown into question.
Here’s what we came up with:
Why do we read from left to right?
Quite simply, it’s to do with smudging. Where a culture’s written tradition begins with stone inscriptions – we’re thinking of the multi-lingual Persian inscriptions at Bisitun, for example – it is common for their writings still to be read from left to right. The Greeks began writing with ink, and because the majority of people are – and have been – right-handed, it is simply less messy to do it this way. In a world where less and less ink is spilt, this is becoming less of a reasoned choice and more of a case of “because we always have.” Is it time for this to change?
Why do we have a “type”?
Magazines abound with so-called scientific theories about facial symmetry and contrary ideas about attraction to opposites versus attraction to similar-looking folk. The point is, however, that we do tend to go for certain types of people. Here at The Student editors’ desk we are, for example, fans of dark-haired, kind-eyed boys and a quick survey of friends confirms that the notion of “the type” definitely exists (although when we cornered our assistant editor, he muttered “Dunno, not really fussed”). Regardless, it’s time to turn all this on its head. Your mission for this week: chat up someone you wouldn’t normally go for.
Why do we need to sleep?
From experience, we’re inclined to answer “because otherwise we would go mad”, but maybe that’s more to do with endless copy-editing than actual lack of sleep. There are a handful of proposed explanations for sleep that not many scientists can agree upon, but, pleasingly, literature’s take on the matter is illuminating: try Jonathan Coe’s The House of Sleep for size.
When will there be good news?
A good one, this. After hearing our News editor say “Someone has lost their job? Now that’s a story” we felt rather morose about the state of the world. Like it or not, the media has a tendency to focus on the negative: there is an assumption that cheerful news cannot be serious news. While we by no means advocate a head in the sand approach, our job would be more pleasant if the world would only be a little nicer. So do something great, and who knows, in our search for a happy story you might just end up in The Student.
Anna & Eloise.
Originally published in The Student, 27 September 2011.