It has been suggested that at the heart of humour and what makes us laugh, is the dissonance that sometimes arises between how we think the world works, and the actual practice.
Today I was walking along the sea front enjoying the unseasonably lovely weather and listening to a Pod Caste celebrating the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
The programme was explaining how we can now make atomic clocks of unprecedented accuracy by using lasers to cool the essential components to just a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. First you have to take on board the whole concept of using a laser to cool things down (one Nobel prize), then you have to think that a billionth of a degree above absolute zero makes it the coldest thing in the universe – even in deepest space the residual temperature from the big bang is 2 or 3 degrees above absolute zero. The assault on my expectations started to make me smile.
They then went on to explain that this was not some theoretical idea, it had actually been made and the clock can now record time to (I think) 10–15 seconds (that is 1/1,000,000,000,000,000 of a sec or an accuracy of 1 second in 31 million years). Which you might think is amazing but of limited use!
But there is a strange effect predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of relativity. He predicted that a clock in orbit round earth would tick at a different rate of an identical clock on the surface of the earth. A hundred years ago this was impossible to measure which is why so many people doubted Einstein’s theories which were so contrary to ‘common sense’.
Now we have Satellite Navigation that depend on satellites in just such an orbit and if they did not compensate for this Relativistic effect accurately, we might very well find ourselves driving the wrong way up a one-way street. The function of these SatNav satellites is dependant on the accuracy of their clocks which now get updated by these new super accurate clocks on Earth to increase their accuracy even further.
Just to add icing on the cake; these clocks are now so accurate that if you lift them just 5 meters you can ‘see’ the Relativistic change in the rate of time passing, predicted by Einstein, reducing this scientific controversy of a very few years ago, to the level of established fact.
I know this isn’t a joke, but I find myself laughing out loud at the absurdity of such a miraculous achievement.
It is also a tribute to the stunning productivity of the scientific method described by Richard Feynman as:
|make a guess||devise an experiment to test an implication of the guess||if the evidence of the experiment shows the guess to be wrong. Make another guess.|