Re: Re-enlightenment!

Chris Cogan (
Mon, 16 Aug 1999 23:37:50 -0700

> Questions concerning the constancy of the speed of light have surfaced
> again just recently - but this time from a completely unexpected
> quarter. In a 'New Scientist' article entitled "Is nothing sacred?" its
> author, John Barrow (Professor of Mathematical Sciences, University of
> Cambridge, UK) states "Call it heresy, but all the big cosmological
> problems will simply melt away, if you break one rule...the rule that
> says the speed of light never varies." For those interested, details may
> be found at
> If the claim be true, then a simple application of Occam's Razor
> suggests that current evolutionary claims represent little more than 'a
> house of cards'!

How so? The Earth would still be a few billion years old. The kinds of data
that this theory deals with have little to do with ordinary evolutionary
theory. Perhaps you ought to go back and read it again, more carefully. I
think it's a nice theory, partly because of the problems it may solve, but
also because it gets people questioning "constants" like the speed of light,
Planck's constant, and so on. Scientists, compared to most people, are not a
dogmatic lot, but they *can* get way too accustomed to thinking of certain
things as true without enough prior questioning. Engineers know better.
Hence, their saying that "constants aren't" (and variables won't). Einstein
took the speed of light as a constant, but was never able to satisfactorily
answer the question of why this should be so. It was merely an observational
generalization. But, surely, the speed of light depends on aspects of what
physicists call space, so it should change if those factors change. Barrow,
et al., are pointing this out and taking advantage of it to modify
conventional theory in a way that saves current observational data but also
solves problems *and* makes new predictions.

But there is no radical reworking of the age of the Universe down to 6000
years, or anything like that, in the offing. In fact, they point out that it
will be very difficult to get the data they will need to corroborate the
theory, so subtle are the differences between what this theory predicts and
what conventional theory predicts.