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Silvestru

Silly - Could we detect a change in c?

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Hello forum, I am having a slow day at work today and as I was reading the below article, my mind began to wonder.

It would really help the conversation if you could go through the short paper copied below but also linked just under. I didn't want to add just a few quotes as it would be confusing.

I was trying to find a ridiculous way to measure if lets say indeed c would change it's value. Let's wander a bit and take the assumption that starting tomorrow c will immediately change it's value. 

I mean what confuses me is that I could think of many barbaric ways to prove to you that c indeed changed or not given the above assumption. An example is given in the article that we use a 1m stick to measure c. The author disregards this option as c is not less fundamental than the length of the stick so we would not know if c indeed changed or if the length of the stick changed. I agree but if we would introduce a third barbaric contraption to measure time (will not mention gravity as it also travels at c), lets take particle decay. Would particle (not radioactive decay) decay hypothetically change  if c would change? If we measure that today a neutron mean lifetime is 885.7 seconds and we measure tomorrow, (after the supposed change in c), would we get different result?

Name                               Mass (MeV) Mean lifetime        
Neutron / Antineutron   939.6              885.7                      

I know this is all just silly speculation but I would like to open a discussion on how best to approach the assumption that c would change over time.

Just to add to the discussion, we measure a second as "the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom" (at a temperature of 0 K).

Quote

Does the speed of light change in time?

The possibility that fundamental constants can change in time is predicted by some unified field theories (see, e.g. [1]). The detection of such a variation would be an important confirmation of these theories. The analysis of the spectra of distant quasars [2] does indicate that the fine structure constant alpha (the constant which measures the intensity of the electromagnetic interaction) might be changing in time. Fine structure constant alpha is in fact a dimensionless combination of three other fundamental constants: alpha = e²/hc (e - electron charge, h - Planck constant, c - speed of light). A recent publication in Nature [3] suggests that this variation of alpha should be interpreted in terms of a changing speed of light. The claim that speed of light might be changing received huge publicity in mass media. However, it is well-known in scientific circles dealing with the problem of variation of the fundamental constants that only dimensionless constants (like alpha) should be considered in this context (see, e.g. [4,5]). Speed of light, in contrast, is a dimensionful constant. Recent works by Duff [6] and Flambaum [7] explain why arguments presented in Ref. [2] are wrong and cannot lead to any conclusion about a changing speed of light. However, changing speed of light is meaningless just from consideration of the problem of measurements, regardless of how people try to get around it.

The problem of measurements is discussed in scientific literature in context of varying fundamental constants (see, e.g. [4]). However, big public interest to the changing speed of light shows that the problem of measurements deserves consideration on a more elementary level.

First, the term fundamental constants needs to be explained. Fundamental constants can be considered as natural standards against which everything else can be measured. If something is changing it can be detected by consecutive measurements against natural standards. But if the standards themselves are changing, any detection of this seems to be questionable. In fact, the only chance to see any change comes when a change in the natural standards (fundamental constants) happens in a disproportionate way, so that some dimensionless ratio of constants changes. For example, if absolutely everything in the Universe suddenly increases in size, it cannot be noticed. If, in contrast, the Earth becomes larger but the Sun remains the same, it can be detected by comparing their sizes. This comparison comes in a form of (dimensionless) ratio size of Earth/size of Sun. It tells us that the relative sizes of Earth and Sun have changed. However, there is no way to say whether the Earth has become larger or the Sun smaller.

Now suppose that the speed of light is changing. It can be meaningful only if it can be detected by measurements. To perform measurements we need units. Units do not exist in nature and are invented by people to express quantitative relations in nature which exist. Units to measure length, time, speed, etc. are always expressed in terms of some combination of fundamental constants. Performing measurements means comparing the measured value to a particular combination of fundamental constants. Measuring a fundamental constant means comparing fundamental constants between themselves. Physical laws must not depend on the particular choice of units. Below we illustrate that whatever units are used to measure the speed of light, the claim that the speed of light is changing leads to nonsense.

The speed of light c is most commonly expressed in metres (m) per second (s). Its value is c=299792458 m/s. However, the metre is defined as the distance which light travels in 1/299792458 s [8]. If the speed of light is changing, its value in m/s will still be the same. One may argue that this definition of the metre is not good in a situation where the speed of light is changing. What if we use the old definition instead, 1m = 1/10000000 of the distance from the North Pole to the equator? This just moves the problem into another area: there is no way to distinguish between a change in the speed of light and a change in the size of the Earth (and there is no way to say that one is more likely than the other!).

Let's now take a stick 1m long and say that this is going to be our standard unit for length. And let's measure the speed of light via the time needed for light to travel along the stick. Since we always use the same stick we probably should expect that its length remains the same. One would argue that if consecutive measurements produce different results, the speed of light is changing. However, the measurement of the speed of light using a stick as a standard can be interpreted as the measurement of the length of the stick using the speed of light as a standard. The speed of light is not less fundamental than the length of the stick [9]. Here again we cannot say what is changing, the speed of light or the length of the stick.

The best unit to use to get to a paradox the fastest possible way is the speed of light itself. This is the only single fundamental constant (not a combination of constants) which has the dimension of speed and can be used as a unit to measure any speed. Then c=1 by definition and cannot change!

We see that depending on the units used, the speed of light either remains the same or its change cannot be distinguished from a change in other fundamental constants. Recalling that physical laws must not depend on units, we come to the conclusion that a changing speed of light is nonsense.

The question remains, why then changing speed of light is so often mentioned in the literature? This is mostly due to two reasons. One is just lack of understanding. Other reason is much more interesting. In fact, theories can operate with abstract quantities which have no direct connection to observations. They are usually introduced into the theory for convenience and play an intermediate role between the basic principles of the theory and observable effects. One of the most common examples of this sort is probably the vector potential used in electrodynamics. Electric and magnetic fields in electrodynamics are often expressed in terms of the vector potential. The fields can be observed and measured while the vector potential cannot [10]. Similarly, a theory dealing with variation of the fine structure constant can be formulated in terms of a changing speed of light. This only means that there must be an equivalent theory formulated in terms of a changing electron charge. Neither theory claims that a changing speed of light or electron charge can be observed. However, when it comes to observable effects both theories give exactly the same results (see, e.g. [11]).

We can say in conclusion that changing speed of light (and other dimensionful constants) is at most a pure mathematical abstraction which cannot be observed or measured. In contrast, the change of a dimensionless combination of fundamental constants is meaningful and is the subject of the study in Ref. [2].

http://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/~dzuba/varyc.html

Edited by Silvestru

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3 hours ago, Silvestru said:

I was trying to find a ridiculous way to measure if lets say indeed c would change it's value. Let's wander a bit and take the assumption that starting tomorrow c will immediately change it's value. 

I mean what confuses me is that I could think of many barbaric ways to prove to you that c indeed changed or not given the above assumption. An example is given in the article that we use a 1m stick to measure c. The author disregards this option as c is not less fundamental than the length of the stick so we would not know if c indeed changed or if the length of the stick changed. I agree but if we would introduce a third barbaric contraption to measure time (will not mention gravity as it also travels at c), lets take particle decay. Would particle (not radioactive decay) decay hypothetically change  if c would change? If we measure that today a neutron mean lifetime is 885.7 seconds and we measure tomorrow, (after the supposed change in c), would we get different result?

Name                               Mass (MeV) Mean lifetime        
Neutron / Antineutron   939.6              885.7                      

I know this is all just silly speculation but I would like to open a discussion on how best to approach the assumption that c would change over time.

 

Interesting thought experiment, at least because I have at times wondered the same thing.

My thoughts are that the fundamental constants of the universe, including the half lives of any particular elements, are "decided" if you will, by the measurable properties of the quantum fluctuation from whence the BB arose. If we look at "Time Dilation" we know that all FoR's are as valid as each other, yet all frames observe time to be still passing at one second per second. Is this because that speed and gravitational wells change all the fundamental constants by the same amount, so that it is impossible to notice any change from within that frame? 

What I'm saying is that if "c" was changing, as was all the other constants, the only way we could measure any change is from a position outside of the universe...quite difficult to do. Perhaps all the fundamental constants and their values are somehow tied in with the expansion of the universe?

I look forward to some comments from those more qualified on this speculative scenario.

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