A Bet Concerning Neutrinos

Over on Google+ I wrote:

I’m willing to take bets that this faster-than-light neutrino business will turn out to be wrong. We can negotiate the detailed terms, the odds, and the stakes.

But beware: I’m still enjoying the case of scotch I won from David Ring. I bet there’d be no “strong evidence for supersymmetry” within the first year of operation of the Large Hadron Collider.

It took a couple of days, but I finally got someone willing to take me up on this. And—surprise!—it was none other than Frederick De Roo, one of the key contributors to the Azimuth Project.

But he’s playing for higher stakes than I’d expected:

Hi John,

actually I’m willing to take a bet.

I propose to bet (even though I don’t believe it) that

neutrinos can go faster than light

The loser of the bet will promise to the winner not to fly for one whole year! (for a year chosen within a specified number of years after the bet has expired)

How about that? The earth wins regardless who’s right ;-)

I asked him if we could discuss the details here, and he said okay.

It’s a tricky business. While I’ve got the odds on my side, I’ve also got more to lose!

Frederik lives in Europe, where there are lots of trains. His idea of a fun vacation is a month-long bike trip. What’s he got to lose?

I could easily survive a year of not flying to conferences. It would hurt a bit. Still, I’d say yes in a minute if it were just up to me. But Lisa and I have permanent positions at the University of California in Riverside, and we’re trying to work out a deal where we work in Singapore every summer. So, I can’t really agree to this bet unless I get her okay!

How do I convince a non-physicist—and not just any non-physicist, but my wife—that it’s really, really safe to bet a summer of being together on the possibility that neutrinos go faster than light?

We spent seven years on opposite sides of the country before she got a job at UC Riverside. We promised we’d never do something like that again. And now I’m saying “oh, don’t worry, dear: special relativity is very well tested.” If you haven’t been in this situation, you don’t know how unconvincing that sounds.

Should I look into cruises from Southern California to Singapore? How long do those take, anyway? It would be a bummer to get there only have to head straight back.

What would you say, Frederik, if I changed the the terms of the bet to something like this? If I lose the bet, for each plane trip I take during the specified year, I’ll donate $10,000 to your favorite environmental organization. Carbon offsets, or whatever you like. That way if I lose, I suffer, but not my marriage.

85 Responses to A Bet Concerning Neutrinos

  1. Frederik De Roo says:

    Hi John,

    at first sight I would tend to agree with the changes – but it would cost you a lot more! After all, it should be possible to go from Singapore to California by ship (but perhaps one has to be dressed as “cargo”)

    We could still make the bet symmetrical, i.e. I could also pay 10 k$ IF I would take a plane during one year. Of course I would absolutely avoid taking a plane because I certainly can’t afford the money, and I consider it more likely that I will lose! And it’s not certain that the bet is so innocent for me, I don’t know what will be my profession within ten years.

    But your change is against the spirit of my original idea: i.e. that you would voluntarily avoid to pollute, instead of paying for your pollution. What is the pollution exactly worth? Apparently very much, because you’re willing to pay 10k$ for each plane travel. Or you must be very certain of your bet – but then, you could also accept the original deal. It’s like you want to have some kind of insurance in case your lose ;-)

    On the other hand, perhaps we don’t need to put so much emphasis on flying (although if I remember well, flying is rather carbon-intensive, one Atlantic roundtrip between eastern US and Europe would amount to about the average human footprint – am I correct?) We could also consider a similar deal, for example to enjoy a vegetarian diet for, say, five years. But I’m not sure yet if this would equate a reasonable footprint of flying, it’s a rough estimate.

    So this brings me to the following proposal: the loser shall not fly for two years except for two transoceanic flights (Singapore-California) during these two years and the loser shall also be vegetarian during these two years (to compensate a little bit for the flight).

    How about that? I’m a bit reluctant about the “paying for the pollution”. Yet we should keep an open mind, and I suppose one oceanic roundtrip is about your yearly carbon footprint, so why not permit that. I think this bet is still strong: I image it won’t be easy to give up plane travel for your job. (except that one summer trip to Singapore).

  2. John Baez says:

    Frederik wrote:

    but your change is against the spirit of my original idea: i.e. that you would voluntarily avoid to pollute, instead of paying for your pollution. What is the pollution exactly worth? Apparently very much, because you’re willing to pay 10k$ for each plane travel.

    No, that money has nothing to do with ‘paying for the pollution’. It’s more like this: paying $20,000 would cause me approximately equal pain to being away from Lisa for a summer, but it wouldn’t hurt her or make her angry at me. So, changing the bet this way is designed to preserve my marriage without making me feel like I’m a wimp who doesn’t really believe in special relativity.

    We could also consider a similar deal, for example to enjoy a vegetarian diet for, say, five years.

    You must not be married—you keep suggesting bets that’ll ruin my relationship with Lisa if I lose.

    Since Lisa does the cooking in our household, and she enjoys it a lot (she used to be the chef at a restaurant), and she’s repeatedly refused my suggestions that we become vegetarian, it would completely destroy my life to say “Sorry, you either have to cook vegetarian for the next five years or I won’t eat it—because I made a mistake in physics.”

    So this brings me to the following proposal: the loser shall not fly for two years except for two transoceanic flights (Singapore-California) during these two years and the loser shall also be vegetarian during these two years (to compensate a little bit for the flight).

    Sorry, I can’t accept that bet either, due to the vegetarianism.

    Next you’re going to suggest no sex for 20 years? That would reduce my CO2 emissions too…

    • Frederik De Roo says:

      No that’s not my next suggestion. I will think of another alternative.

      I’m sorry about my bad alternative but I don’t know who does the cooking in your household. There are many couples who are half vegetarian, even where the non-vegetarian does the cooking (though I admit it requires some flexibility). Besides, I’m a bit surprized that paying 20k$ would not cause troubles, but that’s your private business anyway.

      By the way, I just heard about a small European carbon tax for air transport, see e.g. here.

      • John Baez says:

        I would like to move toward vegetarianism, but forcing Lisa into it because I lost a bet is a very bad approach, psychologically speaking. It’s sort of like saying “Hi! I lost a bet—so now you need to quit smoking.” Even if your partner wants to quit smoking, they’re probably not going to like that.

        As for losing $20k, it would be a mild nuisance, but I’ve got plenty of money, so it doesn’t matter nearly as much as these other things.

        I still like the scheme I proposed. If you wanted to make it sound symmetrical by paying $10,000 per flight that you take, and then not flying, that would be even nicer.

        We should also discuss the precise conditions whereby we agree on whether neutrinos can go faster than light. You mentioned something about this on the Forum, but I’d rather talk about it here. I don’t think this should be very problematic, except for one thing: if neutrinos go exactly at the speed of light (which they don’t, if they’re massive, but never mind), then about half the time we measure their speed we’ll get an answer that’s faster than the speed of light. So we need some measure of statistical significance for experiments, or some way of deciding what counts as the ‘consensus of experts’.

        • Frederik De Roo says:

          I will think about the precise conditions of the bet. But if you have suggestions, go ahead.

          As to the money, I’d like to avoid it, so I proposed another alternative below.

        • Frederik De Roo says:

          John remarked:

          if neutrinos go exactly at the speed of light (which they don’t, if they’re massive, but never mind), then about half the time we measure their speed we’ll get an answer that’s faster than the speed of light

          I think that three independent experiments above 5 sigma uncertainty should be sufficient. OPERA was at six sigma, see Wikipedia for a summary.

    • Frederik De Roo says:

      Hey, you’re changing your text while we’re negotiating. That should be against the rules… As a matter of fact, I don’t see how no sex would significantly reduce your carbon emissions. It’s certainly of a different order of magnitude than having a vegetarian lifestyle, so you must be joking. Therefore I’ll permit myself to joke as well: “no airconditioning during two summers!” (and I’m sure this does have an environmental impact too)

      Let’s just keep it to “two years no flying except for two transoceanic roundtrips”. In environmental terms I suppose this is quite equal to my original one year of no flying. OK?

      • John Baez says:

        Yes, I was joking. I do that sometimes.

        I’ll get back to you on your latest suggestion. But I think one year is going to be a lot easier to sell than two years!

        • Frederik De Roo says:

          Ok, let’s keep it one year (except for one transoceanic roundtrip). That will be easier for me too ;-)

      • John Baez says:

        By the way, I wasn’t changing my text to achieve some sort of negotiating advantage. I was just trying to make some of the jokes a bit more funny, add some remarks I forgot to say, etcetera.

  3. Bad idea to bet 10k on anything, IMHO! Unless someone is willing to bet you dollar for dollar so you can win 10k!

  4. Tim van Beek says:

    The suggestion to not fly for a certain time seems to be suboptimal, because while it certainly will reduce your personal CO2 footprint, it won’t do anything at all for the CO2 output of humankind.

    A better price would be something that we would like Professor Baez to do, which would benefit humankind, but which he is unlikely to do on his own volition. Suggestions?

    Something like a promotion tour for an Azimuth institute with funding for PhD and postdoc students.

    • John Baez says:

      Tim wrote:

      A better price would be something that we would like Professor Baez to do, which would benefit humankind, but which he is unlikely to do on his own volition. Suggestions?

      Stop blogging and only do real work for a year?

      Something like a promotion tour for an Azimuth Institute with funding for PhD and postdoc students.

      I don’t think Frederik will accept the idea of a tour unless I promise to do it by bicycle.

      I do, in fact, want to get funding for Azimuth. I should be scouring the web for grants instead of thinking about interesting ideas.

  5. Gen Zhang says:

    According to David Mackay, (http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c20/page_128.shtml), flying is not *that* bad. Ocean liner is *far* worse.

    • Frederik De Roo says:

      Thanks for the notification. I will try to convince John that taking a cruise in the Pacific cannot be accepted as an alternative to flying. Note that a car (with only the driver) is also worse.

      • John Baez says:

        Okay, I won’t take a cruise. My carbon footprint from flying is vastly larger than for driving merely because I fly much farther than I drive.

        • Curtis Faith says:

          If you do lose this bet, there is always sailing. It is my preferred way of travel, and there are quite a few nice islands to visit along the way to CA.

          I’m told the energy requirements for sailing are quite low. ;-) Something about free wind and all that. Add a bit of solar power for electronics and communication and you have a very low footprint way of getting back and forth to Singapore.

          Downside is that it will take 3 or 4 weeks in a non-racing boat for each leg not including stopovers.

          You can also travel on merchant ships which are going to make the journey anyway. In this case, the incremental carbon footprint for you as a passenger is quite low.

        • John Baez says:

          One catch: I don’t know how to sail. And while ‘learning by doing’ is generally my preferred approach, I don’t think crossing the Pacific would be wise for a beginner.

          The merchant ship idea has its appeal.

          However, in the end Frederik allowed me one round-trip journey by plane, which is all I need.

  6. Dan Piponi says:

    Of course if faster than light neutrinos are discovered you could send yourself a message to tell yourself not to make this bet. So make sure you keep an eye out for messages from yourself before you’re committed.

  7. Florifulgurator says:

    What about planting trees? The loser would have to spend a vacation getting his hands dirty and planting 1000 trees.

    —————
    I guess the tunnel effect will explain the measurements. There are lots of tunnels between Geneva and Italy.

  8. Giampiero Campa says:

    I would definitely stay with the original bet !

    Cargo ships will get you there, they actually look a lot of fun and you can get a lot of work done too while you travel (well at least the kind of work that does not require the internet, but if she is a professor she can write a couple of papers at least from scratch, for example).

    Then after you arrange the possible trip, i would talk to her, spend a few minutes highlighting how many tests relativity was able to withstand, present the alternative travel (cargo ship) as an interesting thing to try in life once, but then let her have the final word on the deal.

    • John Baez says:

      Cruise ships have been ruled out as worse than airplanes in terms of carbon burnt per passenger. How about cargo ships? Do you have to count the marginal increase in carbon usage even if you’re a stowaway? I guess you do.

      • Giampiero Campa says:

        Actually i am very curious about how you calculate the marginal carbon usage increase for either a ship or a plane …

        Now, a sailboat cruise … that will really be interesting, but of course one requirement is that you should be able to survive the travel :-)

        • For a cargo ship, added weight holds the boat lower in the water, which increases drag on the hull. To support added weight, an airplane actually has to fly faster (so, is airplane drag quadratic in cargo?) or else find more wing. I suppose the “more wing” is how larger airplanes manage to be efficientior… (to a limitted extent you can also adjust the angle of attack, but I expect this is worse for efficiency than adjusting cruise speed)

          Incidentally, A.G. Bell built fractal kites as a demonstration that you could achieve arbitrary lift with fixed air speed and roughly linear overhead weight, in a manageable space.

        • Bother… “fractal” is a bit of an exaggeration… I was young and impressionable when I wandered through his museum on Cape Breton, and those tetrahedral frames screamed “Sierpinksi” at me — apparently, for little-to-no good reason. Ah, well…

      • Frederik De Roo says:

        With respect to the external costs of transportation, I think we’re all stowaways to a certain extent, since we usually don’t pay for them.

  9. Gary Rafiq says:

    What I want to say here has nothing to do with John’s bet. It has to do with all this brouhaha over neutrino allegedly going faster than light. If I recall correctly, neutrinos were detected after Supernova 1987A was discovered in the LMC. Given that the LMC is about 165,000 ly from us, if neutrinos were detected at the Italian detector 60.7 nanoseconds sooner than light traveling the same distance (732 km), extrapolating this time difference to the distance to SN 1987A means that neutrinos from the SN should have been detected 4 years BEFORE the light from the SN arrived at Earth! Has anyone detected such event in 1983? If not, then neutrinos do NOT travel faster than light!

    • Blake Stacey says:

      The “what about SN1987A?” question has occurred to lots of people (including me, since I hung out with neutrino folks a few years ago). There has been some speculation that neutrinos of different energies behave differently, but even the people who’ve suggested that as a way to resolve the discrepancy seem to be banking on experimental error as the real explanation, from what I’ve seen.

    • Giampiero Campa says:

      I agree. But perhaps you can’t rule out weird stuff like neutrino velocity oscillating slightly around the speed of light, or something like that. But i’d bet on experimental error as well.

    • John Baez says:

      Gary wrote:

      if neutrinos were detected at the Italian detector 60.7 nanoseconds sooner than light traveling the same distance (732 km), extrapolating this time difference to the distance to SN 1987A means that neutrinos from the SN should have been detected 4 years BEFORE the light from the SN arrived at Earth! Has anyone detected such event in 1983?

      No, though they might have been spread in time widely enough that nobody noticed them.

      Of course if you think about how hard it is to catch neutrinos, it’ll seem utterly amazing that we could detect any neutrinos from a supernova that took place in the Large Magellanic Cloud, 168,000 light-years away. However, supernovae put out truly awesome amounts of energy in the form of neutrinos.

      According to Wikipedia, Supernova 1987A put out more 1000 times more neutrinos than there are elements in the Monster Group, carrying an energy roughly equal to what you’d get if you collided 10,000 Earths made of matter with an equal number of antimatter Earths!

      From this gargantuan explosion, 24 neutrinos were detected shortly before the light of Supernova 1987 hit our planet… not because neutrinos go faster than light, but because the neutrinos shot out uninterrupted from the supernova’s core, while the light was only emitted later when the shock wave reached its surface:

      Approximately three hours before the visible light from SN 1987A reached the Earth, a burst of neutrinos was observed at three separate neutrino observatories. This is likely due to neutrino emission (which occurs simultaneously with core collapse) preceding the emission of visible light (which occurs only after the shock wave reaches the stellar surface). At 7:35 a.m. Universal time, Kamiokande II detected 11 antineutrinos, IMB 8 antineutrinos and Baksan 5 antineutrinos, in a burst lasting less than 13 seconds. Approximately three hours earlier, the Mont Blanc liquid scintillator detected a five-neutrino burst, but this is generally not believed to be associated with SN 1987A.

      Although the actual neutrino count was only 24, it was a significant rise from the previously-observed background level. This was the first time neutrinos emitted from a supernova had been observed directly, which marked the beginning of neutrino astronomy. The observations were consistent with theoretical supernova models in which 99% of the energy of the collapse is radiated away in neutrinos. The observations are also consistent with the models’ estimates of a total neutrino count of 1058 with a total energy of 1046 joules.

      The neutrino measurements allowed upper bounds on neutrino mass and charge, as well as the number of flavors of neutrinos and other properties. For example, the data show that within 5% confidence, the rest mass of the electron neutrino is at most 16 eV. The data suggests that the total number of neutrino flavors is at most 8 but other observations and experiments give tighter estimates. Many of these results have since been confirmed or tightened by other neutrino experiments such as more careful analysis of solar neutrinos and atmospheric neutrinos as well as experiments with artificial neutrino sources.

  10. Todd Trimble says:

    Getting back to the terms of the bet —

    Since Lisa does the cooking in our household, and she enjoys it a lot (she used to be the chef at a restaurant), and she’s repeatedly refused my suggestions that we become vegetarian

    I wonder if this might fly: John become a vegetarian *and* do the cooking for most of the week for both Lisa and himself. The terms would be that Lisa still gets the kind of food she prefers while John cooks vegetarian for himself, and she could do the cooking on the weekends. (John can revert back to meat-eating when Lisa cooks.)

    Yes, that may seem onerous for John if he loses. Especially if he is not experienced in the kitchen, but I imagine he might know one or two things about cooking. (If he doesn’t, it would be very sweet if he learned!) :-) But my guess is that John is totally safe in making this bet anyway. :-)

    • John Baez says:

      Lisa and I used to alternate nights of cooking. However, she worked as a chef for a fancy restaurant in Cambridge Massachusetts, and takes a positive delight in mastering new cuisines—these days we mostly eat Chinese/Singaporean/Indian food. I’m not too bad at cooking. But my interest and hence my abilities pale in comparison to hers. So, after a decade of splitting chores equally, we decided that I would do boring things like washing dishes and taking out the trash (which allow me to think about math!), while she does creative cooking.

      Given this arrangement, which we both really like, there’s no way I can persuade her to accept a bet which won’t give her any visible benefit if she wins.

  11. If Frederik is clever, and wants to save the world, maybe he’s making hundreds of bets like this. He’ll certainly lose most of the bets and have to avoid flying for a year, but if he wins a few, he’ll also force other people not to fly. Should John impose some kind of exclusionary clause on this bet? :-)

    And maybe Frederik already knows he won’t fly, e.g. if he has a fear of flying! :-)

    It’s also interesting that in this bet, neither winner gains anything. To help John out here, I’ll sweeten the bet by offering to buy him a beer anytime we’re together and he wants one, if he wins. Hmm, on the other hand, if he loses he might be pretty disappointed with the $10k flights, so I’ll also offer to buy him a beer anytime we’re together. No smiley!

    • John Baez says:

      Thanks, Dan! But I bet you noticed that “anytime we’re together” probably won’t include the year I’m forbidden from travelling—which is precisely when I’ll need that beer the most! I could ask you to fly over and visit me and buy me a beer. But that would really violate the spirit, if not the letter, of this bet.

      And maybe Frederik already knows he won’t fly, e.g. if he has a fear of flying! :-)

      I don’t think he flies much, if at all. That’s why this bet is fair: I have a high chance of winning, but he doesn’t stand to lose as much.

      His other version, where one of us becomes vegetarian for 5 years, may be even more lopsided. For all I know, he already is vegetarian!

      And his joke version of the bet, where we both promise not to use air-conditioning for a year, is even worse. He lives in Germany or Belgium or somewhere. I live in Singapore and Los Angeles. To truly honor that bet, I’d have to work outdoors if I lose. My colleagues will see me sitting outside at a little desk, sweating away, and say: “See that guy? He believed in Einstein’s theories.”

      It’s also interesting that in this bet, neither winner gains anything.

      I noticed that. That was not my idea. I wanted to make some money, but somehow Frederik has chosen bets designed to make me feel guilty and then punish me for me sins. At least now I may get some beer out of it.

      • William Felder says:

        “To truly honor that bet, I’d have to work outdoors if I lose. My colleagues will see me sitting outside at a little desk, sweating away, and say: ‘See that guy? He believed in Einstein’s theories.'”

        Man, that’s funny.

  12. Ruggero says:

    Why is flying the only footprint deal you guys are talking about?
    You could promise to bike at least as much as you drive or more, or to always take public transportation plus biking.
    There are many interesting things to think about…

    • Frederik De Roo says:

      I am certainly willing to suggest for a bet that for one year “one should cycle as many kms as one has flown”. In fact in this way I will certainly be able to fly quite a bit. But the environmental impact (for one person) would be smaller. From following this blog, I supposed that Dr Baez travels regularly by plane. I have no idea if he actually drives by car a lot.

    • John Baez says:

      Frederik wrote:

      I am certainly willing to suggest for a bet that for one year “one should cycle as many kms as one has flown”.

      Sorry, I will not promise to bicycle 28,000 kilometers—the distance of a round-trip flight between Los Angeles and Singapore—if neutrinos turn out to go faster than light!

      I have no idea if he actually drives by car a lot.

      In Singapore I don’t drive at all; in Riverside I mainly drive to the grocery store once a week. In both places I walk to work. I don’t really like bicycling very much, but I love walking.

  13. George W Nixon as short bloke says:

    I would caution that if this bet is to be finally agreed to, there should be a statute of limitations attached to it such as period of time; does the bet stand if one person is no longer with us; who pays then. The quality and authentication of any work purporting to have provided the speed of neutrinos is critically involved. Assumptions based on intense gravitational assistance and such like etceteras should be outlawed. Only horizontal experiments should be allowed. Wind assistance is calculated and allowed for in sport.

    From memory Professor Stephen Hawkins had a bet that was mathematically base on condition regarding super-massive Black Holes, and irrespective of the astronomical evidence requiring their existence, they still remain to be proven despite reports claiming to having done so.

    For what it is worth; I believe that the Special theory of Relativity is in every way in conformity with nature, and from point to point, neutrinos cannot exceed light speed. There is still doubt regarding whether they have a residual mass.

    I cannot make the same assurance for the General theory of Relativity regarding its ability to conform strictly to the realities and demands of physics. Science should take care and stay strictly with the mathematics of General Relativity pertaining to gravity and avoid the conceptual statement that gravity is an illusion. Beware attempting to extend that theory, such as to believe in and advocate for Worm Holes in the space-time continuum.

  14. Roger Witte says:

    For what it’s worth, I agree that maintaining a strong marriage is more important to one’s personal well being than being correct about physics, having lots of money (or indeed almost anything else, including surviving longer).

    • John Baez says:

      You’re right—and marriage actually helps people survive longer, and stay healthier… at least if it’s a happy marriage.

      • Tara Parker-Pope, Is marriage good for your health?, New York Times, 14 April 2010.

      Contemporary studies, for instance, have shown that married people are less likely to get pneumonia, have surgery, develop cancer or have heart attacks. A group of Swedish researchers has found that being married or cohabiting at midlife is associated with a lower risk for dementia. A study of two dozen causes of death in the Netherlands found that in virtually every category, ranging from violent deaths like homicide and car accidents to certain forms of cancer, the unmarried were at far higher risk than the married. For many years, studies like these have influenced both politics and policy, fueling national marriage-promotion efforts, like the Healthy Marriage Initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. From 2006 to 2010, the program received $150 million annually to spend on projects like “divorce reduction” efforts and often cited the health benefits of marrying and staying married.

      But while it’s clear that marriage is profoundly connected to health and well-being, new research is increasingly presenting a more nuanced view of the so-called marriage advantage. Several new studies, for instance, show that the marriage advantage doesn’t extend to those in troubled relationships, which can leave a person far less healthy than if he or she had never married at all. One recent study suggests that a stressful marriage can be as bad for the heart as a regular smoking habit. And despite years of research suggesting that single people have poorer health than those who marry, a major study released last year concluded that single people who have never married have better health than those who married and then divorced.

      The only big problem with a happy marriage is what to do if you don’t die near-simultaneously. I’m sure that’s why a lot of old people give up and die shortly after their partner does.

  15. You could get a Pedal-a-Watt http://www.econvergence.net/electro.htm and pledge to generate a certain amount of electricity cycling on it!

    • John Baez says:

      Hi, Eugenia! There’s been some research lately on the bad health effects of sitting all day—especially a problem for me in Singapore where I’m not teaching. So people have been turning to treadmill desks. But as far as I know, treadmill desks consume electrical power. Much better to have something that generates power!

      (If you click on the link and look at the pictures, I think you’ll see the woman is wearing high heels—a fact that’s already been duly mocked.)

      • Hi! I looked into getting a treadmill desk actually, not to keep fit (I go to the gym for that) but because walking helps me think. Walking also helps me stay awake, and I’ve long dreamt of seminar rooms with treadmills so that we can all stay awake in seminars. Oh, and sometimes I wear heels to work and I would have no qualms walking on my treadmill desk in them!

        • John Baez says:

          Eugenia wrote:

          Walking also helps me stay awake, and I’ve long dreamt of seminar rooms with treadmills so that we can all stay awake in seminars.

          Did you dream of this while sleeping through seminars?

          It’s an interesting thought. I often joke to my calculus students that we make the books big and heavy so that even if they don’t learn the subject they’ll get some exercise. This takes that idea to a new level.

        • Todd Trimble says:

          I love the idea myself. But I’m also a believer in afternoon siestas, when possible. Just half and hour, or even just 15-20 minutes, can be amazingly restorative.

          Sometimes I like to stand or walk while doing math; I also like to stretch myself out on a couch with a pad of paper. I tend to do less well sitting in a chair. :-)

        • John Baez says:

          There’s nothing like a big conference-style lunch followed by a boring math talk to put me to sleep. Unfortunately it’s uncomfortable and also a bit rude sleeping through someone’s talk in a lecture theater. If they could webcast the after-lunch talk so I could listen to it in my hotel bed, that would be perfect.

        • nad says:

          Todd Trimble wrote:

          “I love the idea myself.”

          For thinking deeply I usually need tranquility. Likewise I find walking can be quite distracting when following complex thoughts. Having someone fidgeting on a noisy treadmill right next to me in a seminar sounds like a terrible enterprise.

        • Todd Trimble says:

          @nad: normally I don’t find seminars “tranquil” to begin with, and people sitting next to you in a seminar can be fidgety anyway. (One thing I find greatly distracting is the sound of someone eating or chewing gum noisily; I’d take a gentle hum of a treadmill over that *any* day.)

          It sounds like the pace of a treadmill here would be or could be more like a slow amble, which in and of itself wouldn’t at all be in opposition to deep meditative states of mind. (Cf. kinhin, i.e., walking meditation, in zendos.)

          Somewhat related to all this, here is Nietzsche (Ecce Homo, ‘Why I am So Clever’): “*Sit* as little as possible; credit no thought not born in the open air and while moving freely about — in which the muscles too do not hold a festival.”

        • nad says:

          I find greatly distracting is the sound of someone eating or chewing gum noisily; I’d take a gentle hum of a treadmill over that *any* day

          Yes seminars can be noisy. But treadmills would produce noise in addition to the usual noise. And thinking of e.g. 15 people stomping on a treadmill in a normal seminar room doesn’t seem to me to sound like a “gentle hum”.

        • Todd Trimble says:

          Ah well, maybe so. It’s probably not worth arguing about.

        • John Baez says:

          In this day of cheap, quick communications, everything is worth arguing about.

          “No it’s not!”

        • nad says:

          Todd Trimble wrote:

          Ah well, maybe so. It’s probably not worth arguing about.

          I do think that the discussion about working conditions, work-life balance and certain life styles is very important. Amongst others I think this question plays quite a big role in the discussions about climate change (otherwise I wouldn’t dare to write a comment about this issue on this blog :oops: ). Like for example why are there people going to a gym by car? Why are there people eating fat meat and junk food, although its eventually bad for them (especially in certain amounts)? Why do people sit in Pachinko’s (these are these incredible loud japanese slotmachine game halls) in order to “relax”? Why do people need to do transatlantic flights for two-day shopping sprees?

          These are all choices which people make more or less “voluntarily”. And to a great extent these are cultural choices. So these questions are definitely worth to be discussed in my opinion! !

        • Todd Trimble says:

          Well, this is a much broader question, nad, than whether a seminar would be disrupted by 15 people walking (or “stomping about” as you so tendentiously put it) on treadmills. I still think that particular idea is worth considering, but probably the best way to find out if people would generally really like it is to actually try it, rather than argue at great length about it in tiny comment boxes. I imagine some would like it, some would not.

          Naturally I agree with you about the importance of lifestyle choices.

          If you want to argue some more, maybe John will take you up on it, since he says everything is worth arguing about. ;-)
          Unfortunately, I have other things I need to do.

        • nad says:

          Todd Trimble wrote:

          Ah well, maybe so. It’s probably not worth arguing about.

          and

          I still think that particular idea is worth considering but probably the best way to find out if people would generally really like it is to actually try it, rather than argue at great length about it in tiny comment boxes. I imagine some would like it, some would not.

          I think it makes sense to discuss with people whether they like to have treadmills in seminars before setting them up. The discussion above revealed that some people would like them and some not. What if the majority dislikes treadmills in seminars? What do you do then with all those treadmills?

          If you want to argue some more, maybe John will take you up on it, since he says everything is worth arguing about.

          I currently don’t think that my argument above needs much more explanation. But eventually some people see this differently.

        • This is hilarious. I reckon there is precisely zero chance that any maths department will install treadmills in a seminar room in our lifetime, so I don’t think you need to panic. Take a chill pill dude!

        • John Baez says:

          Be nice, Eugenia. First of all, nad isn’t a ‘dude’—in fact you’ve seen her once, but you probably didn’t know it was this person here! Second of all, she’s German, and Germans often take things very seriously. Organization and proper procedures are very important. While it’s easy to make fun of them for this, it also has some advantages.

        • Apologies, I didn’t think I was being un-nice. I did honestly find the comment hilarious! I love the idea that we might all turn up for work one day and discover that the desks in a seminar room had been surreptitiously replaced by treadmills…

          And I know nad is a woman, but that doesn’t disqualify her from being a dude does it? I hope not, because I love being addressed as “dude” myself.

        • John Baez says:

          Okay – “take a chill pill dude” sounded un-nice. I momentarily forgot that 1) you’re British, and 2) you’d never say something like that if you weren’t joking.

        • Todd Trimble says:

          Eugenia — dude! — you might enjoy this.

        • nad says:

          John Baez wrote:

          Okay – “take a chill pill dude” sounded un-nice. I momentarily forgot that 1) you’re British, and 2) you’d never say something like that if you weren’t joking.

          Frankly speaking I perceived british humour sofar as being a little bit different from calling someone merely a “dude”. So I am not sure if this should be accounted for as “joking”. In particular you would attribute an analog expression like “dude” here in Berlin (the Berlin analog is probably “Alter”, which actually means “old guy”, but is used rather among the youth) as a kind of slang for adressing someone in an rather informal way. I.e. “dude” would not be perceived as a humourous expression but rather as an indication of which standing the addressee has in the eye of the addressor (the indication depends on the context).

          Eugenia Cheng wrote:

          This is hilarious. I reckon there is precisely zero chance that any maths department will install treadmills in a seminar room in our lifetime, so I don’t think you need to panic. Take a chill pill dude!

          If there is zero chance that any maths department will install treadmills in a seminar room in our lifetime, that doesn’t imply that one can’t apriori suggest this as a serious proposal. And I can say what I think of that suggestion.

          Apart from that there were -as I understood- serious proposals to get additional funding for schools or universities by putting advertisements into class/seminar rooms. I find that almost equally distracting as treadmills. And thus I wouldn’t find it so improbable that someone may come up with the serious suggestion to introduce coin-operated treadmills even in seminar rooms in order to boost the departments third-party budget.

          John Baez wrote:

          Second of all, she’s German, and Germans often take things very seriously. Organization and proper procedures are very important. While it’s easy to make fun of them for this, it also has some advantages.

          If you want to insist on these stereotypes than you may need to know that am even worse than being just “german” – that is I come from the region of Prussia. Prussians are in the rest of Germany that what the Germans are for the rest of the world – they are the Germans of the Germans so to say.

          Eugenia Cheng wrote:

          Take a chill pill dude!

          Which “chill pill” do you think would be appropriate for me?

      • nad says:

        John Baez wrote:

        I think you’ll see the woman is wearing high heels—a fact that’s already been duly mocked.

        by the way there is a difference between high heels and heels.

  16. John Baez says:

    Okay—so, Lisa seems willing to accept the idea of a bet where if I lose, for one year of my choice within a 5-year period I can only take one round-trip flight.

    But, she dislikes the idea that Frederik may not really stand to lose anything if he loses the bet. She says I should bargain a bit harder: for example, make him not take long-distance train rides for a year.

    I told her that I’m vastly more likely to win than Frederik, but she said still, he should really lose something if he loses.

    She’s much tougher than me.

  17. Frederik De Roo says:

    Off topic, do you know this Brother Grimm’s fairytale about married men and bargains?

    And I didn’t even ask for the exception of a roundtrip Singapore-California yet for myself… So, because I gave the impression behaving environmentally would somehow be “easier for me than for you”, I would have “to give up more”, even though I’ve already got the odds against my side? Do you consider what would happen if I would marry before the bet is settled. I’d have to say: “oh by the way, there’s a slight problem dear, I once made a bet with a professor and his wife pushed him to negotiate harder so I ended up with worse conditions, even though he had all the odds on his side.”

    In fact I have a better idea: I’ll produce ten decent Azimuth articles during that year! (each worthy of three “thumbs up” emoticons) For me this is going to be harder than not taking any trains.

    • John Baez says:

      Okay — how about this, Frederik?

      At any time within the next 10 years, either of us can claim we have won the bet. When that happens, we will contact a panel of 3 judges, and they will decide whether it’s true beyond a reasonable doubt, false beyond a reasonable doubt, or uncertain that neutrinos can (under some conditions) go faster than light.

      If they decide it’s true, I am only allowed to take one round-trip airplane trip during one of the next 5 years. I am allowed to choose which year this is. I can make my choice at any time (before 4 years have passed).

      If they decide it’s false, you have to produce 10 decent Azimuth articles during one of the next 5 years. You are allowed to choose which year this is. You can make your choice at any time (before 4 years have passed).

      If they decide it’s uncertain, we can renegotiate the bet (or just decide not to continue it).

      We should choose who these judges are, and perhaps choose who gets to decide what counts as a ‘decent Azimuth article’.

      I’m not sure the American legal standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ is the correct one to use here. For example, it may be unfair to me. Suppose 10 good experiments seem to show that neutrinos don’t go faster than light. Could there still be some unexplored conditions in which they do go faster than light? Could there be a ‘reasonable doubt’ here?

      • Frederik De Roo says:

        That seems a fair deal to me, and to assure your wife, we will both lose our holidays if we lose the bet ;-)

        I have no idea who could be in the jury, but should we really decide this in advance? We don’t have any legal punishment for cheating neither. So let’s just make a gentleman’s agreement about this. I think the jury is good for disputes but it’s probably not even necessary, e.g. if the OPERA experiment becomes obsolete or, contrarily, if it is awarded with tomorrow’s Nobel prize! ;-)

        I think we’ll both easily agree once the majority of the field settle their mind.

        I will specify when I assume that an article of mine could be worthy of the three-thumb quality and then you can decide if you agree with that, so we can converge to a common 3-thumb standard. Being too permissive won’t be profitable for the Azimuth project, but being too severe may scare away other volunteers, I hope.

      • John Baez says:

        Okay, we can probably agree on whether the consensus of experiments have shown neutrinos can faster than light. If we get stuck in an argument, that means the situation is too ucertain for either of us to count as a winner. I don’t plan to be unreasonable.

        So, do we have a bet we can agree on? I would like to publicize it. I propose this as an official text:

        This bet concerns whether neutrinos can go faster than light. Frederik De Roo bets they can. John Baez bets they cannot.

        At any time before October 2021, either John or Frederik can claim they have won this bet. When that happens, they will try to agree whether it’s true beyond a reasonable doubt, false beyond a reasonable doubt, or uncertain that neutrinos can (under some conditions) go faster than light. If they cannot agree, the situation counts as uncertain.

        If they decide it’s true, John is only allowed to take one round-trip airplane trip during one of the next 5 years. John is allowed to choose which year this is. He can make my choice at any time (before 4 years have passed).

        If they decide it’s false, Frederik has to produce 10 decent Azimuth articles during one of the next 5 years—where ‘decent’ means ‘deserving of three thumbs up emoticons on the Azimuth Forum’. He is allowed to choose which year this is. He can make his choice at any time (before 4 years have passed).

        If they decide it’s uncertain, they can renegotiate the bet (or just decide not to continue it).

        • Frederik De Roo says:

          If “publicize” means “visible on Azimuth” and if you make the following corrections:

          * one round-trip airplane trip between California and Singapore

          * He can make his choice.

          * can you switch the sentences “John Baez bets they can” and “Frederik De Roo bets they cannot”? That may suggest that it was you who wanted to bet fand that I accepted the challenge afterwards – and I might appear less stupid… I think I better start working on those articles right away… ;-)

          then I can accept the bet.

        • Frederik De Roo says:

          Oops. I meant of course the sentences “John Baez bets they cannot” and “Frederik De Roo bets they can”.

          I wasn’t trying to change the odds in my favour…

  18. Eric says:

    I haven’t followed the comments here and I haven’t read any of the related science articles so this is probably coming out of left field, but when I read the headline, I wasn’t surprised at all. Even light travels faster than the speed of light. It is not mysterious, but it cannot be used to transmit information. Similar to group versus phase velocity. Are they claiming information can be transmitted faster than the speed of light with these neutrinos? THAT would be worth betting on.

    • John Baez says:

      In suitable media, the phase velocity and the group velocity of light can exceed c; the only thing that can’t exceed c, according to standard theory, is the signal velocity. As far as I can tell, the OPERA experiment is essentially claiming that the signal velocity of neutrinos can exceed c.

      In other words, these guys are claiming that if you turn on a neutrino beam in Geneva, the front of that beam will reach Gran Sasso, 730 kilometers away, in a time less than 730 km / c. About 60 nanoseconds less, to be precise. One nanominute!

      For a great applet illustrating superluminal group velocities, see Greg Egan’s website.

      For a great discussion of the difference between phase velocity, group velocity and signal velocity, I don’t think anyone can beat this book:

      • Léon Brillouin, Wave Propagation and Group Velocity, Academic Press, San Diego, 1960.

    • Eric says:

      Are we sure the front of the beam actually carries information?

      Can you code a message into the beam and send it faster than light?

  19. John Baez says:

    Okay, here’s a reworded bet:

    This bet concerns whether neutrinos can go faster than light. John Baez bets they cannot. Just to make life interesting, Frederik De Roo bets that they can.

    At any time before October 2021, either John or Frederik can claim they have won this bet. When that happens, they will try to agree whether it’s true beyond a reasonable doubt, false beyond a reasonable doubt, or uncertain that neutrinos can (under some conditions) go faster than light. If they cannot agree, the situation counts as uncertain.

    If they decide it’s true, John is only allowed to take one round-trip airplane trip during one of the next 5 years. John is allowed to choose which year this is. He can make his choice at any time (before 4 years have passed).

    If they decide it’s false, Frederik has to produce 10 decent Azimuth articles during one of the next 5 years—where ‘decent’ means ‘deserving of three thumbs up emoticons on the Azimuth Forum’. He is allowed to choose which year this is. He can make his choice at any time (before 4 years have passed).

    If they decide it’s uncertain, they can renegotiate the bet (or just decide not to continue it).

    I’ve decided not to add ‘between California and Singapore’ because there’s a high chance that by 2021 I will have a position at some other institutions. All the same issues will still apply.

    (Of course I could write “John is only allowed to take one round-trip airplane trip between California and Singapore during one of the next 5 years”, and then take 5 roundtrip flights between various destinations but only one between California and Singapore, and claim to have honored the bet! But you see, I’m not so sneaky.)

    Frederik writes:

    If “publicize” means “visible on Azimuth” …

    I’m planning to publicize this bet as much as possible! It’s a great way to get people interested in climate change, carbon footprints and the Azimuth Project! Of course I’ll make it clear that that you’re entering into this bet because of your environmental convictions, not because you actually think neutrinos go faster than light. That’s why in my current version I added “just to make life interesting”. If you have a better phrase, please suggest it!

    I hope you’d be very happy to get some emails from reporters asking why you wanted to make this bet. You could then explain to them your ideas about the importance of reducing our carbon footprints. It would be a great opportunity to get the message out there.

    • Frederik De Roo says:

      John wrote:

      I’ve decided not to add ‘between California and Singapore’ because there’s a high chance that by 2021 I will have a position at some other institutions. All the same issues will still apply.

      Perfect. If you don’t want to write it so explicitly, it’s fine for me, because, being both gentlemen, the idea is to honour to the “spirit” of the bet. So I don’t insist upon adding something like “only one roundtrip which would allow John Baez to spend a period of at least one month as a visiting scientist in another institute so he won’t be separated from his wife during this period” especially because I trust:

      But you see, I’m not so sneaky.

      And, after all, if you wouldn’t honour the bet, say to use the roundtrip to do some shopping or sightseeing, it wouldn’t be good for your credibility…

      Maybe you could write “For the sake of the environment and out of scientific curiosity” instead of “Just to make life interesting”?

      Well, I don’t mind you announce this bet, as long as you don’t buy advertisement time to broadcast our bet on television or so ;-) I don’t mind at all if you want to mention it at your next physics/math conference: “Colleagues, I may not be here the next time!”

      • John Baez says:

        Frederik wrote:

        Maybe you could write “For the sake of the environment and out of scientific curiosity” instead of “Just to make life interesting”?

        Yes, that’s better.

        Well, I don’t mind you announce this bet, as long as you don’t buy advertisement time to broadcast our bet on television or so…

        Great! I’ll announce it now on Google+!

        (By the way, using the phrase “or so” immediately labels you as a native German speaker… or perhaps Dutch, too? Germans always say this. Not that this is bad! But I would never say it in this context. I’d say “or something”. In fact I can’t think of any context where’d I’d say “or so”.)

        • Todd Trimble says:

          “Going through my grandmother’s attic, I found a box with a lot of dollar bills in it.” “How many?” “Oh, I’d say a thousand or so.”

        • John Baez says:

          Whoops, right. I’m too lazy to try to figure out what distinction makes that okay and “on television or so” not okay. It can take quite a lot of work making up rules without exceptions.

        • John Baez says:

          But in case Frederik is wondering, “or so” can be used for an indefinite quantity, as in

          How many sandwiches? A dozen or so.

          but apparently not an indefinite thing, as in

          What did you eat? A sandwich or so.

          The first sounds fine, the second sounds… German.

  20. […] We negotiated it, and now we’ve agreed: This bet concerns whether neutrinos can go faster than light. John Baez bets they cannot. For the sake of the environment and out of scientific curiosity, Frederik De Roo bets that they can. […]

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