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Limits

There are the limits that we beat fair and square. The speed of sound, which toppled about a decade after we set our sights on it.…By Michael Segal

There are the limits that we beat fair and square. The speed of sound, which toppled about a decade after we set our sights on it. The resolution limit of an optical microscope, beaten by switching from photons to electrons. 

Then there are the limits that are formally unbeatable: things like the speed of light and quantum indeterminacy. They’re interesting because they describe an unexpected border between the philosophical and technological. And because we are still trying to beat them.

If an object can squeeze and stretch the spacetime around itself, it can effectively travel faster than the speed of light without doing it locally. Quantum uncertainty can be shuffled and hidden, yielding high-precision measurements without breaking any laws.

The physicist Murray Gell-Mann once repurposed a novelist’s phrase to describe physics: “Everything not forbidden is compulsory.” Today he might have added a corollary—everything forbidden is worth a second look.

Welcome to “Limits.”


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