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Tim Durnin: The Wonders of Scientific and Technological Advances

Recent discoveries make even our wildest dreams seem possible

Last week, two scientific discoveries caught my attention.

The first was the potential discovery of particles that can travel faster than the speed of light. The news hit Twitter like a train hitting a watermelon truck.

Now I’m not a physicist, but if I were, I think this discovery might give me some fits. The findings shake the foundation of the “Standard Model” of physics, a foundation poured with Einsteinian concrete. In that model, the speed of light is a “cosmic constant” and nothing can travel faster.

Some physicist must feel a bit like the captain of the Titanic. The indestructible ship just might be sinking. But there is hope for science fiction enthusiasts. The discovery would seem to open the door to the possibility of time travel. I have a small bag packed.

While the possibility of time travel is appealing, I do have some concern about scientists playing with the big picture. I look at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland warily, certain it has the potential to take us out in a “death-star-like” fireworks show. I also imagine scientists sitting in their lab and making a discovery so spectacular that the entire universe crumbles in a Matrix-like apocalypse.

For now I will have to be content waiting on the sideline, powerless and paralyzed. This science is far beyond my comprehension and expertise. If you ever do find yourself consumed in a brilliant flash of light, I promise not to say I told you so.

The second discovery is much more practical but equally astounding. Scientists at UC Berkeley’s Gallant Lab have successfully reconstructed clips of movies by monitoring the subject’s brain activity. The images are far from detailed but they are shockingly similar. I would guess they appear much the same as those of the first television transmissions.

The implications for medicine are weighty. Imagine being able to see into the mind of a comatose patient or a stroke victim who has lost the ability to speak. This technology, when developed, has the potential to do just that.

The implications for research are equally astounding. Picture the breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s detection and cures that could be achieved. The same can be said for Parkinson’s disease and mental illness. Taking it to the extreme, an entire mind could be captured, saved and utilized for posterity. Oh, to access Michelangelo’s brain.

There are other more practical implications, of course. The technology would certainly bring the science of lie detection to more reliable conclusions. Mind reading would be as simple as placing sensors in the right configuration. Jealous husbands and wives could clandestinely place sensors on their unsuspecting, sleeping spouse and take a look around.

The entertainment value of such technology is limitless. Given the dreams I have, I could be entertained for hours each day reviewing them. Exploring others’ dreams would be even more amusing. We can say goodbye to television and Netflix and just enjoy the oddities and eccentricities of our own imaginations. But I have to wonder if there will be commercials.

Standing in middle age, I am awestruck by such advances in technology and science. Today’s young people will experience a world I can’t even imagine. I do like trying, though, and in so doing, attempt to create a world and universe worthy of their hopes and aspirations. Discoveries like these make such imaginings possible and even, I believe, probable.

— Tim Durnin is a father and husband. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.

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