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The Neutrino Story

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: September 27, 1998
Faculty on the Site.

Neutrinos Have Mass
and Scientists Must Tolerate Ambiguity
and Present Validity Claims



NEW NEW Dr. Ganezer's Conclusions from the Super-Kamiokande Results
NEW NEW Why Does It Matter ?

NEW Cranks, Quarks , and the Cosmos

Why Neutrinos and Discourse? CSUDH Neutrino Site
Boston University Super-K Validity Claim The University of Hawaii Site
Search for Sites on Neutrinos Discourse as Text: Yes, We Have No Neutrinos
Photo from LSU Site of Dr. Kenneth Ganezer of the CSUDH Physics Department
More About Neutrinos Physicists Talk About Their Validity Claims
Thanks to All the Physicists

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Dr. Ganezer's Conclusions from the Super-Kamiokande Results

On Friday, September 25, 1998, Dr. Ganezer spoke at the monthly Sigma Xi meeting on his conclusions from the Super-Kamiokande results on neutrino mass. Dr. Ganezer offers three possibilities.

  1. Neutrinos have rest frames.

    That is, Dr. Ganezer says, because they have mass we could fly alongside one in a space ship. Because they have mass we could apply force to a neutrino, slow it down, theoretically stop it. Because they have mass [rest frames], neutrinos can slow down, and thus give us evidence of their mass.

  2. Neutrinos age.

    Thus, there are relic neutrinos, left over from the "big bang," and we can tell them apart from the neutrinos we collect from cosmic rays.

  3. Photons, according to this new evidence of neutrino mass, would be the only massless, non-aging, non-resting particles.

    What about gluons? which hold together up and down quarks, which, like electrons, are the particles we are made of.

  4. If their mass turns out to be as large as 10 to the minus third power electron votes, then neutrinos could account for 90% of the mass of the universe.

    Only the difference in mass between neutrinos captured as they came down to earth and neutrinos captured coming up through the earth was measured. this suggests that neutrinos could account largely for what has come to be known as "dark matter." Since we have with the Super-Kamiokande experiment measure only the difference in the mass of neutrinos coming directly into the collider with those coming up through the earth, there is as yet no evidence on the actual mass of neutrinos. Nevertheless, ten to the minus three electron votes is pretty small.

    Gordon Kane, in The Particle Garden, points out that "the electron neutrino mass would have been detected by now unless it was at least 50,000 times lighter than the electron." (At. p. 57) That mass still remains to be measured, and if it is at least ten to the minus 3 electron votes, we could have a clue to the nature of "dark matter."

    ***

    The only theory which proved reliable to explain the difference in masses found at Super-Kamiokande was that of neutrino oscillation. That is, when a collision causes an electon neutrino passing through the huge tank of super clear water at Super K to decay into a tau neutrino and then oscillate back into a muon neutrino. Neutrinos captured directly as they come down into the Super-K tank have not yet begun the state of oscillation. But neutrinos coming up through the earth into the tank are oscillating. This was the only theory that accounted for their difference in mass. But even scientists like Dr. Ganezer, who took part in the experiment, are saying that this is pretty convincing evidence that neutrinos oscillate between families of leptons, perhaps even having two separate masses at different quantum strata, we must wait for further experiments to confirm these data by independent means. So also says Prof. John Leader of the University of Hawaii. Notice that physicists are not so quick to be sure that they "know" what causes what.

    Nonetheless, says Dr, Ganezer, "this is a very persuasive piece of evidence in favor of neutrino oscillation."

    Reported by Jeanne Curran and Patricia Acone.



    Why Does It Matter?"

    Particle physics and its recent confirmation of neutrino mass matter to us in our trying to create discourse. One of the factors on which Habermas relies, in his belief that public discourse will lead us to peaceful solutions as a global people, is the strengthening of our ability to see the broad perspective in which each of us experience conflicting validity claims.

      The Super-Kamiokande experiments offer an example of physicists, well-trained and careful of the discipline of their knowledge, refraining from the adoption of knowledge positions that would exclude other claims. Super-K physicists expressing tolerance of the ambiguity of not knowing for sure, is a wonderful example to keep in mind.

      Super-Kamiokande also brings home to us the complexities of neutrinos, so small we can barely imagine them, coming to us from cosmic radiation, so broad in scope we can barely imagine it. That ought to give us some perspective on how broad the range of human knowledge is, and how difficult the task of grasping that knowledge in its entirety and with certainty. A little humility in the face of such complexity is a good thing. Think of all the wicked little unstated assumptions such perspectives can help us avoid.



      Why Does It Matter?"

      Particle physics and its recent confirmation of neutrino mass matter to us in our trying to create discourse. One of the factors on which Habermas relies, in his belief that public discourse will lead us to peaceful solutions as a global people, is the strengthening of our ability to see the broad perspective in which each of us experience conflicting validity claims. The Super-Kamiokande experiments offer an example of physicists, well-trained and careful of the discipline of their knowledge, refraining from the adoption of knowledge positions that would exclude other claims. Super-K physicists expressing tolerance of the ambiguity of not knowing for sure, is a wonderful example to keep in mind.

      Super-Kamiokande also brings home to us the complexities of neutrinos, so small we can barely imagine them, coming to us from cosmic radiation, so broad in scope we can barely imagine it. That ought to give us some perspective on how broad the range of human knowledge is, and how difficult the task of grasping that knowledge in its entirety and with certainty. A little humility in the face of such complexity is a good thing. Think of all the wicked little unstated assumptions such perspectives can help us avoid.



      Discourse on Whether Neutrinos Have Mass

      We'll bet the first thing you thought was, "Me? Come to discourse on neutrinos? What are they, anyway? But citizens just like you and me do evaluate pure research in science, and we do decide whether or not to give the scientists the money they seek. Scientists have validity claims in this world of public discourse, and they, too, are concerned about making themselves heard.

      Boston University's Super-K Site makes that claim poignantly.

      On June 5, the Neutrino 98 conference was the setting in Takayama, Japan, for announcing that scientists have "discovered" that neutrinos have mass. There are problems in measuring that mass, but they have come to the conclusion that the claim that the neutrinos have mass is valid. They came to this conclusion by eliminating many alternative explanations for what they found in their experiments.

      This is an acceptable way to decide on "truth" as we know it. It fits with critical theory and the postmodern approach. Look at all the possible explanations. Consider which most accurately predicts and describes the world as best our current perceptions can measure and give evidence of it.

      CAVEAT: As of now the discovery at Super-Kamiokande gives the best explanation. It seems to best fit the data of all the possibilities that were brought to the present discourse table. Out there, somewhere, may be another validity claim that has not yet been conceived and submitted to the discourse table of these scientists. Then, again, maybe not. Maybe the claim they declare as "scientific truth" is the best explanation. Or maybe it is just the best, given our understanding of the universe, until more understanding comes along. As sociologists, we call the ability to grow comfortable with that open-ended uncertainty "the tolerance of ambiguity."

      This kind of explanation sounds like equivocation. Do neutrinos have mass or don't they? Well, just like the issues we deal with in justice, legitimacy, equality, an equivocal answer may have to suffice for a while. We'll just have to tolerate the ambiguity of not "knowing for sure." That really isn't such a terrible dilemma. Folks "knew for certain" the earth was flat for a very long time, until some daring sailors set sail and didn't fall off the edge, and Columbus made his fortune. We no longer feel the "angoisse" of those who were sure there was an edge out there off of which one was sure to fall. Instead we've substituted new anxieties for new edges to our understanding that we're scared of falling off of.

      Modernity sought sweeping overall conclusions that would not change, through which we could satisfy our need to know for certain. Postmodernism recognizes that this is an ever changing world, that we create the world as we discover it, in the very process of discovering it. I am not the same in a world I understand as I was in a world that seemed magical and unpredictable. My head is held higher; I feel greater control; I do not respond in fear to the same stimuli.

      The power of knowledge, as we create it interactively with our world, can be easily measured through self-esteem, competence, achievement. But where do these neutrinos fit in? I wasn't scared of falling off the edge of a neutrino. With 300 estimated to be in one spoonful of space, I can't even imagine the little critters all around us. So who cares, if what I'm trying to do is create discourse to establish legitimacy? We do. Because discourse, just like scientific understanding, is built on bringing all validity claims to the table, that all may be heard in good faith, so that we may choose to act as a community on that which seems best to fit our data and our values. There are always, even with neutrinos, competing claims. We choose; we must; but we tolerate the ambiguity of recognizing that there may some day be yet another claim. As ideas build upon ideas, becoming different ideas in the process, new claims arise. To remain open to hearing those claims in good faith is to establish legitimacy.

      Today the New York Times reports that neutrinos have mass. And that adds to our store of knowledge. We accept the authority of the physicists who have struggled for this knowledge in good faith, remaining open to the next validity claim which may alter that vague perception we now have of neutrino mass.

      The neutrino article first came to my attention in news reports. I wanted to draw some parallels to skills we need to take good faith part in discourse, including skills in the evaluation of and acceptance of authority, and the importance of this process across all disciplines, from philosophy to physics. I wanted to lead you to time-sensitive links, so I uploaded this quickly. That's why we have a time-sensitive category in Dear Habermas, allowing us to think and explore together. This was not intended as a definitive comment. Think about it. Reference the statistics site on evaluating authority. And then join me in creating a text that will help all of us better understand authority and its role in our consciousness.

      Jeanne your reactions.



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      Searching for Knowledge for Discourse on Neutrinos

      Nota bene: When responding to a time-specific source, it's a good idea to go on the Web. I sometimes go to the New York Times. I like their NYTimes Web site. On the neutrino article the N Y Times did not give the University of Hawaii site. But if you follow the NY Times Web site you are linked to both Hawaii's department of physics and the Takayama site in Japan. Newspaper articles will not generally be adequate sources in scholarly papers. But through their Web sites the newspapers will lead you to sources that will be adequate for your term papers and classroom discussions. Check out the LA Times. Then check out your more specific local papers. The world of research is more accessible every day.

      The New York Times is what I tend to start with. But try the LA Times. I found this paragraph on their Web site: "The observatory was 90% funded by the Japanese government and 10% by the United States. Researchers at the site include teams from UC Irvine, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Hawaii and Boston University. " That's a clue that there might be other information at those university sites. But the LA Times site did not make readily visible site links. So I went to Yahoo and found each university. No special site info up.

      So then I tried the Dept. of Physics at Boston University. Having got to the Physics Dept. through the Web index of departments which I found at http://web.bu.edu/. From the Physics Dept. I linked to Research, and from that to their link: Experimental High-Energy Physics and Astrophysics. From there, there is another link http://hep.bu.edu/~superk/, which leads to more detailed information and to many Super K sites. The only such site at a California State University is at CSUDH! The Neutrino Site at CSUDH Try it. The site at Irvine has is nicely done. http://www.ps.uci.edu/~superk/ There's even a "What's It All Mean?" section on the Irvine site, but it said that it would be updated within the hour when I went there, so all I got was lovely colors. But maybe that will help us build the references to discourse for all this. Go look. Don't be limited to one site. Try different sites, different routes.

      Kudos to the University of Hawaii and the New York Times site for having made it so easy. And Kudos to CSUDH for building a path around their damaged server to get up the story of Super-K at CSUDH. Go out on the Web and discover neutrinos and think on how they are related to Habermasian discourse. Jeanne



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      Yes, We Have No Neutrinos - A Text Created as Discourse

      From an E-Mail Exchange with Prof. John G. Learned
      Department of Physics
      University of Hawaii

      On Friday, June 5, when the New York Times, the L.A. Times, and most other news agencies announced the discovery by physicists that neutrinos do indeed have mass, we rushed to alert you to this new perception of reality. We also rushed to explain it, for neutrinos are not part of our everyday discourse. The New York Times and the University of Hawaii made it easy for us. They highlighted the news and on their Web sites gave URLS to lead us there. The University of Hawaii Site

      In the most honored tradition of our mothers' teaching, Jeanne sent a thank you to John Learned of the Physics Department of the University of Hawaii, for he was the author credited.

      On Fri, 5 Jun 1998, Jeanne wrote:

      "Thank you for providing lay information. By linking to your department's work I can be sure that my students have access to such material. That's important, since I teach the sociological approach to justice, legitimacy, and uncertainty. My students may not have taken physics. They need such pages as yours to understand the links I try to teach."

      On Fri, 5 Jun 1998 , Prof. John F. Learned responded:

      "Thanks for the kudos. Actually the press level material was written by our press officer here, Cheryl Ernst. She used my Scientific American level, which my wife (botanist) complained was not that comprehensible. It is hard to translate information from our obscure specialities. We need to try harder with this sort of thing to sell the importance of science to those, as is the case with your students, who ultimately pay the bill and in the long run benefit from them."

      Curran immediately responded that she had sent students to the New York Times site, and done her best to prepare a comment to help students understand, "though it was very hasty." She promised to work at the piece, "for her specialty is precisely crossing these barriers of understanding."

      Again, on Fri, 5 Jun 1998, John Learned sent a message to Dear Habermas:

      "Very nice... I quickly read the material at your site. I like your tilt on the postmodern view... a bit more acceptable to us old fashioned realists who do not believe in the literal social construction of knowledge when it comes to "hard science". Of course not all physicists accept our data, but most are won over when they see it. So we are quickly establishing a consensus, but it is still a shaky one.

      "If we (you and I) have an intellectual difference in belief, but probably not in daily actions based upon our understandings, it would be that I take there to be a firm unmodifiable reality behind the curtain of our limited experiments and models. We make approaches to this underlying reality, but in the end our works stands upon being 'right or 'wrong', and of course sometimes undecided. If we have made egregious errors, we will get caught... this we all believe, and it makes one careful (well most, usually)! This I think is what distinguishes physics from social anthropology, for example (well, one distinction).

      "Anyway, nice site, I think you work well towards bridging the academic chasm!"

      To which Jeanne immediately responded:

      "I hate to confess this, but I suspect you're right and there may well be a "reality" out there that we are merely approximating in our attempts at understanding. But I'm afraid that "reality" may be, like "God," something I can only be "certain" of when it's too late to make much difference. Certainly, that "reality" out there is one of the validity claims I've always got to take into account in order to maintain the good faith that brings legitimacy. Now maybe this is all because I started out as a physicist."

      Jeanne, in the time-honored tradition of Habermasian discourse practiced on this site, promptly asked Professor Learned if she could post this exchange. To which he replied:

      "Sure, you may post it and edit as you wish. Glad to hear that that old time physicist's religion has not been totally submerged in French obscurity."


      And so we have the beginnings of a text where scholars across disciplines find e-mail a convenient way to carry on threaded discussions. Professor Leader didn't have the time to learn that Prof. Craig Calhoun had a lot to do with the descriptions of post-modernism prompted by those pesky little neutrinos. And Jeanne didn't have the space or time to document all of critical theory and post-modernism. Discourse will depend on our willingness to come in good faith to the discourse table, and the level of critical understanding we have synthesized from the many disciplines.



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      Further Scholastic References for Ordinary Folks

      Explanation in Plain English on Neutrinos offered by John Learned of the University of Hawaii Physics Department. And for more detailed information: University of Hawaii, Department of Physics News Added June 5, 1998.

      For those who would like to read a little more to get a better sense of that "reality" that might be out there, and how we have come to understand it, we recommend that you read the many lay descriptions available on the numerous sites around the country. And, just for summer fun, we picked up Gordon Kane's $12 The Particle Garden. (ISBN 0-201-40826) A couple of tidbits, just to tempt you:

      "This is a conservative book. . . It emphasizes the view that science requires experiment to stimulate and verify any understanding of nature. There is an alternative approach which attempts to achieve dramatic purely theoretical breakthroughs and leap to a complete understanding of nature. A happy rivalry exists between the ‘string theorists,' who create mathematical constructs and hope they match the data, and ‘phenomenologists,' like me, who prefer to mix studying models based on data with suggesting goals to experimenters." (At p. 4)

      Both theory and evidence from experiments are needed to add to our understanding of that "reality" out there, unless we're counting on string theory "aha"s. The Standard Theory or Standard Model "is a framework that unifies the new knowledge of recent decades with what has been learned about the physical world over past centuries, the achievements of Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Heisenberg, and many more. The combination of experiment and the Standard Theory is what allows us to conclude that the quarks and electrons are the basic constituents of nature." (At pp. 10–11)

      So where do the neutrinos come in? Well, the Standard Theory describes matter particles as quarks and leptons. "There are six flavors (yes, this choice of names is based on an analogy with ice cream) of leptons." Three of the six flavors are neutrinos, and the Standard Theory describes the ways in which these neutrinos interact. A clear line is drawn between the lepton families. The electrons occur in the atoms we are made of. The muon and the tau [Each of the three - electron, muon, and tau - is associated with a neutrino of the same name.] have very short lifetimes and are only produced at accelerators and by cosmic rays."

      It is the neutrinos, the existence of whose mass has just been ascertained by the Super-K experiments. Want to know more of this exciting story? Visit the sites. Ask physicists. Read Kane's book. You can order Kane's book at Amazon.com

      Can you find the review from Booklist from 12/01/94 that doesn't seem to be about particle theory at all, but about race and IQ??? But if you scroll down past that review, you'll find two customer reviews of Kane's book. You could write a review yourself and encourage someone else to read a great book. Did you know that?

      We've got lots of people in our campus bookstore who would love to talk to you about the books that fascinate you. Visit them.

      You can search for other books on particle physics at our bookstore, at Amazon.com, in malls and on the Web. Lots of choices are available under particle physics. Experiment. See what's out there. Got money? Buy book. Find another book. Read the reviews, even if you don't have money. The reviews were written by people like you for people like you. The reviewers want you to read them. So do your teachers. We want you to explore books, on the Web, in the library, in bookstores.

      In Association with Amazon.com enter keywords...
      options

      Try the CSUDH Cyberline Library Catalog. I couldn't find The Particle Garden or Gordon Kane, but I found lots on particle accelerators. Here's the Cyberlibrary.

      Or try the UWP Library Catalog Or experiment and discover other univeristy libraries on line. Here's the Library at CSUDH. Visit your local library for Kane's and other explanations of the "reality" that we are, and in which we live.

      Donna Carthright, you owe me time. Turn this into a story your 8 year-old can understand. Anyone, even an 8 year-old who can understand the complexities of learning about "reality" is unlikely to privilege the limited subjectivity of personal experience. So that is where discourse must begin.

      Yes, we have no neutrinos. But that's just because they squiggled from muons to taus. It's OK. They're all in the same family of leptons.



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      Physicists Talk About the Need for Funding Pure Research: A Text Created over the Internet

      by Dr. Ganezer and Prof. Jordan A. Goodman, University of Maryland, Department of Physics and Astronomy.

      In the tradition of creating texts in mid-discourse, we present this text of e-mails on the topic of neutrino funding. Over the weekend the New York Times reported that Japan was proposing to severely cut the funding for Super-Kamiokande facility. This week also Congress has suggested major cuts to wiring schools and libraries across the country for the Internet. Discourse depends upon the strength of our citizens' foundations in critical thought. Pure research and access to data are essential to the establishment and maintenance of legitimacy.

      Share with us our task in creating discourse, that we shall remain always free. The following were posted on June 8, 1998:

      On Mon, 8 Jun 1998 15:14:28, Ken Ganezer wrote to Jeanne Curran:

      "Apparently President Clinton included Super-Kamiokande in remarks he made at the MIT graduation last Friday. Here is a transcript of the relevant portion of Clinton's speech collected by a colleague of mine, Prof. Jordan Goodman of the University of Maryland Department of Physics and Astronomy. Unfortunately President Clinton acknowledged the Department of Energy but not the National Science Foundation which is our major source of funding. Here is the message Prof. Goodman sent to me, followed by Clinton's MIT remarks."

      Prof. Goodman's comment:

      "Some of you may have missed President Clinton's remarks to the MIT graduates the other day. I give a small section below:"

      "First, we must help you to ensure that America continues to lead the revolution in science and technology. Growth is a prerequisite for opportunity, and scientific research is a basic prerequisite for growth. Just yesterday in Japan, physicists announced a discovery that tiny neutrinos have mass. Now, that may not mean much to most Americans, but it may change our most fundamental theories -- from the nature of the smallest subatomic particles to how the universe itself works, and indeed how it expands.

      "This discovery was made, in Japan, yes, but it had the support of the investment of the U.S. Department of Energy. This discovery calls into question the decision made in Washington a couple of years ago to disband the super-conducting super collider, and it reaffirms the importance of the work now being done at the Fermi National Acceleration Facility in Illinois."

      Prof. Goodman added that the full text is available as a White House Press release.



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      Thanks to All the Physicists

      Dear Habermas wishes to thank the many physicists who have helped us understand the importance of the Super-Kamiokande announcements of the discoveries of neutrino mass. Their help in guiding us to understand, and our help in creating discourse on the importance of their work are what constitute the Habermasian discourse we seek to create on this site.

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