Essay—Relativity Theory in Ten Minutes (47)

Summary—This essay tells the story of relativity theory and argues that we need to understand it so we can finally come to know the ultimate nature of reality.

Consider the following allegory of the theatre as a spinoff of Plato’s allegory of the cave.  Imagine you are sitting in a theatre watching a three-dimensional movie.  Imagine also that the screen is like a smartphone you can interact with.  Now, do you believe the movie is real or just a projection?  I would argue that the allegory of the theatre represents projected reality.  The everyman takes reality at face value while the superman searches for higher truth.  To experience true, innate reality we must walk outside into daylight.

Absolute vs Relative.  Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was an essay and story writer who is best remembered for his work of Gulliver’s Travels.  Relatively speaking, Gulliver was much larger than other people.  However, we cannot say that he was absolutely large in the same way that we can say lightspeed is absolutely large.  Lightspeed is the upper limiting velocity of the universe.  This is the distinction between absolute and relative.  According to Newtonian physics, velocities are additive so that a baseball thrown forward at seventy miles an hour from atop a train traveling at thirty miles an hour would be traveling at a hundred miles an hour.  One might incorrectly expect a particle of light projected from the headlight to be traveling at lightspeed plus thirty miles per hour—remembering that lightspeed is absolute.  According to relativity theory, when the train accelerates it begins to shrink microscopically in the direction of motion.  Space and time are relative to the observer.  Spacetime is directly linked to absolute lightspeed, thereby making spacetime also absolute.

Space vs Time.  Spacetime is a mathematical Form that combines space and time into a single continuum.  Space and time in our universe are usually represented by the five Euclidean axioms, which regard three-dimensional space as independent of one-dimensional time.  In classical physics, Euclidean space is employed instead of spacetime.  According to relativity, space cannot be detached from time because the speed at which time passes for an object depends on the velocity of the object relative to an observer.  By combining space and time into spacetime, physicists have been able to simplify a significant number of scientific theories.  It also presents a more consistent way of working with the universe at both the microcosmic and macrocosmic levels.  The laws of spacetime are the same for all uniformly moving systems.  Hermann Minkowski said that space by itself and time by itself are doomed to fade away into mere shadows with only a union of the two preserving any independent reality.  Albert Einstein (1879-1955) said that there is no more commonplace statement to make than the world in which we live is a four-dimensional spacetime continuum.

Special Relativity—Elementary Picture.  While the Egyptians used the Pythagorean Form as an empirical rule-of-thumb in building pyramids, it was Pythagoras (582-500 BC) who first proved it to be a mathematical truth.  The macrocosmos of special relativity (1905) is the universal law of space-time and reveals that spacetime dilates as a function of velocity relative to lightspeed in accordance with the Pythagorean Form—ie. h^2 + (v/c)^2 = 1^2, h = height, v = velocity, c = lightspeed.  According to relativity theory—if v = c then h = 0—thereby indicating a boundary of spacetime.  On the other hand, according to Newtonian physics, if v = c then h = 1.  In his 1962 book Relativity Simply Explained Martin Gardner made the exact same argument that I just made but did not put the rubber to the road in failing to conclude that if h = 0, the physical interpretation points to the realization of a spacetime boundary.  The elementary picture of special relativity is a pearl whereby the universe proper is metaphorically represented by a grain of sand inside the pearl.  The pearl substance itself is the region outside spacetime called Heaven that contains God, Souls and Forms.

Special Relativity—Thought Problem.  Erwin Schrödinger set forth his classic cat-in-a-box thought problem in 1935 with the intention of demonstrating the absurdity of the probabilistic interpretation once and for all—A quantum-cat is placed in a box such that no one can know what is happening inside.  A device releases either food or poison with equal probability, and the cat meets its fate—or does it?  Schrödinger absurdly argued that the cat must be both alive and dead until the observer opens the box.  The thought problem ironically leads to the counterintuitive conclusion that the observer’s consciousness is what actually establishes the fate of the cat.  In other words, consciousness determines physical reality.  My theory of one unites the macrocosmos of relativity theory with the microcosmos of quantum theory, thus confirming the metaphorical assertion that there is no difference between looking through a telescope and looking through a microscope.  Einstein once asked the metaphysical question as to whether the moon really exists when no one is looking at it?  We can learn from Schrödinger’s cat that the moon does not really exist when no one is looking at it.  Once again consciousness determines physical reality.

Special Relativity—Experiment.  In 1881 two Americans named Michelson and Morley performed a monumentally important experiment which established, beyond a doubt, that lightspeed is invariably fixed at 186,284 miles per second—regardless of relative motion.  The experiment presented a problem in that, according to Newton, velocities are additive, thus contradicting the invariance of lightspeed.  Einstein resolved this dilemma in 1905 with his relativity theory by revealing that space and time are variable, interrelated quantities.  In paralleling Newton, Einstein theorized that the laws of nature are the same for all uniformly moving bodies.  But unlike Newtonian physics, which only concerns itself with mechanical laws, relativity theory also accounts for the behavior of light and other electromagnetic radiation.  According to Einstein’s famous relativistic equation—E = mc^2, where E = energy, m = mass and c = lightspeed—motion is a form of energy.  The mass of a body increases as its motion increases.  The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were successful experiments that proved E = mc^2 to be true.  It only took sixty pounds of matter converted into energy to blow up both cities.

General Relativity—Elementary Picture.  Gravity is a natural phenomenon in which physical bodies attract one another.  It gives weight to physical objects and causes them to fall downward.  Gravity is usually estimated by the Newtonian law of gravitation (1665), which proves that the gravitational force of two bodies is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.  More accurate estimations of gravity are found by applying general relativity (1915), which describes gravitation as a consequence of the curvature of spacetime.  The elementary picture of general relativity is a bowling ball on a trampoline.  The trampoline is a field, which is a region of spacetime that operates according to a given set of rules.  The bowling ball causes the spacetime to bend so that when marbles roll around the bowling ball they are drawn to it.  In practice the bowling ball is the sun and the marbles are the planets.  The curvature of spacetime allows the planets to form stable orbits around the sun.

General Relativity—Thought Problem.  Consider for a moment a cat and two closed boxes—one box on earth and the other accelerating though outer space.  The question is—Would a cat inside either one of the two boxes be able to tell the difference?  The answer is no.  While Galileo (1564-1642) treated gravity and inertia as mathematically equivalent, it was Einstein who first realized that they are in fact the very same thing.  Consider now whether an accelerating cat would feel the effects of inertia if the universe were suddenly made empty?  The answer is yes.  According to general relativity, matter grips spacetime thus giving it mass and providing a sense of inertia in an empty universe.  But since we already know that everything is relative except for lightspeed, we have reason to believe that matter grips lightspeed rather than spacetime.

General Relativity—Experiment.  The theorist Aristotle (384-322 BC) believed that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter bodies.  The experimentalist Galileo proved that all bodies in a vacuum fall at the same speed.  Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) was a British astronomer who was one of Einstein’s biggest supporters.  He was the senior member of an expedition to Africa to test general relativity by observing a total eclipse of the sun.  Their purpose was to make very accurate measurements of the location of stars visually near the edge of the sun.  The question they answered was how much does light bend do to gravity from traveling close to the sun?  Newton predicted that light would bend, but only half as much as general relativity predicted.  When Einstein was asked what he would do if the results of the experiment did not meet with theoretical predictions, he replied—Nothing, for the good Lord must have erred.

Conclusion.  This essay discusses the notions of absolute vs relative, space, time and spacetime.  It then discusses special relativity and general relativity in terms of elementary pictures, thought problems and experiments.  We must teach relativity theory, quantum theory and my theory of one to the young people in order for our society to make forward progress.