Thursday, August 5, 2010

Relativity - A Primer

Einstein's first paper on relativity came to some rather mind blowing conclusions:

1.  Time actually slows down the faster you are moving (what?)
2.  The speed of light (C) is always the same relative to you...without regard to your own speed (your just crazy now...)

The fact is that the only reason these conclusions are so mind blowing, is that we, as humans, are very limited in the ways in which we can "see" stuff.  The old saying is that seeing is believing...but we all know this is not true.  If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it, it did indeed fall (as can be easily verified by visiting the site after the tree has fallen).  This is true in all realms of science.  Humans can only "hear" a small frequency range of sounds.  That means there are all kinds of sounds happening around us at any given time that we are oblivious to.  But there is a chance those same sounds might be driving your dog insane.  Our vision is even further constrained to visible light in the fact that we can't actually "see" most of the light in the universe (while other species and sensors we have built can).

The same can be said for relativity.  The only reason the above two concepts do not make any logical sense to us is that we, as humans, have no experiences traveling at super fast speeds, and we have no concept of living on, or around super (and I mean really really large) masses.  The Earth is big, but its a grain of sand compared to other objects in the Universe.  But if we did live truly in the fast lane, on a space ship flying at the speed of light, or if we lived on the surface of a super massive object (like a collapsed cold star)...these ideas would be as normal to us as apples falling to the ground or the colors of the rainbow.

Below is an excellent primer on the ideas of Einstein's theory of special relativity.  I promise when we are done, you will be able to easily understand what relativity is and how it works...just like Einstien...and you'll likely have even more admiration for the man for the creative capability to imagine these natural concepts which elude our every day lives...

No comments:

Post a Comment