The Theory of Relativity…

The Theory of Relativity is quite possibly the greatest modern scientific discovery of all time and yet I would venture to guess that most of us have no concept of it or at the very least fail to see how everyday life is absorbed in the major concepts of the theory. We all know it:

E=mc2

But what does that equation really say? It’s simply saying that the mass of a body is a measure of its energy constant, where ‘E’ stands for Energy, ‘m’ stands for Mass, and ‘c2’ represents the speed of light squared. This equation is often in physics referred to as the mass-energy equivalence concept. We wont get into the math behind it, and lets face it, most of us can’t (myself included).

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity consists of two separate theories called special and general relativity. Special relativity is an expansion on Galilean relativity, which expresses how matter moves through time and space. General relativity is an expansion to his own special relativity theory, which essentially adds gravity into the mix.

So many people ask, ‘How is this a factor in my everyday life?’ We’ll let’s take a look at some things that you deal with constantly (and some I hope we never have to deal with) that are directly related to these theories.

Time Dilation:

So time travel is pretty sweet and one day maybe we can travel forward, far in time, and experience the future. Impossible? Well, the thing is… we already have at a smaller scale. You’re doing it right now in relation to anyone that is at a lower elevation than you on Earth, though it’s a small enough measure that you and I would never be able to tell without extremely sensitive equipment. Basically what time dilation describes is that the stronger the force of gravity the slower time moves for you in relation to someone who is experiencing weaker gravity. That being said, time for you wont seem to be moving slower relative to you, just as time for the other person experiencing weaker gravity wont seem to move any faster. Now only is this mathematically proven, but we have recorded the effect in real life and it is essential to one piece of equipment we all use daily now.

GPS is a staple technology found in almost all phones and every car. We use it to help us get to places we are unfamiliar with, however if GPS satellites didn’t account for time dilation, we would never get where we needed to go. Imagine the Earth with a GPS satellite coasting in motion far in orbit around Earth. The pull of Earth’s gravity (which is quite weak in relation to other objects in space) is weaker for the satellite where as your car on Earth is closer to the Earth’s mass and thus the pull of gravity is stronger. GPS works by essentially firing a radio wave from your phone to a set of satellites that triangulate your position. Easy enough, I suppose.

This is where it gets interesting and where atomic clocks located on the satellites must be exact. Your phone sends requested signals to satellites located above you in orbit, and because they are constantly moving some may be further away from you than others. If a satellite were to be directly above you then the distance the radio waves need to travel is shorter than a satellite that is located north east of you. These radio waves travel at the speed of light (which is about 670,616,629 mph. Not bad.) However, even at this speed, the satellite directly above you has less distance to travel than the one north east of you. Once the distances of at least four of the twenty-four GPS satellites in orbit are estimated by your phone in can then pinpoint your location in three dimensions.

Now time dilation has to be accounted for because the satellites are experiencing time faster than you due to your stronger gravity, so atomic clocks are programmed to account for this small difference and therefore your location will be accurate to around 10 meters or so based on your ability to broadcast and receive signals. This is why GPS tends to have a harder time in wooded areas. If your phone cannot get an accurate idea of how far the satellite is away from you because the atomic clock on board doesn’t account for time dilation (or because your signal is being obstructed), your phone would be completely inaccurate in its guess of your position on a map. Our ability to account for time dilation is precisely why your GPS gets you (most of the time) where you need to go.

Looking Back in Time:

The speed of light is constant. The reason this is so has to do with the fact that mathematically the more mass an object has the more energy it needs to reach faster and faster speeds (remember the mass-energy equivalence?). So an object with mass would need an infinite amount of energy to reach the speed of light. That being said, the smallest mass-less light, energy, or information particles are also limited to this speed. Because light is limited to this speed as well, we know a few things.

Walk outside and look quickly at the sun (don’t stare!). The image burned onto your eyes is what the sun looked like 8 minutes ago. This is because the light that is traveling from the Sun to the Earth is traveling at the speed of light, which even at that great speed takes about eight minutes to reach us. Now do the same thing later in the evening with the moon (feel free to stare all you want). The image you are seeing in the sky is about 1.26 seconds behind. It only takes 1.26 seconds for light to travel the distance between the Earth and Moon. So imagine that the sun exploded. Even after it happened, it wouldn’t be until 8 minutes later that we saw the effects in our sky. The moon would be much quicker but still delayed that 1.26 seconds.

The speed of light expressed in Einstein’s theory allows us to measure great distances in space and so a general rule of thumb is that the further you look into space the older the image you see in the sky really is. So another example is the Helix Nebula (commonly referred to as the “eye of God”), whose image in our skies is about 700 years old. This again means that it takes light 700 Earth years to cover the distance from the nebula to Earth. To see it from Earth is to look back in time 700 years. The furthest galaxies (in our observable Universe) that we can see with our current technology show that they are a distance of about 13.3 billion light years, meaning that the earliest light first generated by that galaxy has been traveling almost the entire life span of the Universe as we know it to be at an age of about 13.7 billion years old. We are literally traveling back in time just by looking in the sky, because not even light photons can travel faster than the speed of light.

Black Holes:

Given that light travels at a maximum speed of about 670,616,629 mph, there is a greater beast that even light cannot escape. One of the interesting things about Einstein’s theory was that the math involved ended up predicting an anomaly that was quite perplexing in what it said and meant. Even Einstein thought that despite the prediction his math made, that it more than likely would not actually exist in the cosmos. The math simply predicted that extremely compact mass would deform space-time to form what they labeled as a black hole.

The best way to imagine a black hole is to pretend that you’re floating in a rowboat in an endless body of water. We’ve all seen waterfalls and we all know that the human body has limitations, because we can only row so fast. This limitation would be the speed of light in relation to a black hole. So we paddle towards what looks like a giant whirlpool waterfall where all the water is rushing towards and falling down into. We can paddle fairly well as long as we stay far away from the event horizon. This is the point at which the force of gravity is pulling stronger than the speed at which we can row. Since nothing can travel beyond the speed of light, we cannot simply row our way out of our impending doom. Gravity is stronger and will continue to become even stronger as we fall further and further in.

What this shows is that since light has a maximum speed, even light itself cannot escape the stronger pull of gravity beyond the event horizon. Any light that crosses the event horizon of a black hole cannot escape, hence the name, black hole. The pull of gravity is so strong in fact that it distorts light around the black hole, giving the outside viewer a kind of “lensing” effect around the black hole. Light bends and distorts around the black hole. Till this day we have not physically seen a black hole in the way in which we imagine them, though we are close. Lensing is one way to know a black hole is possibly near by (possibly, because other things in space also cause this), but we have, however, seen objects that are orbiting around a black hole and how they interact and thus can identify them as well.

Our own Milky Way was discovered to contain a super-massive black hole at its center by observing star orbits over a period of 15 years. It was observed that a cluster of stars were traveling in elliptical orbits around an unidentified object at speeds that would require the sort of gravity known only to a black hole. It is now believed that black holes are a prominent feature of most, if not all, galaxies.

Many consider the Theory of Relativity one of the greatest human discoveries, and because it has been rigorously tested and proven to be accurate time and time again in both mathematical and observable experimentation, it has withstood the test of time. It not only explains our Universe and makes sense of our surroundings, but also helps to push us further in understanding even more of the unknown. It makes our everyday lives easier and explains with other collected evidence how much of our Universe operates. Scientists are still looking for the link (via string theory) as to how the theory of relativity connects back to the microscopic actions of gravity, or how to explain the physics of the very small and the very big. Maybe one day Ill try and tackle some of the more easy to understand concepts of string theory or even m-theory, but they are a whole new can of worms that require patience. One day…

What are the odds?…..

Imagine holding a vigorously shuffled deck of cards. Face down you spread them in your hands and think of a card. Really think about it. Imagine turning that card over. See it in your head. Visualize it. What are the odds of you selecting the exact card you thought of out of that shuffled deck? Magicians will say they can 100% of the time, but we know they have tricks up their sleeves. Real magic is the art of misdirection.

For this case the odds are 1 out of 52 that you are right. That’s a 1.9% chance you’re going to pick the exact card you visualized. Wouldn’t that be something? So lets see what happens, because lets face it, you have to play to win.

So you’ve picked and visualized your card and you flip it over. Wala! It’s the exact card you picked! How amazing is it that you were able to pick the exact card you were thinking of and visualized? Well, there are two ways of looking at this type of event. One is simply that the card you visualized, just happened to be placed exactly where you decided to pick from based on the earlier shuffling. Again that’s a 1.9% chance.

The second way to look at it is that you yourself had something to do with the fact that the card was placed exactly where you were going to pick. That maybe the visualizing of the card helped put that card in line with your destiny to pick it up. You could also attribute maybe an unknown outside source to this.

I lean towards the former idea, because as amazing as that event seems in that I was able to visualize a card and it appeared in front of me seemingly out of pure luck; there is something that cancels that effect. This cancellation of amazement is caused by retesting and peer review. Lets look at each of these.

It seems amazing because it happened on your first try. What if I ask you to do it again? Something inside you is telling you that the likelihood that you pull it off again is extremely rare; still possible, but rare. If I bet you \$50 that on your second attempt, your visualization would prove you wrong, would you take that bet? Reshuffle that deck and try again and you will find eventually that over time the averages tend to trend to the fact that you wont be able to pull it off again anytime soon if at all. It sounds negative or even pessimistic on my end, but its simply realistic.

The second reasoning behind it being random has to do with the fact that peer review tends to show the same results. Lets imagine that while you visualized and selected that card out of the deck, that you had 100 other random people lined up beside you performing the same trick with the same intensity. They each have a random card in their head that they’re visualizing and concentrating on, each with a 1.9% chance to pull off the same trick. Shall we bet that they all pull it off the same way you did on their first try, if it was truly the visualization that placed the card where it needed to be? Then what happens when they all try the same trick over and over along with you? Again, maybe they all hit every time after visualizing, as you did on your first time. Would your conscious let you bet on it?

Taking a step back from this experiment helps us explore a few interesting concepts that help to even further separate some set personal power or destiny from simple reality. If you chose the ace of spades (for example) as the card you are trying to pull out of the deck then your chances are 1.9% that you will. However, the same goes with any other card in the deck even if you don’t visualize it first. Each single card holds a 1.9% chance that you will select it out of the deck and over an infinite amount of time and unlimited tries at it (props to Kaku, Greene, and Tyson), you can and you will eventually visualize and choose every card in the deck, which is something that many fail to consider when they perform a trick like this.

I urge you to try this at home. Grab a deck of cards and shuffle them good. Visualize a card and select it from the deck without knowing its location. Shuffle each time and repeat it 50 times. Write it down what you predicted and what you got, and see how many times you guess correctly, if at all. This type of pursuit of accuracy is exactly what makes the idea that we can control the physical world by visualizing its outcome, completely unfounded.

Ever wondered if you are somehow being shown something because every once in a while you look at a clock and it says 9:11 (am/pm). Are you special because you noticed this? Does it make you wonder? Lets ask random answerbag.com user “johnb1uk”…

“Hi there, first of all I’d like to dismiss or rather dispute what people say when they say that you are just looking at the clock and that time obviously happens to come around twice a day. There are 1440 minutes in a day and to suddenly look at the clock and catch one of them (and a specific one) twice every day is definitely more than just a coincidence.

There is definitely a higher leveled phenomenon going on and not everyone is tuned in to receive these signs - kind of like how not everyone has the gift of clairvoyants or mediums but we all know that they exist - there are countless books and TV shows by these gifted people who prove that they are tuned into a different frequency than most of us and most of us accept that they are real.”

You heard it hear first. Countless books and TV shows are proving the existence of “mediums”. Interestingly enough, I experience the same higher-level phenomenon every two months or so and I always point it out (followed by a ghostly ‘oooooooooh’). If it’s no coincidence, then why am I not the only one out of 20 or so people I know that experience the exact same event? Well let’s take a look at this.

One thing to consider is that many of the best shows on TV are on at 9pm, so that automatically makes it more likely for me to check the time around then, especially considering that most TV cable boxes show digital clocks. Also many shows go to commercial at about 10-15 minutes in, depending on how they’re structured. And most importantly, does anyone remember seeing those numbers before September 11, 2001? I sure didn’t. Is it unusual that I would see that number now after a horrific act of terror was ingrained in my mind over the last 11 years via TV, books, magazines, movies, and the internet.

There are examples everywhere that express reality in the idea that one single event doesn’t change the actual reality of the thousands of events that came before and after it oppositely. Everyone has probably seen that horrible image on FaceBook of a photo-shopped young girl seemingly safe inside a wrecked car where her “relatives” are all sprawled out dead. “What a miracle!” it exclaims. For now lets pretend it wasn’t photo-shopped horribly and think about this from a wider perspective. How is a small girl sitting in the wreckage of her family’s tangled car and dead bodies, a miracle?

Best-case scenario she ends up in a foster situation through the state, unless some caring family adopts her. Her family is dead, her future therapist will be well paid, and she will most likely struggle to keep PTSD and deep depression at bay (see the HBO documentary, There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane), all because of this accident. She might not see that as a miracle or as being lucky even if everyone around her does, but then again she is photo-shopped and thus we don’t have to worry about her. Hopefully she was photo-shopped from a family picture of her playing on a playground, or something pleasant.

We are humans and we live a short time in regards to the amount of time that came before us and will pass after us. There is a willingness to see things as extraordinary or awe-inspiring in the moment and I think generally that’s ok, because relative to our daily lives, it really can seem so. But facts are facts, and the physical world can’t be willed without physical involvement. Don’t get me wrong; mental and emotional involvements are important too, but no matter how much I visualize throwing a last minute touchdown pass wont matter until I physically throw it and we know how many of those don’t work out even when visualized.

Randomness is often mistaken for coincidence, because we disregard time, space, probability, mathematics, repetition, sense and most defining aspects of reality, while in the moment. So what are the odds? Are you making that card show up by visualizing it and willing it to be so, or are you simply a pawn of randomness like the rest of us?  Be honest and experiment for yourself rather than let emotions drive your decision making process.

Why is it that those who claim to levitate, merely hop across the ground? Why is it that Penn can’t really fire a real bullet and have Teller catch it with his teeth? How come every single horoscope of every sign seems to relate to my daily life? Why can’t I accurately predict a random drawing of a card from a shuffled deck? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why can’t anyone make a dump truck disappear live, in front of me, without a large sheet and a television broadcast? Why doesn’t my football team win every time I wear my lucky hat? Why can’t everything just be the way I wish it would be?

Reality….and the way you handle it, explains your happiness.

The History of Violence…

We spend our days on Earth with enough oxygen to breathe, a sun that keeps us perfectly warm, and a relatively stable rotation that keeps us from having to worry for years to come. We are special within our solar system as far as we can tell so far. Water is abundant and weather is survivable. Our atmosphere keeps us from being killed off by radiation and solar storms. Picture perfect you could say for the most part.

However this will not continue forever; relative to yours and my life spans maybe, and even our future generations of grandchildren, but not forever. The one thing the Universe has taught us above all is that it holds true massive amounts of violence and destruction key above all. It has been very active long before any living intelligent object and the proof is in the night sky. The further we see out the more beautiful and violent it can become.

Over 13.6 billion years, mass has been created and collected into the 80-100 billion galaxies that cover the observable Universe we see today. To grasp this concept imagine the sun as a standard 2mm grain of sand and that you are standing in a wide-open area of desert. Now mark this spot with a flag to represent the suns position. Walk 8.46 inches and you have reached Earth’s rotation around the sun. Walk another 2ft 9.55 inches and you have reached Jupiter’s orbit around the sun. To reach Pluto you would need to walk another 24ft 1.5 inches. Look back at the flag. You’re 27 ft away from the Sun and nearing the end of our Solar System. Even better imagine that 27ft took you 23 years and 105 days to complete. That’s the relative speed of our current space flight technology. You would have to be walking extremely slowly to understand how slow we really travel currently with manned space flight.

Why stop there? Lets walk on foot to Alpha Centauri (the 3rd brightest binary star system in our sky), which to us appears as a single point of light in the sky. Starting from our Sun you would have to walk about 36 miles! Yes 36 miles on foot at that slow speed. But we still aren’t done. Starting back at our Sun, if we want to reach our galactic center it would mean a walk totaling about 234,058 miles. You’d have to walk just under 9 and ½ times around the Earth to complete the relative distance. (Note: Double that to around 18 times around the Earth to cross the entire Milky Way galaxy if our Sun was a 2mm grain of sand)

Now lets leave that large example and head back into our Solar System. Currently it would take about 23 years and 105 days to reach Pluto (image above shows view of sun from Pluto) using our current rocket technology, so knowing what you now know about how great a distance traveling across the Milky Way alone would mean if the Sun was a grain of sand, well…you can do the math yourself and figure out how long that would take us in real life with our current engines, if it were even possible.

Any where from 1 - 2.3 billion years from now (2.3 billion is based on 2009 studies of atmospheric pressure and how it effects habitability), the Earth will be too hot for life to exist whether humans have indeed survived the social and economic issues that threaten human existence currently, or not. In around 7.6 billion it will be swallowed up by the Sun. Nothing to worry about yet really, but it tends to send a bleak message to those who pay attention to future forecasts of our Solar System. The Sun has been burning for around 5 billion years and will eventually burn out, by running out of energy, cooling, and expanding before it dies out. That expansion will be the end of Earth. It is a violent end for a planet, which currently is the only known to us to sustain intelligent life.

Another interesting violent reaction coming our way will take place long after Earth is un-inhabitable, but would be a sight to see for the ages. Our sister galaxy is Andromeda. It currently sits far from the naked eye’s view in our sky without telescopes, but is heading on a full collision course for our Milky Way. Essentially, two will become one in about 6 billion years time. Assuming the Earth isn’t swallowed by then and that you had a suit that could withstand all heat, you might want to pull up a chair and watch the sky.

Though it’s not entirely known whether the collision would affect our Solar Systems finely tuned orbits, it will be the most violent (and up-close) galactic collision any human could witness. Imagine 3 billion years from now looking up and seeing the Andromeda take up most of the night sky. Imagine that 1 billion years from that time the sky will be a huge mess of colliding stars and bright nebulas. It’s exciting, but horribly violent. 2 billion years after the collision the two galaxies will finally settle into one super galaxy.

These are two highly documented and researched outcomes to Earth and its inhabitants. We can’t escape it. However there are two other ways that could make Earth’s end a reality much sooner than anyone would like. One involves a fate that is not foreign to almost any planet in our Solar System, and is a fate that has repeatedly affected Earth many times in the past.

Asteroids. We’ve all seen the horrible films that depict this outcome, but there is at least one thing beyond the bad writing and horrible acting that is true. It can… and has happened before. And though the extinction of the dinosaurs is one possible example, it has happened many times over since the Earth’s formation 4.6 billion years ago.

NASA has discovered about 4,700 near Earth objects that are considered potentially hazardous to Earth, though none prove a threat as of yet. Currently all eyes are on Asteroid “2012 DA14” which has a 1 in 3,030 chance of striking Earth in 2013, which would release about 2.4 megatons of energy. The chances of that are basically 0 based on a .033% risk rate. However, until asteroids are discovered we really have no idea how many are out there that we haven’t seen yet. Keep in mind that one mile wide asteroid traveling at 30,000 mph could do enough damage to wipe most life off Earth and the Earth as well as the Moon is littered with examples and evidence of past hits.

There is one last surprise the Universe could “pull” on the Earth that would be the most random, disorienting and violent way to end life on Earth. A stellar black hole passing slowly enough through our Solar System to get caught in the Sun’s gravitational pull could give us a glimpse (but not really) from Earth so frightening that there would be mass panic. Entering from our asteroid belt would alert scientists due to the way black holes bend light. As it moved closer it would only be visible by these bends of light or the gas clouds gathering around it by its consumption of distant planets. Orbits of the planets would also become extreme and would affect the stability of our Solar System. In the end the gravitational pull would cause horrifying earthquakes and volcanic eruptions essentially burning everything on the Earth’s surface and eventually Earth would be pulled apart and consumed. Not a pretty picture, however it is the most unlikely scenario.

No matter what happens locally, the Universe is expanding and over trillions of years we will see it expand far enough to grow dark and cold leaving nothing but small dwarf stars as sources of possible energy, but even those will disappear eventually. Its not the most optimistic fate, but it is a reason to live life to its fullest every day.

As violent as we are as a population, the Universe is the reigning king of violence. It does wonders to appreciate the perspective of our small place in the Universe. The more and more we fight, yell, argue, and kill each other, it makes no difference to the Universe and its end fate. So I beg the question; why would we want to spend the 75 good years (at best) we have on Earth making someone elses life miserable? People tend to argue that the Universe’s big picture is bleak and depressing, but isn’t that more reason to live to the fullest today?

Maybe we one day make it off Earth and re-colonize somewhere else, but if we can’t get passed trivial social arguments over seemingly insignificant issues, then how can we ever focus on continuing beyond Earth? It will not be here forever. Food for thought?

It’s Not “Just A Theory.”

The definition of the word theory according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is as follows:

1. The analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another.
2. Abstract thought: speculation.
3. The general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art.
4. A: a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of an action <her method is based on the theory that all children want to learn> B: an ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances – often used in the phrase in theory <in theory, we have always advocated freedom for all.
1. a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain a phenomena <the wave theory of light>
2. A: a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation. B: an unproven assumption: conjecture C: a body of theorems presenting a concise systematic view of a subject <theory of equations>

That’s quite a bit to take in, but like almost every word in the English language we reveal a different meaning for the same word within different context, which is why English is one of the harder languages to learn. With this in mind, the use of the word in scientific terms differs greatly than that of its everyday use by an average guy like me.

For example the definition of theory takes a much different meaning when in relation to science. A scientific theory as defined by the United States National Academy of Sciences is as follows:

The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). One of the most useful properties of scientific theories is that they can be used to make predictions about natural events or phenomena that have not yet been observed.

And with regards to that last part, all of the most well known theories are still proving accurate well beyond their inception. Now lets take my use of the word theory in everyday life. For instance while I’m standing at the gas pump cringing at the sight of \$4.07 from the neon sign at my gas station versus the price I see later (\$3.70) that day as I’m heading to work, I may throw out a thought such as, ‘If the prices are so different one place to the next, then in theory, we should just lower the price to anything we want?!’ I’d think this out of ignorance of how the overall system works, which would make my statement based off of conjecture or mere speculation. I’m not going to sit down a try to prove my theory on how the oil industry operates their pricing systems though I might do later research once the work day is over. In any case this is an example that falls under the abstract or unproven assumption context of the word. Call my gas comments, “just a theory,” and you’d be 100% correct.

Science, of course, does not operate that way and can’t operate that way because successful scientific theories purposed within scientific communities require reproducible extensive testing and peer review to then prove or illustrate their hypothesis. For example, I could say 1+1=3 but peer review and testing will prove otherwise. This is what science does in our culture. There is no claim to ultimate knowledge, which is not physically reproducible by peer review.

Lets look at some of the major scientific theories and how they relate to everyday life…

HELIOCENTRIC THEORY: (or Copernican Model)

This theory explains the fact that all of the planets within our solar system orbit around the Sun, the moon orbits the Earth, and that the Earth rotates rather than stars orbiting it. His philosophical hypothesis moved to a scientific theory (as we understand it’s context today) using geometry.

Before Nicolaus Copernicus published his idea in 1543, the general thought was that the Earth was the center of the solar system, that the other heavenly bodies were created of an unchanging substance not of Earth, and that the heavens contained uniform circular motion. He published his model towards the end of his life due to fear of ridicule and disfavor amongst his colleagues and church, according to most scholars. The Roman Catholic Church considered the idea of Heliocentric Theory to be heretical. Galileo would spend the last eight years of his life under house arrest for adopting this theory.

To this day it is still called the Heliocentric Theory. It is the scientific theory that explains our relationship to the Sun. It’s the reason we can predict exactly when and where planets and stars will be in our night sky views. Our first flights into space have proven its validity beyond any doubt. It has greatly shaped our understanding of our placement in the solar system. It is the foundation for some of the greatest scientific theories that have been discovered in the last 500 years.

THEORY OF RELATIVITY (Albert Einstein)

This is a theory that encompasses of two of Einstein’s theories: General and Special Relativity. This is not an easy subject to explain.

Special Relativity deals with the structure of space-time. It states that:

1. The laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion relative to one another.

2. The speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers, regardless of their relative motion or of the motion of the source of light.

It deals with ideas such as Relativity of Simultaneity, Time Dilation, Length Contraction, Mass-energy Equivalence, and Maximum Speed is Infinite. I’m not going to touch on any of that, but I encourage you to go and discover more on the subject.

General Relativity deals with the theory of gravitation. The best way to think about what this theory illustrates is to imagine a mattress where you have one large bowling ball representing the sun. It will sink the mattress down. Now place a baseball about 12 inches away from the bowling ball and accelerate it to the point where it circles the big bowling ball without falling in towards it or speeding off away from it. This is the model for how gravitation really works in the universe. Some of the consequences (in relation to our universe) of this idea are that:

1. Clocks run more slowly the deeper the well in the mattress they sit. So a clock sitting 3 inches from the bowling ball will run much slower than a clock sitting 20 inches away.

2. Orbits precess and change based on the axis tilt of a planet.

3. Rays of light will bend when in the presence of a strong gravitational field.

4. The universe is expanding.

All this said, and again it’s a lot to take in, is proven constantly. Since 1905 (Special Relativity) and 1916 (General Relativity), no alternative theory has been able to disprove these concepts and ideas. For example, those of you who think about time travel may be shocked to know that it’s already been done. Sorry Back To The Future II fans. NASA has proved the concept of General Relativity related to clocks and their speeds. Every clock that is sent up and orbits the Earth at a lesser gravitational pull will tick faster. It has been shown true over and over though only percentages of a second faster, but using that information we can estimate how it may work when compared to larger planetary masses and gravitational pulls. Technically time moves faster for a person on the fourth floor of a building than that of a person on the first floor, however at that short distance its completely undetectable without massive spans of time (See illustration above).  And without scientist accounting for this weird time difference your car’s GPS system will send you straight off a cliff or into a wall. That’s the Theory of Relativity occurring in your everyday life.

Light has also been shown in Hubble photographs to bend around strong gravitational pulls (see above image). This is one way we can discover black holes, which were once thought (even by Einstein) to not have the ability to naturally occur, though that has since been proven wrong by scientist gazing at our Milky Way center. (I will touch on black holes one day in much greater detail)

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Moving away now from some of these widely accepted scientific theories based entirely on collections of related, observable fact, why do I bother to touch on this today? Well, really it comes down to the idea that everything we physically know and experience in our life on Earth comes from observation. The word theory is thrown around in the media, on the Internet, and in everyday life as to why something isn’t true or is conjecture or speculation in regards to our physical surroundings within the realm of science. And in the everyday life of someone who doesn’t understand or intensely study (or even bother to skim) advanced mathematics, astrophysics, cosmology, history, chemistry, biology, geology, paleontology, anthropology, botany, or any other field that attempts to understand our physical environment; it’s easy for that same person to confuse the context of the word theory in a scientific field. When we see a scientifically published article that passes reproducible testing and overwhelming observable evidence (that also means it isn’t likely to be changed by insertion of any new evidence) on a subject we aren’t familiar with and say things such as, “It’s just a theory,” we are actually out of context in regards to science.

In regards to my original gasoline price example the word theory is in its proper context, because I am speculating or making assumptions on unknown information to me. For you to say, “It’s just a theory,” would be completely correct. But the Heliocentric Theory and the Theory of Relativity aren’t assumptions or speculation based on unknown information. These are (as to this day) still reproducibly provable and are even useful and accurate on all predictions made using them as the starting point. The amazing thing is that people like Einstein, Newton, Copernicus, Hawking, and others were predicting future concepts  long before testing could come and prove them and they would have labeled them hypothesis’s. They don’t publish works that lead to massive speculation and overwhelming doubt. They require intense research, observation, testing, re-testing and peer review. Even crazier is that nothing has proved Einstein’s Theory of Relativity wrong yet (Though scientists at the CERN facility thought they may have last year, but then realized it was due to equipment failure). However, even if something ever does prove Einstein wrong, the scientific community would gladly accept it as a welcoming of new knowledge and new rigorous testing and would continue forward. Knowledge of our human experience isn’t ultimate and is ever evolving, but a speculative theory in everyday terms is nowhere near the same thing as a published, peer reviewed scientific theory in scientific terms. A person calling an accepted scientific theory, “just a theory,” is interesting in that it does show a trait in them relating to the beginning thoughts of being deductive in nature, which is highly necessary in the scientific method, but the trait that lacks is follow-through which requires massive amounts of evidence and testing to disprove a current theory. I know that if I drop an apple it will fall to the ground (Thanks Isaac!), but I also know that if I drop an apple on the moon it will fall slower due to the moons smaller mass (Thanks Albert). I sure as hell am going to have a hard time proving their theories wrong.

Want to learn more about the Theory of Relativity? Check out the following book, which helps to explain it for laymen like most of us…

Or feel free to comb through a list of Einstein’s actual published works here.