Awe and the Speed of Light

I enjoyed physics back in high school and have continued to study it informally as I’ve grown older. There’s no way I can seriously state that I understand all of it, and that’s ok – sometimes it’s great to just be lost in wonder at this language that we’ve created in order to explain existence.

However, I did think that I had a pretty good handle on Special Relativity. I had read many different authors’ explanations of Einstein’s theory and thought that I couldn’t really be surprised by anything new. That was until I read a passage from Brian Greene’s book “The Elegant Universe” that ended with this simple statement:

“Thus light does not get old…”

Brian Greene, “The Elegant Universe”

His follow-up book, “The Fabric of The Cosmos” expands on this concept and sums up the implications quite nicely with this amazing statement:

“Special relativity declares a similar law for all motion: the combined speed of any object’s motion through space and its motion through time is always precisely equal to the speed of light.”

Brian Greene, “The Fabric of The Cosmos”

Let that concept sink in for a little bit. Our current concept of reality based on Einstein’s theories combines our spatial dimensions (length, width, height) with the dimension of time to create spacetime. We are all immersed in this reality at the moment… and that means that our motion & existence is encapsulated by the speed of light. That is, the majority of our motion as regular humans is in the time dimension, but make no mistake: we exist at the speed of light.

I often return to this idea and mull it over when I’m quiet or immersed in some activity that gives me that sensation of “flow”. That light (or at least what we understand to be its components) doesn’t get old because all of its motion is allocated to the physical dimensions instead of the time dimension. Or that we have the majority our speed allocated to the time dimension and thus experience the depth of time as we age.

It’s at this point that I have fun allowing myself to explore ideas that may on the surface sound silly or “out there”, but I firmly believe that this kind of “play” is where new ideas originate. What does light experience of time? If energy can’t be created or destroyed, just converted to something else, what does that say about our consciousness and what happens to it when we pass on? Is it possible that our “core” or “soul” or whatever you want to call it has always existed like the energy we call “light” and that it simply goes back to behaving like light?

I just listened to this great podcast hosted by Rob Reid called “After On“ where he interviewed Annaka Harris about the topic of consciousness and one of her ideas is that consciousness is a kind of “layer” in reality that we all share in. Researcher Donald Hoffman also has some interesting ideas about perception & our senses and how our concept of reality may be quite simplistic and hiding away the real details.

Reality is stranger than we can imagine and quite possibly beyond our comprehension. However, our existence is rooted in our perceptions and we can have control over those – to question them, to refine them and to ultimately change them. And being awestruck & amazed by the reality we inhabit so that we can adapt, learn & change is a continual source of inspiration, wonder and humility.