Struggling with my Stu… er, Ignorance

Arrgh!!… I hate being so friggin’ stu… mentally challenged.

(I try to avoid words like stupid and even tell people who denigrate themselves with such a marker that it is has no real meaning. And it doesn’t, as learning is not a static state so cannot be quantified by a noun, especially such a useless one…)


Okay, so I really want/need to work on my fiction and that’s what I set out to do this morning, but a current thread of nonfiction thought is stirring my neurons. so I think I’ll at least put down the framework of my angst before moving on to storytelling:

What exactly is happening with time at near the speed of light?

By exactly I really mean happening in terms that my feeble brain can conceptualize such that the concept sticks to my synapses and I can go on from there. I kinda sorta understand — in the very loose sense of understand — the ball analogy and the plane analogy, which I know are very basic and common ways of describing the effect. A bounced ball on a plane is going to appear to cover more distance to a ground observer than a person on the plane, and same with light moving from tail to nose of that same plane.

But that seems a visual effect to me rather than a physical one. And yeah, I know, they’ve taken a clock on a plane and compared it to clock on the ground. But still, for the sake of my ignorance, I want to hear less about clocks and our perception of light and bouncing balls and more about how such universe construction concretely correlates to heartbeats and our physical bodies, which presumably therefore age at different rates.

And yeah, I know, from the analogies you are supposed to be able to do such correlation, but here are a couple of muddled thoughts/questions I am having that impede such connections. Maybe after I’ve more fully grasped this quantum idea, I’ll laugh at my original stup… ignorance and the questions will seem silly.

The first question is the last question I thought of and might be the silliest of them all and highly revealing of my misunderstanding. But does light slow itself down? That is, if we are measuring light, and say light has a certain speed… but then go on to say at certain speeds time behaves differently… wouldn’t that effect also hold for traveling light itself? And if so, how is it even sensible to measure something that is apparently distorting its own measurement?

This second question is a two-parter. Let’s get off the plane with its bouncing balls and put both people on earth.

If person B stood still while A went from standing in front of him to running around the earth at the speed of light a few billion times (or whatever number of time that would produce an appreciable affect) and then stopped back to standing in front of him, how would they appear to each other?  Person B should appear older, right? Isn’t that the classic view, that if someone traveled at speeds of light out in the stars then came back persons on earth will have aged considerably?

But, if that holds, what would such an effect mean for the time ‘gag’ like in the cartoon Megamind (and countless others, actually, just Megamind is what comes to mind as I saw it recently). The idea/gag is of someone moving so fast they are able to do a number of things without anyone noticing, because they are moving so fast that in effect the other people are standing still. The problem here seems to be that the person moving fast would be Person A in the example above, which would actually mean person B far from standing still would have much relative time passing…

In general, it seems slightly easier to conceive an otherwise stationary object as a whole being propelled at such speeds and having such effects. But it breaks down for me as there are no such things as whole, stationary objects. Instead our bodies are chock full of internally moving parts and we also externally move about as we travel at whatever speed…

I just can’t seem to bring the special relativity concept down to the flesh and bones of the human condition that is so important for my understanding and where I want to go with it.

And where do I want to go?

Well, philosophy of course, as that is always the going place for me. Hawkings was wrong when he said philosophy is dead. It’s more accurate maybe to say many philosophers might as well be speaking to the dead. But philosophy itself should never be dead and never will be unless we murder it. For good philosophy is about pushing the boundaries of thought.

Boundaries of thought, not of silly.

Philosophers need to have a solid grasp of what all the other branches are teaching us about the world. Otherwise, any extended philosophical treatise is like building an addition for a house that doesn’t exist.

Some philosophical theories may very well be as captivating and self-coherent as an Escher painting. But good philosophy has to come off the canvas and into life. Good philosophy should be very much alive, taking all that we know and guiding us towards what we don’t know by helping us frame that don’t know in the best possible way. Good philosophy is the lattice upon which our vines of knowledge can grow…

I want to learn not so much for the sake of such learning, but for the sake of the learning that comes after it!