Who needs spiritual/religious mysticism? Science has plenty of it. And here's the great thing: it is real!
In the August 31 issue of New Scientist magazine I came across a letter to the editor that blew my mind. Repeatedly. Because every time I re-read the letter, I got the same Whhhhhaaaaaatttttt? sensation.
Wilken Sporys from Christmas Hills, Victoria, Australia commented on a New Scientist story about the nature of reality that I blogged about last month.
The basic notion of the story was "Something has to go -- reality, relativity, causality, free will. They can't all coexist as how they are currently understood to be." Sporys said:
Who is to say that our understanding of any of them is right? Certainly, relativity tells us that time and space are not quite as we perceive them.
Any object travelling at the speed of light will arrive at the same instant that it left, without travelling any distance at all.
Time and space only emerge as an object or particle slows below the speed of light. Yet to us time and space seem indisputably real.
Wow... Any object travelling at the speed of light will arrive at the same instant that it left, without travelling any distance at all.
I knew this, from reading several books about relativity theory, but I obviously didn't really know it.
Because I kept thinking about that sentence, and not grasping it. Which isn't surprising, since I exist within time and space, and an object travelling at the speed of light doesn't.
It's a matter of perspective. This is how Einstein came up with his theory of relativity, I recall. Visualize what it would be like to be a photon of light. He could do that. I can't.
When I hear about light reaching Earth from a star 2 billion light years away, I picture that light zipping along at 186,000 miles per second, taking 2 billion years to get here. But that's my point of view. Like the letter writer said, photons of light don't take any time or travel any distance.
Here's another way of saying this.
One of the methods Einstein used to help formulate his theory of special relativity was to visualize what the universe would look like from the perspective of a photon. Einstein saw that life as a photon would be quite bizarre. For instance, if you were a photon, time would have no meaning to you. Everything would appear to happen instantaneously.
Imagine for a moment that you are a happy little photon created by a star in another galaxy some 4 billion light years away. From my perspective here on Earth, it took you exactly 4 billion years to travel from that star till you reached my retina. From your perspective, one instant you were created and then the next, you are bouncing off my eyeball. You experienced no passage of time. Your birth and death happened instantaneously.
This is because time slows for you as you get closer to light speed, and at it, it completely stops. This is also another reason why nothing can go faster than light. It would be like slowing down a car to a stop, and then trying to go slower than completely stopped.
One should think of the speed of light as ‘infinite speed’. A common misconception is thinking the speed of light is just like any other finite speed. The speed of light is only finite from the perspective of the outside observer; from the perspective of a photon, it’s infinite. If you move at exactly the speed of light you could go anywhere, no matter how far, in exactly zero seconds.
Far out. Sign me up. I hate to travel by car, plane, or whatever. Seats are uncomfortable. I get bored. Light speed travel sounds great.
In a fruitless attempt to truly grasp this "no time and no distance" thing, I spent a minute watching a "minutephysics" video. Didn't help. Just blew my mind again. Maybe you'll have better luck.