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Old 05-03-2014, 04:31 PM
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Default Space, Time, and the Eye of the Beholder

Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe
THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE, Brian Greene, 1999, 2003
```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
Part II: The Dilemma of Space, Time, and the Quanta
Chapter 2 - Space, Time, and the Eye of the Beholder
Space, Time, and the Eye of the Beholder
In June 1905, twenty-six-year-old Albert Einstein submitted a technical article to the German Annals of Physics in which he came to grips with a paradox about light that had first troubled him as a teenager, some ten years earlier. Upon turning the final page of Einstein's manuscript, the editor of the journal, Max Planck, realized that the accepted scientific order had been overthrown. Without hoopla or fanfare, a patent clerk from Bern, Switzerland, had completely overturned the traditional notions of space and time and replaced them with a new conception whose properties fly in the face of everything we are familiar with from common experience.

The paradox that had troubled Einstein for a decade was this. In the mid-1800s, after a close study of the experimental work of the English physicist Michael Faraday, the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell succeeded in uniting electricity and magnetism in the framework of the electromagnetic field. If you've ever been on a mountaintop just before a severe thunderstorm or stood close to a Van de Graaf generator, you have a visceral sense of what an electromagnetic field is, because you've felt it. In case you haven't, it is somewhat like a tide of electric and magnetic lines of force that permeate a region of space through which they pass. When you sprinkle iron filings near a magnet, for example, the orderly pattern they form traces out some of the invisible lines of magnetic force. When you take off a wool sweater on an especially dry day and hear a crackling sound and perhaps feel a momentary shock or two, you are witnessing evidence of electric lines of force generated by electric charges swept up by the fibers in your sweater. Beyond uniting these and all other electric and magnetic phenomena in one mathematical framework, Maxwell's theory showed—quite unexpectedly—that electromagnetic disturbances travel at a fixed and never-changing speed, a speed that turns out to equal that of light. From this, Maxwell realized that visible light itself is nothing but a particular kind of electromagnetic wave, one that is now understood to interact with chemicals in the retina, giving rise to the sensation of sight. Moreover (and this is crucial), Maxwell's theory also showed that all electromagnetic waves—visible light among them—are the epitome of the peripatetic traveler. They never stop. They never slow down. Light always travels at light speed.

All is well and good until we ask, as the sixteen-year-old Einstein did, What happens if we chase after a beam of light, at light speed? Intuitive reasoning, rooted in Newton's laws of motion, tells us that we will catch up with the light waves and so they will appear stationary; light will stand still. But according to Maxwell's theory, and all reliable observations, there is simply no such thing as stationary light: no one has ever held a stationary clump of light in the palm of his or her hand. Hence the problem. Luckily, Einstein was unaware that many of the world's leading physicists were struggling with this question (and were heading down many a spurious path) and pondered the paradox of Maxwell and Newton largely in the pristine privacy of his own thoughts.

In this chapter we discuss how Einstein resolved the conflict through his special theory of relativity, and in so doing forever changed our conceptions of space and time. It is perhaps surprising that the essential concern of special relativity is to understand precisely how the world appears to individuals, often called "observers," who are moving relative to one another. At first, this might seem to be an intellectual exercise of minimal importance. Quite the contrary: In the hands of Einstein, with his imaginings of observers chasing after light beams, there are profound implications to grasping fully how even the most mundane situations appear to individuals in relative motion.
Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe
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