Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – Musings on the Science of the Miraculous

One of the four people I’d like to have lunch with in Heaven is Albert Einstein I like to think of him as “Uncle Albert” as if he were my friendly Jewish Uncle.

I’d like to have a conversation with Einstein because he was someone who could make complicated ideas, like the relativity of time, understandable even to a young child.

I often recount an anecdote about how Einstein apparently stumbled upon the concept of time being related to the speed of light when he was only seven years old. Let me share this story with you.

Young Albert was sitting in his classroom on a hot summer day in June, wearing his suit and tie and knickers as was appropriate in 1893 in Germany. The teacher was droning on in German, and Einstein, who probably already knew what she was teaching, was looking out the window, watching the dust motes dance in a ray of light. Idly he wondered about the shaft of light. Did light travel in a straight line? Or did it curve? He wanted to find out. So, in his imagination, he hopped on the light beam, and started riding it out to the edge of the universe. He pondered this question. Was he on a trip “to infinity…. and beyond?” Would the journey go on forever, or would he find that the light beam did not travel in a straight line to infinity, but curved and eventually came back to Earth?

Suddenly, the sharp voice of his teacher snapped him out of his reverie. “Einstein! Pay atten-shun!” He snapped back into the classroom, and easily answered the question. But he couldn’t help wondering how it was possible that as he was travelling at the speed of light to the edge of the Universe, his classmates were plodding along trying to figure out the answer to 5 + 9?

Einstein spent the rest of his life “trying to understand the mind of God,” a quest not unlike my own, and thus my feeling of affinity for the old geezer. As I get older myself, I find I am fascinated by the scientific explanation of phenomena that previously would have been called “miraculous.”

I failed Grade Eleven math abysmally (thirty-six percent!) which meant I would have to repeat my entire year. Instead, I auditioned and was accepted as the youngest student in Canada to attend the National Theater School of Canada. I was sixteen. So I never got to study Physics, the prospect of which terrified me, anyway.

But my pursuit of a life on the stage left a gaping hole in my knowledge of how the Universe works. Apart from my brilliant brother, who was the audio-visual instructor for the Ontario Science Centre for 25 years, and who patiently explains complex ideas to me in layman’s terms, I don’t have any scientific education.

But I do have a Master’s Degree in Education. This equipped me to be a high school substitute teacher for ten years. To make the role more amusing, I called myself “Miss Frizzle,” a children’s cartoon character that teaches science to students through adventures undertaken on a Magic School Bus. Even the most hardened teenaged football player would soften at the memory of “Miss Frizzle.” They inevitably would call out, “Are you going to take us on a field trip, Miss Frizzle?” Ironically, although I was playing the part of a science teacher, I had to admit that still didn’t understand simple physics. When the movie, “What the Bleep Do We Know?” came out, I became determined to learn as much as I could about Quantum Mechanics and Neuroscience.

It is thanks to one of my Grade Eleven students that I now understand the theory of relativity, and its relationship to the “mind of God.”

As the students filed into my English class, chattering away, I noticed that the student who was already sitting directly in front of me, a Chinese boy, wearing a blue blazer and a tie, (in high school, no less), had a copy of his Grade 11 Physics text book on his desk. The buzzer had not yet rung for class to start. I told this young man I wanted to borrow his Physics text, so that could read a scientific explanation of the Theory of Relativity. With a quizzical expression on his face, he turned the book over to me.

I didn’t look in the Index or the Contents. I simply, opened the book, asked to be shown, and put my finger down. It landed on the exact and the only paragraph in the entire text that referred to the theory of relativity. Delighted at the elegance of this occurrence, I read the explanation of Einstein’s theory, which was succinct enough for even a child, or an uneducated adult, like myself, to understand.

But what followed was even more interesting. It was a paragraph explaining the concept of the speed of light and infinity. I read that Einstein claimed that you couldn’t actually reach the speed of light. I asked the Chinese student to explain. “Oh, you couldn’t do that. If you went as fast as Light, you would live forever!”

The light went on in my mind. I understood.

The faster one goes, the slower time goes, relative to the one who is moving. So, if one were to travel at the speed of light, the faster you went, the more time would slow down, and eventually it would stop.
You would live forever, as my student said, because when time stops, past and future disappear, or are all happening simultaneously. All that is left is now.

That is what quantum physicists mean by the term “zero point.”
It is the eternal, continuous, never-ending moment of now:
Pure consciousness and eternal love.

Therefore . . .

Bada-bing, Bada-boom . . .

infinity = eternity !!!!!!!!

As I typed the eight exclamation marks above, I recalled being on lunch break from a conference in a shabby little town that time had passed by in upstate New York. It was not far, indeed, from Walden’s Pond where Thoreau had escaped the bonds of time.

As I rounded the corner, looking for a restaurant, my eye caught a white building with Greek Style columns. There was an oval sign inscribed in gold that said,

The International Museum of Graphology

It was like something out of a Harry Potter movie. I felt compelled to go inside. What met me was a high ceilinged room lined on each side by a row elegant 17th Century styled white chairs trimmed in gold. As if protected by invisible guardians seated on the chairs, there were long glass showcases arranged in horseshoe the length of the room. I read the sign just inside the door. It said that the handwriting of such ancients as Galileo had been exhibited here. The current exhibition was the handwriting of my hero, Einstein! I felt as if I were in a dream. I looked around to see if anyone was there, an attendant of some kind. Surely there was a cost involved? There was no one. I slowly advanced toward the glass cases, as if they were some sort of Holy Grail.

Sure enough, as I looked into the cases, there were his notebooks, his letters, and finally, I came to it. It was a letter written to a fellow scientist on the day of his joyous discovery. The letters fairly leapt off the page!

e = mc2 !!!!!!!!

I counted the exclamation marks he had written. There were eight of them.

That is how I felt in that shimmering moment when time “stood still” as I grasped the true meaning of the relativity of time.

The buzzer rang. I called the class to order, and, handing back the book to its donor, I began to share what I had just discovered. Yes, this was an English class, but I consider English to be one of the Humanities. I believe it is appropriate to use the English language for the discussion of great and noble ideas. And most certainly time and eternity must be included in the things worth speculating about.

I began with the anecdote I have shared with you about Einstein’s youthful enquiry. And then, I told another story that took place closer to the end of his life. His son in law asked him how he came to the theory of relativity.

“In vision,” he replied. “I had spent many years trying to discover the mathematical formula. Finally I admitted to myself that I was in despair. I would never be able to solve it. I gave up and went to bed. As I was falling asleep, I had one of those rare moments of hypnogogic imagery, a mini-dream that one has just as one is nodding off. You wake up immediately and you can remember the whole dream clearly.

In that dream, he said, it was as if the entire structure of the Universe were being revealed to me in detail, I saw how all the parts fell together like the pieces of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.

“And that was when peace came. A peace that will not leave me, not while Einstein lives.”

The silence was dense. Then I told them the final, mysterious words, that Einstein gifted to his son-in-law.

“The equation of my youth was ‘e = mc2’

The equation of my age is . . . ‘Love = Space’

I let those words hang in the air as the silence in the room deepened.

It was the silence of wonder at the profound mystery of existence, perhaps the same quality of silence that allowed Einstein to receive that Divine transmission of vision.

After a beat or two, one of the girls raised her hand and asked,

“Does that mean that in the gap between the molecules, it’s Love?”

The astonishing simplicity and beauty of her question took my breath away.

In fact it wasn’t a question at all. It was poetry.

The exquisite truth of her statement hung suspended like a dewdrop on the edge of a leaf.

I let my response drop from my soul into the pool of thoughtful stillness in the classroom.

“I believe so. Yes. It’s Love.”


~ by Shelora Fitzgerald on February 24, 2012.

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