Relatively Relevant Einstein
After 100 years the greatness of Einstein’s best year (1905) becomes even more obvious. Still, most have trouble finding relevance for relativity – whether general or special. We can say that some of our conveniences were a result of his ideas and we might even think of atomic power as important. But the truth is that the greatness of Einstein’s ideas has yet to be realized by most. There are good reasons for this: the theories are complex, the applications are largely intellectual, and most people care little about things that they can’t apply in their everyday lives.
I can’t make the theories less complex. I have (like many others) attempted to explain them in simpler terms. This is less helpful than it might usually be because the depth and scope of Einstein’s ideas reach into difficult realms of science: mathematics and conceptualization. True appreciation for Einstein requires intense effort. I hope to offer enough reason and result to encourage you to make some effort to make Einstein relatively relevant in your life.
Let us begin with some perspective. As Einstein said: “I want to know God’s thoughts. The rest are details.” The pursuit of scientific details is essential in the pursuit of God. After all, it is God’s creation that we study in science. I propose that the best way to find relevance for Einstein’s theories is to study what they tell us about God’s thoughts. We can better know the Creator by studying the Creation.
Science has confirmed Einstein’s theories through extensive observation and experimentation. They work amazingly well in explaining key parts of the Creation. That doesn’t mean that they’re perfect or complete. They are unquestionably valuable in knowing how things work. They fit together with other theories (that also work) in sometimes astoundingly intricate and beautiful ways. They are key pieces of a large puzzle, but only make sense when seen in perspective with other pieces of the puzzle. Thus, it is not enough to simply study Einstein’s ideas.
We now know that the Universe has “depth” below the surface that we commonly experience. This depth encompasses the smaller scale “atomic” (quantum) realm and the behind the scenes interactions between things. Einstein’s theories deal mostly with the quantum and background parts of reality and only partly become apparent in the world of everyday experience. Thus, the great equivalence of special relativity (E=mc²) explains nuclear power by explaining something very deep in the Creation. And, while we may generally care less whether light curves or gravity bends space, we should care about what these facts tell us about our Universe and its Creator.
Einstein’s ideas amount to the greatest scientific paradigm shift ever. However, we should not forget that much of Einstein’s thinking was based upon the work of others. Allow me to briefly recap Einstein’s key ideas and put them into perspective.
In his first “paper” offered in 1905, Einstein set out to explain the observations of others showing that the velocity of emitted electrons is independent of the intensity of the illuminating light. Coupling this with the knowledge that some substances become luminous when struck by photons (phosphorescence or fluorescence), Einstein applied quantum theory (per Max Planck) and developed the law of the photo-electric effect. This law holds that the energy of the light quantum (later termed “photons”) increases with its frequency - that a light quantum with a certain frequency can only give rise to the formation of a light quantum of lower or, at most, equal frequency. Otherwise energy would be “created” in violation of the second law of thermodynamics. It was for this theory that Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921. His proof that discrete quanta (radiated particles) can act as waves (dual nature of light) serves as a foundation for quantum theories today.
Special Relativity (1905) broke away from science’s reliance on space and time as immutable frames of reference. Einstein proposed that distance and time are not absolute - under special relativity the ticking rate of a clock and the “length” of a yardstick are related to (or dependent upon) the motion of an observer. This is based upon a counter-intuitive fact about the speed of light (recognized first by Einstein); that light always travels at the same speed in our universe. (A photon from a flashlight shot from a cannon travels at the same speed as one from a flashlight at rest). Because time is tied to the speed of light and light speed is fixed, a person (or other object) changes their relationship to time as they move. The faster they move the greater the time “warp”. (And despite science fiction, no object with mass may move at or beyond the speed of light to either stop time or go backwards through time).
This alone makes special relativity an amazing and profound discovery and had Einstein gone no further, he would be remembered as a great genius. However, special relativity goes farther (and deeper). Einstein saw a relationship between mass, energy, and speed and he expressed that relationship in a simple equivalency: E=mc². The energy of a particle at rest is the same as its mass times the speed of light. (Or more accurately: E=m²c4+p²c² where p = the particle’s momentum). Of course, E=mc² is the best known mathematical expression in the world and most know that it relates to atomic power or nuclear weapons. It says that mass and energy are equivalent under the conversion factor of light speed squared. Mass has huge amounts of energy locked up into it and that energy can be released (transformed). In fact, it must be in certain chemical reactions and particle interactions (e.g. nuclear fission or fusion). Again, this integration of existing ideas alone would have placed Einstein among the giants of science.
Also in 1905, Einstein developed (or co-developed) detailed calculations showing how statistical mechanics (largely from Boltzmann) could explain “Brownian movement”. This affirmed the belief in atomic sized particles that was already growing in the scientific community. More importantly, it pointed to the odd relationship between probability and properties at the nuclear level and although Einstein quipped that “God does not play dice,” his theory lies at the heart of quantum indeterminacy.
General Relativity (1915) proposed that gravity and motion can affect
the perceived intervals of time and of space. The key idea of General
Relativity is called the Equivalence Principle. Thus, gravity pulling in
one direction is equivalent to acceleration in the opposite direction.
Because gravity is equivalent to acceleration and motion affects
measurements of time and space (as shown in Special Relativity), then it
follows that gravity must do so as well. Einstein realized that gravity
has the effect of warping space and time. (Wow!)
General Relativity (1915) proposed that gravity and motion can affect the perceived intervals of time and of space. The key idea of General Relativity is called the Equivalence Principle. Thus, gravity pulling in one direction is equivalent to acceleration in the opposite direction. Because gravity is equivalent to acceleration and motion affects measurements of time and space (as shown in Special Relativity), then it follows that gravity must do so as well. Einstein realized that gravity has the effect of warping space and time. (Wow!)
These are the key ideas of Einstein, but not the whole. These fundamental ideas were refined and expanded by him through the rest of his life and contemporary scientists are still reeling from their implications and applications. From this most amazing mind we began the atomic age, recognized the “big bang”, and headed toward a tensor (gauge theory) based multi-dimensional theory of everything (now “string theory”). He transformed science across the spectrum – from quanta to cosmos. And, in turn, he has opened a bright new window to the thoughts of God.
Einstein presumed a Creator and viewed science as the study of God’s Creation. To him, scientific mystery was merely an unanswered question about God. As the “crown of creation” we do well to study the core of creation. Einstein did that with passion and genius. He also began with assumptions that sometimes narrowed his vision. One of those assumptions was that God had purpose for every aspect of Creation. Whether true or not, we have to learn that such assumptions may mislead. Our evidence would indicate that God created the Universe with a combination of indeterminacy (randomness), basic rules (e.g. the laws of physics), and subtle purposes. We have thoroughly explored the rules and now have a better understanding of how properties emerge from probabilities. We have had less success in grasping God’s purposes. When Einstein spoke of knowing God’s thoughts, he was seeking to understand divine reasoning as revealed in the workings of the Universe.
In hindsight it is difficult to understand the long debate regarding determinism: whether or not everything is pre-ordained. When church doctrine teaches that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, it presumes that Creation is deterministic. This puts God at the “center of the Universe” and in constant control of every detail. While perhaps comforting (or disturbing), it denies our everyday experience. More so, it denies our science - including that of Einstein. In the same manner that science forced us to give up the idea that Earth was the “center of the universe”, it forces us to forego determinism. Einstein’s statistical mechanics led others to see what he didn’t want to: determinism is dead.
The scientific evidence is overwhelming – God made randomness and chaos intrinsic and essential parts of Creation. Perhaps God does not play dice, but the randomness of dice is a core element of God’s design for Creation. In fact, the interplay of randomness, rules, and a progression of probabilities is what makes the Universe work. Without randomness we could foretell the future. Indeed, the future would be pre-ordained because the rules and progression of probabilities would always yield the same results. (Although the depth and scope of probabilities would make such determinations very difficult). Our first revelation regarding the nature of God is that in creating the Universe, God chose not to impose a destiny. This is most evident in what we deem “free will” but is also objectified in quantum dynamics. The future is driven by natural forces and constrained by natural laws, but outcomes are never certain. Had God chosen otherwise, life would have little meaning and our destiny would be in a book already written. God chose uncertainty for a reason.
Knowing that space and time are dynamic attributes in a larger equation reveals God’s creative nature. While mathematics speaks poorly to most of us, it is most assuredly a language that God uses. Every known aspect of the physical universe has a parallel mathematical relationship and all those relationships are built around equivalencies. Ultimately, we discover that under some transformation (expressed mathematically) every physical part of the universe is equivalent to everything else. (Huh?) This reveals an unfolding – a progression from a “singularity” (or unity) into the diversity that we experience. From this progression we may work both backwards and forwards. We may know the mechanisms of Creation and we may grasp God’s purpose. While best accomplished using the language of mathematics, such is not essential. God offered sentient beings in the universe the opportunity to view the methods behind reality – the logic (and beauty) of creation.
Obviously, we may experience the logic and beauty of creation without understanding its mathematical basis. Similarly, we may appreciate the wonder of Einstein’s theories without understanding the mathematics that “prove” them. But to “know God’s thoughts” we gain an advantage when we share a common language and that language is written with numbers and formulas. When we view Einstein’s theories as expressions in a language, it is like hearing poetry for the first time – a new rhythm, a beautiful harmony, and a deeper meaning emerges even if the words are not new.
The equivalency of gravity and motion is one of the easiest of Einstein’s ideas to grasp since we can relate it to common experiences. However, the deeper implications are generally neglected. When we ask “Why was the Universe created that way?”, we confront a new level of meaning. Gravity is a physical force linked inexorably to mass. Movement is a non-physical aspect of physical things – the transition from place to place within the space-time continuum. But, relatively speaking, gravity and movement are the same thing and therefore gravity is also a transition from place to place within the space-time continuum. The linkage between the physical and non-physical is what relativity is all about.
God wants us to reach beyond the physical to find the greater meaning in the non-physical. So long as we limited our study to gravity - without seeing its equivalency to motion - we were destined to remain blind to the deeper reality within our universe. Now, largely thanks to Einstein, we can begin to unfold that deeper reality. We may now see that there is a non-physical layer of reality that has just as much to do with everyday experience as gravity. As we study the nature and origin of gravity, we reach deeper and deeper into the origin of creation. We have discovered an unfolding of forces that originated from a “Grand Unified Force” – better deemed the “Will of God”.
The appearance of the Grand Unified Force at the beginning of “time” must always remain a mystery because there is no “before” prior to its emergence. Nothing that we know or experience in the physical realm applies before time itself came into existence. Gravity and space-time only exist as an unfolding of the Grand Unified Force within our Universe. Thus, the study of physics must inherently leave us short. It is time to realize that the parallel unfolding, the non-physical unfolding, is of equal or greater importance.
Einstein’s work was essential in getting us to the point where we can begin to see beyond classical physics: first at quantum reality and then to the broader picture. Our perception of God has been broadened through an understanding of relativity – general and special. We have new horizons and new barriers. We have new insight into the Mind of God and the Creation we exist within.
 The dynamic unity of space and time may be the most compelling discovery of our time. The many implications of this part of creation are beyond the scope of this work and we are still learning to appreciate them. Since Einstein, we know that perception of reality is always relative to the position and movement of the observer.
 The equation sign that we use in algebraic formulas expresses equivalency – what’s on one side of the equation is the same as what’s on the other side. The fact that there are algebraic expressions that express the essential equivalency of physical things points to a fundamental unity in nature and an unfolding from a more basic and complete formula - a “Grand Unified Theory”.
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