Saturday, 21 April 2012

Josephine and the nature of time

A short story
by Luke Kristopher Davis

"Hurry up Jo!" mum exclaimed, she was always in such a rush on a school day. "Okay, okay mum! I'm just doing my hair... I'll be 5 minutes". It's Monday,bleugh, the day I have Mrs Shaw's chemistry test and oh shit I also have a meeting with my tutor about... what was it.. oh yeah... how I am always late for registration. Damn registration. My mum opened the front door and snatched her keys from the table, "Right Jo I'm going now, either you come now or get a detention for being late.. again!", "just coming" I replied. I grabbed my lunch, which looked as if it was the usual slop; cheese sandwiches, Kelloggs bar and an Activia yogurt.

On the way to school I planned my day, my expected joys and expected nightmares. One joy was going to Mr.Bourbaki's physics lessons. He was odd but I liked him. He always does something funny like spill his drink on his notes or something random. All the other lessons seemed pretty dull, except maths which I enjoyed even though the teacher reminded me of a Darlek from doctor who. DIFFERENTIATE! DIFFERENTIATE! The meeting with my tutor will be sooooo annoying. He will drag on with his 'registration is important.. in case we have a fire alarm.. we won't know if you are here. Get a decent watch ....' blah blah fucking blah.

We passed the town hall which was next to my school, which was a comprehensive in Middle-witch, I always looked up at the big clock over seeing the town. It was a nice clock, nice antiquated features.

"Jo-se-phine! Jo! Over here!" that was my friend in my tutor whose arrival seemed to always be simultaneous with mine. Becky was nice, a bit of a sheep trying to fit in but we got along pretty well. "Are you going straight to tutor Jo? I can tell you about what happened on waterloo road oooo it was so oh my godly exciting." She had that permanent smile on her face. "I'm going to go for a walk, probs be in tutor soon", trying not to portray my obvious shared excitement. I lied anyway. I don't go for walks...I went straight into the library. The library was my place to go in the mornings, I would chill out and get any book that took my interest and read it for 20 minutes or so before tutor. I would also always overrun. Everyone thinks the library is for loners and geeks, but I had plenty of friends but I just enjoyed being surrounded by books and it was quite relaxing.

I was never a big fan of fiction. Fiction didn't seem to attract me. I preferred encyclopedias and books about something real. Something I can relate to. I strolled round the reference section and saw a book named: 'Inside the human body'. Yeah i'll read this one, it had detailed colored diagrams which made it quite different.

'The nervous system is how different parts of the body communicate. For instance, if you prick your finger with a pin you feel pain. The prick stimulates a nervous fiber on the point of application and this creates an electric pulse which is sent from the point of application, through the spinal cord, to the brain. Where the signal is processed neurally.'

There was a picture demonstrating this and a picture of a map of the human nervous system. Pretty cool stuff. I put the book back and started to look for another one. I had 5 more minutes. That should be enough time to skim through another one.

I looked in the physics section, as I did have physics first period anyway. Plenty of textbooks and popular science books such as 'The elegant universe by Brian Greene' which was about string theory, I have only read about that in some magazines and on some blogs. Wasn't for me at the moment. I saw quite a nice old book on the bottom shelf in the 'light' section. I did like the look of old books. The title was: 'Relativity: The  Special and the general theory by Albert Einstein'. Wow Einstein. Bourbaki was always going on about Einstein and what was the other one... Bohr yes Bohr. I don't know who Bohr is or was. But I recognized Einstein. I sat and looked at the contents: 'chapter 3: Space and time in classical mechanics, chapter 8: On the idea of time in physics and chapter 9: The relativity of simultaneity', these chapters stood out to me. The Bell rang. Crap. Best go to tutor before he really gets pissed off with me. I put the book back where I found it.

"Gooood morning 11 Hamlet, how are we doing today? I have some term reports to give out and some certificates to give those hard workers who did well this term!" Mr.Grinne said in a profoundly camp tone. "Oh wow someone woke up from the wrong side of the bed this morning." Alex 'the joker' replied in his smart ass tone. "Alex that's impossible, both sides of my bed are the right side.. hahaaha..." silence and cringe pervaded the room ".. ohh hmm.. well let me just take the register". Registration killed my soul. Grinne's face was too happy, he was one of those deceptively happy people who probably is whipped by his wife and disrespected by his kids and is on the verge of suicide. The register had been done, I was probably day dreaming. "Oh wow you're here Miss hunt, looks like you took my advice on board... but we are still meeting at break-time", "Yeah okay sir" I replied with minimal effort.

Time.. Time... tiiiiime. It's such a used word...  'are you on time?' 'What's the time?' we are all obsessed with time. Well not me. Time was popular in the contents page in the book by Einstein. Was he talking about time in the same way as my mum does? As Becky does? As Mr.Grinne? I'm not sure that he was. 

What is time? Is it just what our clocks say? These questions floated through my head. Can we define time independent of our clocks? Time might be part of the world like Bourbaki said inertia was. Like matter was.
"So yeah like Sambuca got cancer and Finley is totally getting annoyed with it, I mean, he is only young what can he do about it. I bet he will leave her. But that would be totes too harsh. What do you think Jossse?" Becky was still rambling on about Waterloo road. "He will probably stay with her until the end and make sure she is happy, the drama will most probably want to present good morals into its viewers especially if a large portion of them are teenagers." She looked blank for a while. "Oh yeahhh oh my god yeah!", her smile was back. 

I went to physics. I sat near the window and thought more about time. I remembered how me and Becky always arrive at school at the same time. If we assume time to be defined as... what our clocks say then me and Becky's clocks would say the same thing. Our clocks were synchronized. If my clock differed by a significant amount say x where x>10 minutes as traffic delays could play a role then mine and Becky's arrivals at school would be different. Also if I fly to Australia am I going to travel into a different time or merely a different time system where the reference clock is defined differently. I recalled one chapter title in Einstein's book; 'The relativity of simultaneity'. Did this chapter imply that what is simultaneous is relative.. if so than this was obvious. If an event happened and is seen by me and Becky, and me and Becky had different clocks which said different times, then by logic we would know that the event wasn't simultaneous. However this seemed silly.  I have decided to randomly change the clocks of me and Becky and this didn't seem right. Let's suppose that me and Becky's clocks are identical. If say a lightning strike occurred  in between us where the distance of the event was the same between me and Becky, the time duration of such an event = distance traveled by light/ the speed of light. The time duration would be the same. It would be simultaneous. So what was Einstein going to talk about...

Then I realized something... that I assumed me and Becky were at rest relative to each other. Mr.Bourbaki always went on about how motion makes sense on relative to something else. So then I played. What if there were two lightning strikes and I was moving in my mum's car at constant speed relative to the ground and Becky. The lightning strikes would hit say two points at equal distances from Becky and when my mum drove past Becky the distance between those two points would be the same for me too. Except one point of lightning would be behind the car and one in front. Becky would obvs see the lightning rods hit the two points at the same time. Would I? Well I am moving towards one point and therefore the distance is decreasing between me and that point and the distance between me and the point behind me is increasing. Therefore the lightning behind me would arrive at me last. This was totally confusing but it made sense in physics terms.

I told Mr.Bourbaki after class about it and he smiled "ah it seems you have come across relativity, it goes against everything we thought but yes you are right as Einstein was". "Oh wow so I kind have discovered it too?" I replied. "No, science doesn't work that way haha but very good work, you might find the consequences of relativity even more baffling" he said with enthusiasm. "Take for instance Time. We used to think time was absolute, we thought it cannot be altered. But Einstein had shown that if you approach the speed of light time for you slows down. If say you went at the speed of light to Jupiter and back, you wouldn't have aged that much but most of the humans will have aged or even died due to old age. This is why one cannot travel faster than the speed of light, it takes an infinite amount of energy and even so breaking this barrier would imply you could travel into the past and throughout all time." I began to have a headache. Wow this is hard. But I sort of loved thinking about it. "So is time not just defined by our clocks, is it part of the universe?" I asked, "Yes, time and space are part of one fundamental geometry of nature" Bourbaki began to wipe the board. "If science be right sir, wouldn't we need evidence of time." I began to put my bag on my back. "Yes you are right, that is true that is where it gets difficult and confusing. Time is useful to us in science so we make use of it. That is still a problem." I thought back to the human body book and about evolution. We might have evolved our brains to think in this way.

I went to the meeting with my tutor at break. "So yes why are you always late Josephine Hunt?" Mr.Grinne asked. "Sir, whilst you are in registration I was moving at the speed of light sir and when I arrive in tutor my time has been dilated and therefore I will always arrive quite late." I grinned. "What on earth are you on about, don't be late again. Anyways who would want to be late to our fantastic tutorial program?". "I guess you're right" I said. He let me go early and by the end of the day I had taken Einstein's book out.

It was a pretty good day. I wonder what book will make my day a little bit more interesting tomorrow. 

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting, I don't know much about physics, but the ending made me smile!