Beginning understanding Einstein's spacetime continuum
As anyone knows who has even a basic understanding of what Einstein was talking about, there is a relationship between space and time. That's the theory of relativity. But I like thinking about spacetime, which is how the third-dimensional world affects the fourth-dimensional world.
I have to admit that my lack of understanding of the equations of this was holding me back all of my life, but I had been chipping away. The equations are of course critical to all of this, but in order to understand it you have to be able to do what Einstein did, thought experiments. You could try to draw it out, or talk about it, but how space curves around objects in space just sounds like so much gobbly-goop, and even images can't possibly convey how it works. You need the flexibility of the human mind to begin to grasp it.
I'd always been a strong three-dimensional thinker, being someone who loved to draw, and of course I knew basic geometry being a graphic designer. Of course I took that way of thinking for granted, as it was something that I always had, until February 28th of 2003, when my brain suffered severe trauma.
The concept of time and space washed away for me in a heartbeat. Yes, I could read clocks, and I could see distances, but they really made no sense to me. It wasn't something that I could talk about, and maybe it never will be, but I'm going to try this morning. Stay with me.
To begin the recovery of my understanding of spacetime, I had to engage in thought experiments, which I did for hours and hours. Most of my study was done over at the Burger King, drinking coffee, which I refilled over and over and over. I stared out the window. I suppose if anyone gave me any thought they figured that I was waiting for someone, but I doubt that the busy people working and eating at Burger King even noticed me. I would drink coffee and stare out of the window. My goal was to recover the concepts of space and time. That is, 3-D and 4-D.
For a reason that I can't explain to this day, I chose Miami, Florida. I have no connection to that place, it was just a place. It could have been anywhere. I would sit there and try to imagine that such a place existed in space. And then I would think about how that distance became time as I imagined traveling there. I did this for many years. I knew that people couldn't help me on that, that they would simply show me a map, or take me there, or explain how long it would take in a car, or flying. But I needed to establish place and time in my mind.
Moving my body through the three-dimensional world (space) meant that I had to understand the fourth-dimensional world (time). I had always been good with both things, and losing any concept of how they worked worried me. I was one of those people who had a "feel" for time, and my ability to move through space had been sharpened up in high school gymnastics. Losing these things was horrific for me, and I wanted them back.
Of course I found that most people really aren't interested in any of this stuff. In fact, for a lot of people abstract thinking like this is just nonsense. These people exist in a world where that kind of thing is absolutely invisible to them. I like to do thought experiments like this with my dog, who of course has no idea of anything but the most basic ideas of time and space. I can say to her "tomorrow we'll go to the park" and she will hear "right now we will stay right here". She's a smart dog, but spacetime is meaningless to her, and talking about it is really a waste of her time. I spent many years with as poor a grasp of spacetime as dogs have.
So understanding, and then working on recovering spacetime is an itch that I need to scratch. I hope this helps if you yourself are on this journey.
Posted by Brad Hall