Recently I have been trying to reflect on how, as people of faith or beings of spiritual countenance, we can try to envisage our responsibilities to the land we live in, the planet we inhabit and the future generations we hold it in trust for. After speaking to a few friends, I believe that we require a paradigm shift.
Everything is Relative
We all know the story of how Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity under an apple tree. This ‘eureka’ moment helped him to postulate that the universe is actually made up of small and large objects that are in a constant ‘tug of war’ with each other, i.e. they are constantly attracted and repelled from each other. He called this theory ‘the theory of gravity’ which forms much of the basis of physics. However, after many centuries, Albert Einstein, in trying to understand how gravity actually works, noticed a small problem with the Newtonian Theory of Gravity which stated that ‘if one were to drop an apple, it will move in a straight line toward the centre of the Earth’.
Einstein noticed that the Earth rotates around its axis. Thus, when one drops an apple, it does not just fall in a straight line, but would also rotate with the earth. This is analogous to dropping an apple from outside a fast-moving car or within a fast-moving car. If dropped outside a fast-moving car, it would fall at an angle compared to it being dropped inside the car. Einstein went a bit further and postulated that since the earth moves around the sun, a falling apple would not only rotate with the earth (in an angular movement) but it would also move around the sun. So an alien in space would see the apple ‘moving’ in many directions and not just ‘falling’. This was the beginning of his general theory of relativity which stated that ‘what is observed is dependent on the reference point from where it is observed’. This means that, in the case of the apple, if Jack was to drop an apple, he would observe the apple falling relative to him.
So the first step in recognizing our challenge is recognizing that everything is relative.
You are nothing but My Past!
Einstein also came up with his theory of Special Relativity which incorporates the principle that the speed of light is the same for all inertial observers regardless of the state of motion of the source, i.e. E = mc2, and stated that the speed of light is the fastest speed possible in the universe. Calculations show that light takes 8 minutes to reach the earth from the sun.
This means that when we look at an object, we are looking at the light being reflected from that object. Thus, when we look at the sun, what we actually see is the light from the sun which has taken 8 minutes to reach us from the sun. When we look at the stars at night, we are looking at them approximately a million years ago since this is how long it takes for light from the stars to reach us.
So what does this mean? You can never see objects like the sun in the ‘present-tense’, unless you touch it, thereby eliminating the space between the objects (the observer and the observed). This was the basis for Einstein to link ‘space’ with ‘time’, which means that to completely describe an object or its state, we need to know both its space and time. So whatever we do is present, and all we observe is the past.
So we are the only present and everything we observe is the past!
The second step in recognizing our challenge is that whatever we are seeing that is taking place has to some extent already happened, and we are just seeing it now.
This post will be continued in part II.
Photo to symbolise Earth Day by Alice Popkorn; attribution via Flickr Commons.