Thought Experiments

18
Oct

Welcome to The Nature of Reality

When I was seven, I understood relativity perfectly. I got it. At least I thought I did. And it was glorious.

It all started with The Flight of the Navigator, that movie about the kid who accidentally stumbles upon a space ship and has a grand old afternoon traversing the galaxy in the company of its cargo of friendly creatures. The problem? When he returns to Earth he finds that eight years have elapsed. He has been declared missing; when he rings the bell at his old house, a stranger answers the door.

The Flight of the Navigator is a story about time dilation. The ship was traveling close to the speed of light, so time passed significantly more slowly for its passengers than it did for those back on Earth. That’s special relativity for you. It seemed easy, elegant, amazing.

For the next few years, that was my relationship with relativity. Then came the equations, and suddenly relatively didn’t seem so easy any more. Elegant, maybe. But that first spark of intuition got lost in symbols, equations, calculations and miscalculations. So I wondered: Why can’t we have it both ways? Is it possible to be both wide-eyed and rigorous, methodical and amazed?

That’s a balance even physicists struggle with. As MIT theorist Max Tegmark told NOVA, “When I was in high school, physics was my most boring subject….It was only later that I realized that physics isn’t at all about just solving some equations. It’s about figuring out what reality is all about.”

That’s what we’re doing on this blog: taking on the biggest questions of all, the ones that get at the very nature of reality. What happens to information inside a black hole? What are we really talking about when we talk about teleportation? What if the laws of physics can’t be unified? Every week, we’ll have a new post from a scientist or science writer–look for James Stein, Sean Carroll, and Frank Wilczek in the coming weeks and months–with plenty of room for you to join the discussion with your own questions and ideas.

We hope you’ll let us know what subjects in fundamental physics you want to hear about—the stranger, the better. Can neutrinos really go faster than the speed of light? What is this spacetime thing anyway? Is our universe just one of countless others in a multiverse? Join us as we dive deep and discover how physics is changing what we thought we knew about the nature of reality.

Tell us what you think on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Kate Becker

    Kate Becker is the editor of The Nature of Reality, where it is her mission to blow your mind with physics. Kate studied physics at Oberlin College and astronomy at Cornell University, and spent seven years as senior researcher for NOVA and NOVA scienceNOW. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.