On the theory that anyone with scruffy white hair, an unkempt mustache and no socks who is kind to children, Israel and Eleanor Roosevelt ought to be watched closely, I have followed closely the onslaught of articles, TV programs and statues of Albert Einstein during this, his 100th birthday year. p
And now that his E-equals-M-C-squared profundity has perched precariously on the public tongue all year long, it is time to examine the good doctor and his relativity insights to see if they've made any difference. Relatively speaking, of course.
Perhaps the problem has been, not the theory of relativity, certainly, nor any undue restraint on the part of those wanting to explain it to us, but the utter pointlessness of it all in our daily lives. E, in short, can equal anything it likes, so long as it doesn't foul up the traffic.
I first became interested in E and its equals when a telecaster mentioned the warping of space and time, subjects of intense interest to those of us living in the saturated and quickened 20th century. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered he was talking about some measly galaxy and its orbital arrangements, instead of a way to get more closet space and the time to clean it.
Relativity does operate in our daily lives, actually, in ways uncalculated by multisyllabic-mouthed physicists. In fact, the theory is easy to handle, once you reduce it to some manageable size -- say, 8 or 10 for Christmas dinner.
"Everything is relative," Dr. Einstein premised, especially during the holidays.
This "everything-is-relative" proponent sounds more like a statement of theology than physics, and one on which not everyone would agree, for that matter. There are those to whom one would rather not be related -- Hitler, for example, and Jack the Ripper -- and it irks to have a 100-year-old physicist insist that relativity is an undeniable universal law.
A part of this law apparently has to do with warping time.Anyone with an ounce of sense already knows about time's nasty little warps.
Take the way it drags in the late afternoon before the end of the work day, or when someone is paid by the hour to do a particularly hideous job. Five minutes shoveling manure can stretch to infinity when it wants to, and it often does.
The waking hour, on the other hand, travels at a speed unequaled by any other during the day. If you get up at 7 a.m., say, you have just enough time to dress, brush your teeth, comb your hair, and prepare (but not drink) coffee before 8:30 shines forth from the digital dial and the time to leave for work has arrived.
Try these same activities in the afternoon, and you find they take about 15 minutes.
This phenomenon is so invariable that it applies regardless of the actual time you get up. If your schedule should suddenly switch and have you arising at 4 p.m. -- an hour noted for its ponderous and sullen footdragging -- the very fact that it has become your waking hour causes the time to leap forward like an unbusted bronco, disappearing magically before your sleepy eyes.
Einstein related this warping of time to the warping of space, another readily observable phenomenon. Any home shrinks as soon as you start living in it, and each year reduces its closet space and living area.
When at last you tire of tripping over the clutter and decide to sell your home, it mysteriously expands, appearing spacious to its new owners. Until, of course, they move in.
Space also expands when a new baby arrives and the family discovers that the old inadequate shelter makes room for more. The same principle applies to clubs and churches, and irregularly to restaurants.
Eating establishments are funny, though, about space warps. Sometimes they expand to take in many more customers than they thought they could serve, and other times they squeeze out even those few who want to pry their way in. It all seems to center around the menu, though why the availability of fresh fish or the price of eggs should have anything to do with warping space, I do not know. Then again, I'm not a physicist. Just a relative.
If only, dear Dr. Einstein, we could ask you.