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The speed of light and the space-time continuum: What the universe looks like from light's point of view.


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The following information is from a lecture given by physicist Peter Russell. You can find it on youtube under the title “The Primacy of Consciousness,” full version, 1:09:07. There is an excerpted 12-minute offering entitled "The World from Light's Point of View.” However, Peter’s lecture is so important and thought-provoking that you’ll want to see the expanded version.


Can we add to the speed of light, making it faster?


Image yourself on bicycle. The sun’s gone down and so you flip on your headlamp.

You’re cruising at a leisurely 5 mph. The light from the headlamp is streaming forward at a speed of, well, the speed of light – 186,000 miles per second.

But the headlamp is part of the bike which is moving at a rate of 5 mph. Do we add the 5 mph to the 186,000 miles per second for a new, faster speed of light?

Common sense says, yes, we have to add the speeds together. But common sense would be wrong. According to Einstein, nothing can go faster than the speed of light; that is, 186,000 mps.

So, how does this work? What happens to that extra 5 mph? In fact, if your bike were traveling at the speed of light, the light being emitted from the lamp would still be racing at "only" 186,000 mps, and not the 186k times two.

The accounting system of the universe seems to be well out of balance. But, as we’ll find, it’s in perfect balance, with no fudging allowed.


the space-time continuum

In Einstein's physics there’s something called "the space-time continuum" and “the interval.”

Peter said that the space-time continuum is not space, it’s not time, it’s not a mixture of the two, it’s something we don’t have a clear definition of, but, in any case, the space-time continuum impacts our five senses with certain precise amounts of space and time. And these amounts vary with the speed of the observer.

Editor's note: The space-time continuum seems to be the matrix or primal metaphysical nursery out of which our perceptions of space and time are created. Kant spoke of the "noumenon," a deeper reality behind and subsuming what the brain apprehends; as opposed to "phenomenon" which meets our senses at the surface of life, and we take it to be reality, but, in fact, it's merely a veneer-shadow of "the thing in itself."

the interval

Einstein said that there’s something in the space-time continuum, which he called “the interval,” which is related to distance and time. And this, the interval, turns out to be a constant, and never changes, although what we experience as space and time seems to change. Different observers will perceive different amounts of space and time.

Hopefully, this slide from Peter's lecture will begin to make some of this clear:

Look at the top row. For the stationary observer, that is, with a velocity of zero, the space-time continuum unfolds or stretches out what we consider to be “normal” perceptions of space and time; that is, for the stationary observer, light seems to be traveling 186,000 miles for every second that passes.

Drop down a row. The observer is now traveling at 87% the speed of light. (Peter said that at 87% the numbers were easier to work with, “that’s just how the math worked out,” meaning, he could have chosen any percentage.) At 87% of the speed of light, the observer will experience, it will seem like, distance and time in the universe are shrinking. Compared to what the stationary observer would perceive, distances now seem to be half, and time, too, seems to be half of what it was.

We see where this is going. In the next lower row, distances and time seem to have shortened even more when the observer is traveling at 99.5% the speed of light.

from light's point of view, there is no distance and there is no time

And now the bottom row. What would happen if we could travel at the speed of light? In other words, we’ve now entered the realm of light’s point of view of the universe. For light, all distance and all time collapse to zero. From light’s point of view, there is no distance and there is no time.

Editor's note: Some of this is confusing on many levels. For example, concerning Peter’s chart, let’s look at the “87%” example again.

If you were riding in a car that had accelerated to 87% the speed of light, everything inside the car would seem normal. Your heart would beat at a normal rate, your process of aging would be unchanged, and if you looked at your wristwatch the time would seem to be flowing normally.

Things do seem normal within what Einstein called an “inertial frame of reference” – just as, inside a jet airplane, if you bounce a rubber ball on the floor, it doesn’t shoot to the back of the plane at 700 mph, but bounces normally, just the way it does at home. But if the jet hits some turbulence, then the ball will not cleanly bounce because it's now being measured against forces outside the "inertial frame of reference." 

Factors affecting the flow of time:

Gravity or mass of an object slows the rate of time. 

Altitude, distance from a massive object, speeds up the flow of time. In the movie "Interstellar," because the travelers were close to a black hole, an hour there was equal to seven years on Earth.

Motion, the faster you move through space, the slower you move through time.

Editor’s note: When I first started looking at this subject, I found it difficult to remember which factor increased or decreased the rate of time. But then I began to understand the process more, and now it’s not so confusing. Here’s how to look at it: Motion slows time because, think of the extreme case, if you were a photon traveling at the speed of light, there would be zero time for you, and so, we can think of any motion as just a step toward light-speed. Gravity, with its heavy hand, warps not only space but time, as well; as a result, time slows down. And altitude is just a variation on gravity; in that, the farther you are from a massive body, the less gravitational impact it will have on you, and therefore, altitude, or distance from a massive body, speeds up time.



the interval is always zero

From our day-to-day common-sensical perspective, light travels from a source to an object; or, from emission to absorption. We understand light to be traveling, for example, from the Sun to the Earth. We think of it traversing space as a wave or a particle.


However, from light’s point of view, emission and absorption are coincident, occur in the same timeless present moment. From light’s viewpoint, emission at the Big Bang, all the way to today, is one seamless timeless cosmic moment of now.

And when we say that “the interval is always zero,” we mean to express that what we call the “speed of light” always presents itself as a constant; or, maybe, better stated, from light's point of view, the interval between emission and absorption is always zero - because, for light, there is no distance.  From the observer's point of view, if the observer moves faster, then the elastic space-time continuum will “unfold” distance and time at a slower rate, thereby maintaining the constant speed of light.

something's gotta give

If the speed of light is constant, then other factors have to be flexible and elastic - something has to give; that would be space and time.

Peter said, if the light from the back of the room is shining toward me, it races at 186,000 mps, and the space-time continuum will “stretch out” at a rate of 186,000 miles for each passing second. In essence, from our point of view, space and time are created. But if I’m in motion, then the amount of space and time unfolded will be less, and if I’m moving faster, then even less space and time will manifest. The result is always an “interval” of “zero.”

Does light really have a speed?

Probably most shocking of all was Peter’s assertion that, from light’s point of view, light has no speed. It doesn’t go anywhere. It is omnipresent in the universe, inhabiting a timeless realm of eternal present moment. Sounds very similar to the domain of the soul.

On the other side, we learn that we will be able to travel, seemingly, any distance at the speed of thought - this precept is supported by thousands of reports from the afterlife. Possibly, we begin to perceive that, if we can transform ourselves into “beings of light” at will, then we might also discover that there is no distance, and no time, for us. Read about life in Summerland.



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