Newton figured that space and time are absolute. They ain’t. Had he done his calculus at the Bonneville Salt Flats, he might have come to a different conclusion.

Time. He might have asked the Donner Party as they ran into trouble crossing the salt lake how many minutes were in an hour, how many hours were in a day and how many days were in a week. The Donner Party were misled and bamboozled by a slick-as-owlshit map seller who sugar-coated the distance across the tremendous and treacherous lake bed. They didn’t have to resort to cannibalism until they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but the interminable delays as they negotiated their way across the sweltering and sodden salt flat delayed their arrival until wintertime and an unforgiving blizzard.

Space. From where the Donner Party crossed the salts of Bonneville to where Art Arfons skimmed across the salt like a stone at 600 mph, the earth’s surface bends like the whistle on a locomotive as it makes it way closer to the station.

The bending of space and time is a crucial aspect of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, as gravity warps, compresses and expands spacetime itself. Time slows down and time speeds up. Synchronized watches give conflicting readings from different points in the solar system. Watches orbiting the globe maintain a different reading than those static on planet earth.

All of this wisdom is burned inexorably into the Salt from millenniums of harsh lessons. Human experiments are redundant. Tautological.

On a human level, spacetime is not so much gravitational, as it is physiological: just ask Art Arfons how time stood still when he was bouncing across the Salt Flats in 1965 at over 600 mph, as he tried to re-take the Land Speed Record from Craig Breedlove. Art crashed when a wheel spindle broke, launching the car in the air for a distance of nearly two football fields, before it touched down and continued caroming across the desert. As the second ticked off while he was in the air for those 527 feet, time was stretched like a rubber band in suspended animation, then snapped back to nothing at all.

Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and others have all argued about the state of Space and whether or not Space itself is a body in motion. Ernst Mach was critical of Newton’s definitions of time and space as absolute. He denounced the theory of absolute space as “a pure thought-thing which can not be pointed to in experience.”

Mach’s rebuttal of Newton was part of his research investigating Doppler’s then controversial law which described the relationship between perceived frequency of sound and light and the motion of the observer relative to that source. Einstein owed much to this research.

Sound and light bend depending on the velocity and proximity of the source. Like the Earth turning its back on the Sun. Like a train heading toward a station. Or a motorcar approaching the speed of a bullet on the desert floor.

The cosmos and the desert have their own empiricism, and they really don’t care if this knowledge is something humanity can or cannot grasp. Regardless, it will dispense harsh lessons in physics and relativity to those who dare challenge the cosmos’ sense of superiority. “I don’t remember nothing until they tried to get me out of the wreckage,” Arfons says.


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