Posts Tagged ‘Einstein’


November 3, 2008

“The inertia of any system is the result of the interaction of that system with the rest of the universe. In other words, every particle in the universe ultimately has an effect on every other particle.” – Ernst Mach, Mach’s Principle of Inertia (1893)

You are in either Bonneville, Black Rock, or perhaps Al Jafr. Pick one. While meditating on the desolation, you assume that space is merely emptiness. An absolute void. The desert merely nods in the affirmative.

Your inference is wrong. The desert lies. You are not the first to be hornswoggled by such supposedly empirical observation…

Ernst Mach – the man who uncovered the mystery of the speed of sound – was an empiricist and a logician. A logical positivist. He presupposed that space is merely emptiness. The Void. The Quantum Vacuum. He was wrong.

Space is loaded with stuff that won’t glow in the dark in any way that astronomers can spot.

This stuff is loaded with a so much mass that its gravitational field tugs and affects the velocity of everything else in the universe (including Land Speed racers).

Even though the mathematics of the day insisted upon the presence of a form of mass that instruments could not and (cannot) detect, Mach insisted that space was empty. If you couldn’t see the matter within the space, nothing was there. (He also insisted that the atom existed only as an abstraction, but that is another riff altogether and tangential to this one … )

Space has to have mass for inertia to tug on heavenly bodies. It takes the form of dark matter. The Mach Principle states that inertia depends on the reciprocal interaction of bodies, however distant; in other words, a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by another force.

Dark matter is stuff the cosmologists of Mach’s day could not see; suffice it to say there is enough gas and dust that the vacuum as a condition of complete and absolute void does not exist.

Despite what the physics and the math of the day indicated had to be there, Ernst Mach made no never mind for the stuff in between the heavenly bodies – a pretty big snafu, cosmologically speaking.

Not even Einstein was able to suss out the Laws that truly guide (and guide us through) the Cosmos…

Dark matter: The entropy and chaos of the cosmos… Its presence was undetected, yet its gravitational pull tugs on all things. It is entropy that guides us, and it is entropy that acts as a force that slows us down… entropy equals inertia, and entropy is a force that acts counter to the infinite… and yields the finite…

The devil lurks in the entropy that tugs on our every thought and action like so much dark matter; he lurks in the banality that is Life on Planet Earth.

Yes, “every particle in the universe ultimately has an effect on every other particle.”

Specks of dust and pockets of gas gravitate towards a darkness so black we cannot see it and whose magnitude is so massive we cannot come to terms with how to measure it. The stuff we cannot see and don’t know how to measure made Einstein blink and made Ernst Mach draw a line in the sands of epistemology.

Ernst Mach is synonymous with “inertia.” But his own tug and resistance was not gravitational, it was intellectual.

The desert bleaches everything white as stone. It is a blank slate, according to a friend of mine who used to work in a junkyard. What the empiricists call “tabla rasa.” On a meta-level, perhaps my friend is right. The desert rarely puts up an argument. But it ain’t empty. And it puts up more resistance to human endeavor than the pull of a dark star on a cosmic body or spaceship set on warp speed.

By extension, a blank slate is perfect tableaux upon which one can foist his dreams. It is the perfect setting for the Land Speed Record. It is also the perfect setting for failure.


November 3, 2008

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.


November 3, 2008

I can feel a pinch deep in my solar plexus as we crest the Grapevine, heading north on I-5, just a few markers shy of the Highway 99 junction. The closer we get to Bakersfield, the tighter the tug upon my very psyche, id, and spirit. In the basin below lay the wide expanse of the San Joaquin Valley, encompassing Bakersfield, a gearhead’s Garden of Euphony, and its corollaries of honky tonks and greasy spoons, many of which were demarcated by gaudy tubes of neon: Zingo’s. Milt’s Coffee Shop. The Wool Growers.

The wind is hot and stinks of oil, dung and oxtail soup. It smells of history. It summons the taste of too many cold ones in Oildale. Lefty Frizzell on the local AM radio station owned by Buck Owens. Merle Haggard growing up in a converted railroad boxcar. Famoso. Nitro. AA/Fuel Dragsters. Friggin’ Nirvana.

Blazing past the “Rain for Rent” billboard that graces the east side of the 99 in Oildale and the radio is on. A female country singer that I didn’t recognize burbles that:

“A girl must live by the light in her soul… The world is spinning out of control…”

“That’s what I love about proper honky tonk, BZ. Three or four chords and no bullshit. There is some greater existential truth in the simplest lyric. Nothing convoluted, straight to the point, like a drag race. Or a ray of light.”

“Do you really think a country singer knows anything about the path to the truth?” He reaches over and turns down the radio. “The difference between mankind and a molecule,” he explains, “is that a ray of light knows the correct path to minimize the elapsed time between Point A and Point B.”

He goes on to explain how on a quantum level, the quickest path between points are two straight lines connected and bent at a pivot point… the folly is in ignoring the pivot point… he then goes on about the convergence of parallel lines, etc…

“I still think this song is right, BZ. She’s saying if you follow the light in your soul, you too will know how to minimize time.”

“Ahh, but is minimizing time actually maximizing time? By minimizing time do you gain a glimpse into the infinite and the eternal?”

I turn the radio off altogether. Sometimes the truth can only be expressed in action not words. Still I have to ask.

“So what is Infinity?”

“I don’t know what is infinite, but I do know what is finite. What is finite is our time on this planet.” He pauses. “Life is not only finite, it is also rather mundane and fucked up. We find a way to get passionate about things — like these men who dedicate their lives to conquering the Land Speed Record — as a means of not only getting through Life, but of getting a glimpse into Infinity.”

I turn the radio back on. In all its simplicity, country music would provide a respite in the conversation, and an opportunity for me to digest the philosophical implications of Infinity.

BZ would not wait for me to catch up. He was having none of this. He was on a roll. His response was to riff on the notion of infinities within infinity, something that is constantly being debated in higher mathematics and string theory…

“There are infinite points in spacetime — from the Big Bang until the Big Crunch and the constant tug of war between gravity, dark matter and Einstein’s cosmological constant which has created ‘events.’ Moments in spacetime have definite signatures, definite markers.” He takes a beat. “But what about the moment between each moment? That, my friend, is infinity. The moments between the moments, which can be chopped into never-ending and finer hash marks…”

I struggle to keep up with BZ’s riff about the infinities within infinities and how therein lies Infinity. I tune it out for a half a minute as I realize that each attempt at the Land Speed Record was somehow analogous to the watershed moments in spacetime that BZ mentioned. But I knew this whole trip was about seeking the moments between the moments: Infinity.

When I came back into the conversation, he has wired his notions of Infinity into a discourse on particle physics.

“On a quantum level,” he says, “there is a point where a wave becomes a particle and that point can be quantified. Beyond that, there are potentially infinite sub-particles or strings that vibrate and resonate within each particle. It is mind boggling how infinitely small you can slice this stuff upon which everything — jet cars, beer cans, and the radio waves that carry the sound of country singers — is built on.”

I look out the window and stare at an oil derrick slowly and methodically cornholing terra firm. It looked like a perpetual motion machine fueled by the entropy of the Universe.


November 2, 2008


Pick Your Part

Pick Your Part


November 2, 2008

Einstein proved that space and time both bend. Empirical confirmation of this phenomena manifests at Black Rock on the day the Brits go supersonic. There is a parallax of cones which delineates the boundary of the race course, from the shut down area through the “measured mile” speed trap all the way to the launch pad. With the human eye, the cones gradually meld into the floor of the lake bed itself. Off on the horizon, a puff of dusty exhaust blossoms like Teutonic smoke signals as the crewmembers spin Thrust SSC’s turbines and purge the afterburners of its Spey 202s. But this dervish of pyrotechnical activity transpires approximately 45 degrees off axis of the parallax view. Space bends. You are witnessing the curvature of the Earth.

Thrust SSC is rolling,” the SSC radio hums. For the first mile of the record run, the machine is merely cruising at speeds which would not bat the eye of a highway patrolman in Montana. This is precautionary, to avoid creating a vacuum in the 202’s intake which would suck pebbles and arrowheads off the lake bed and into the motor. At the Mile 1 marker Green stomps on the loudpedal. Instantaneously, copious amounts of thrust sock the RAF hero in the solar plexus and he’s blazing across the lake bed, with a rooster tail of dust and exhaust in his wake as tall as Noble’s phone bill. The trajectory of the vehicle appears to be bending on an exponential curve, even though it is straight as a Southern Baptist. Everything is strangely silent, despite the fact that the machine must be making prodigious thunder in its wake. (Isn’t it?). Suddenly, the trajectory appears to change and is completely linear… it is absolutely boogeying… Thrust SSC enters the measured mile and pushes through a shock wave the size of a football field… silence… a mushroom cloud begins to manifest itself in the wake of the vehicle and then WHHHOOOOSSSSHHH… fuck that is loud! The sound of two fighter plane engines with turbines spinning at warp speed rattles the playa and the schoolhouse in Gerlach.

Time bends.