Back when I was doing my Architecture thesis in 2000 (entitled “Architecture For An Expanding Universe”) I devoted a lot of time and thought to Alan Lightman’s amazing 1992 novel “Einstein’s Dreams”. The novel fictionalizes Albert Einstein as a young scientist who is troubled by dreams as he works on his Theory Of Relativity in 1905. The book consists of 30 chapters, each exploring one dream about time that Einstein had during this period. Each dream involves a conception of time, and some scenarios involve exaggerations of true phenomena related to relativity, and others are purely fantastical. For example, one chapter chronicles a world where time moves at such a slow pace that the amount of time it takes for a tear to fall down one’s cheek would span millions of our Earth years (but there’s no way the people of that realm would ever know any difference). The book demonstrates the relationship each human being has to time, and thus provides a beautiful spiritual affirmation of Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity in the form of various narratives.
During my research I learned of NASA’s elaborate Gravity Probe B experiment which aimed to prove that large bodies such as planets have a warping effect on both time and space (i.e. similar to what happens to honey when you swirl around the wooden honey ball inside the jar). If Einstein’s theory is correct, then a clock held up in space for an extended period of time would come back to earth a little bit in the past than the control clock that was kept on the ground. Well, this week this was confirmed by NASA, and it is now 100% official beyond a shadow of a doubt (scientists pretty much new this with 99.9% certainty already) that should we someday be able to reach the speed of light and zip around in our spaceships for a few minutes in outer space, we would come back to an earth muuuuuuuuch further ahead in time than the one we had left just a few short minutes ago. Here’ an excerpt from Discovery News:
It’s a sad day for physics crackpots bent on disproving relativity, because once again, it turns out that Einstein was right. The last bits of data collected several years ago by NASA’s Gravity Probe B satellite have been analyzed, and the result is a resounding confirmation of two critical predictions of the general theory of relativity. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Wait a minute — NASA has a satellite up there testing the predictions of relativity?” Yes it does! NASA launched Gravity Probe B in April 2004, and these new results are the culmination of more than 50 years of effort. Per Isaac Newton, the spin axis of a perfect gyroscope orbiting the Earth would remain unchanged for all eternity. But Newton saw gravity as a force between objects. Einstein re-envisioned gravity as arising from the warping of spacetime. That’s the central tenet of General Relativity, and Einstein made several predictions that could be used to test the accuracy of his theory.
… Basically, the gyroscope orbits the Earth in a state of perfect free-fall because the body of the craft shields it from outside disturbances like friction and magnetic fields. But we didn’t have the instrumentation and associated technologies to build such a complicated system for several decades. After its launch, NASA pointed Gravity Probe B at a single star, IM Pegasi, and collected tons of data to see if the on-board gyroscopes would continue to point in that same direction forever — as Newton expected — or whether there would be tiny changes in the direction of their spin in response to Earth’s gravitational pull.