In Search for the Absolute
Sometimes, I trace back to my days at St. Stephen's College. Those good days! One day, I was explaining the special theory of relativity to one of my juniors, who was not from a science background. She had read about the twin paradox and wanted me to explain it. I told her that time slows down when we travel at high speed.
"What do you mean by 'time slows down?"
"I mean that everything in time slows down, including biological processes like a heartbeat, aging. That's why one of the twins is younger than the other when they reunite."
"But how can time slow down?", She was not ready to accept it as it was. I accepted it and did not ask my teacher why time slows down.
"Time is not absolute, it is not the same for all the observers. It is actually different for different observers." Suddenly, my mind referred to the genius series clip I watched online.
"Suppose you are standing by a train track, you see two lightning bolts strike a hundred meters apart at the same time. But if you are on a train moving very fast, near the speed of light, you will see something different. You will see the same two lightning strike one after the other. For a person outside the train, the striking was simultaneous, but for a person inside the train, the striking was not simultaneous. This happens because time is not absolute, times vary differently for those two guys."
"I get what you are saying. You say time goes differently for different observers. But I want to know why that happens?"
When you think someone is too dumb to get the logic and she turns out to be too smart, it becomes difficult to play the game. I did not want to take her on the ride of mathematics and tell her what my professors told me, but she was asking really good questions that could not be answered without it. I suddenly got reminded of the thought experiment of a person playing with laser light on a very fast train. I used my phone as the train, and my index finger indicated how the moving light pulse. I explained to her how two light pulses hit the wall simultaneously for the observer in the train but at different times for the observer standing outside. This time I had a model, and in the end, I convinced her that time move different for both the observer.
"But it just appears to the person standing outside that they hit at different times, in reality, they are hitting at the same time."
"That's where you get it wrong. They both are right. In the physical world, there is nothing that differentiates between these two frames of reference. There is nothing special in one than the other. You may say that one person is standing still and another is moving. But from the perspective of the moving person, he is at rest and the ground is moving. There is no evidence to say that one of them is absolutely right, and another one is absolutely wrong."
"I don't understand that. Even if it looks from the angle of the person in the train that the train is stationary and the ground is moving but we all know that he is the one moving. Why does it matter what appears to him? We already know the reality."
"It does because we do not know reality. We take what appears to most people or us to be reality. That is not the reality. We do not understand it and can never fully understand it if we keep looking at it from the same angle. We need to look at it from different angles to get hold of it. You think that ground is the absolute reference frame because it appears to most of us that ground never moves. However, we know that earth revolves around the sun, so around is never at rest. In order to understand cosmic events, we need to accept that nothing is absolute.
When you say in reality, you are searching for another frame of reference that, you think, is absolute. As in this case, it is ground. This reality is just another frame that is, by definition, relative. Since no frame is absolute, the reality does not exist."
I picked up the coke bottle and removed its cap.
"If one looks at this cap from the top, he will say that it is a circle. Another looks at it from the side and says that it is a rectangle. Now you tell me, who is absolutely right or absolutely wrong?"
"They both are right." She was amazed by my effort.
I told her about the twin paradox and other things in special relativity. I was able to convince her this time that nothing is absolute. All the things in this world are relative, and the best we can do is to look at it from the rest frame of ourselves.
However, if we think more generally, we would find that the love for the absolute is stuck inside our heads. We are never taught to accept the possibility that both of these guys can be right. We always think that one has to be right and the other wrong.
Purpose of Debates
Debates are not made to prove if something is wrong or right. But actually, it is to analyze something through logical arguments and draw out its characteristics. The best way to do so is to look at it from two opposite angles. That is why we let them either oppose it or defend it. However, nowadays, the true objective of these debates is boiled down to proving if it is absolutely right or absolutely wrong.
We are so much into these debates that many of the things we fight over do not even make sense. We all have different tastes, we like different things, and we all have different opinions. I do not know why but everyone thinks his/her opinion is absolutely right and else's absolutely wrong. If someone asks you who your favorite player, actor, or singer is. I bet they just do not go away with your first answer, they will tell you their favorite, and then they will debate that their favorite is absolutely the best and your choice is rubbish.
A funny incident happened to me. A person comes and asks me what kind of music I like. I told him I liked Punjabi music. and he immediately started complaining. "Punjabi people show off too much, they promote violence and drugs. Punjabi songs make no sense..." he talked for about ten minutes and tried to convince me those old Hindi songs are absolutely the best. Then I told him that I live near the Punjab border, my mother is from Punjab, so I am so close to the Punjabi language, its culture, and its music. That is why I like it. I accept that old Hindi song are good, but I like Punjabi songs more, which is my personal choice.
Quotes From Books
I want to quote two of my favorite authors. The first one is from the book Secret of Nagas by Amish Tripathi.
They are not evil; they are just different.
It is just a small sentence written somewhere in the book, but it hit me so hard that I cannot forget it. Shiva moved to Meluha from Tibet. He listened to the stories of the Meluha people. He lived there for a long time and married a girl from Meluha. So he eventually believed that Meluha people were absolutely good and Chandravanshis were evil. He was so sure because he was living in that environment and took that for granted. But when he reached the land of Chandravanshis, he discovered that they were humans just like the people of Meluha. They were not evil. Their rituals and their lifestyle were just different. Both of them were good.
The second one is from the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.
"According to the American constitution, all the people are equal whereas according to the code of Hammurabi, people are decidedly unequal. Americans, of course, argue that they are right and that Hammurabi is wrong. Hammurabi, naturally, would report that he is right and the Americans are wrong. In fact, they are both wrong."
The American constitution and the code of Hammurabi have imagined myths that do not have objective meaning. They serve the very same purpose of keeping people together. Code of Hammurabi had done that successfully four hundred years ago, and the American constitution is doing it successfully now. If they both are successful in making humans cooperate together, how can one of them be absolutely right and another wrong? They both are right. It is just our society, and our sociopolitical environment is shaped in such a way that we think that the past is wrong.
Vision Array of The Society
Many examples can be seen in today's world, where society naturally favors one thing over another, making it look absolutely right. One of them is that our society thinks being an introvert is bad. Society expects a person to be open with other people, share every feeling, make friends, and talk with strangers. Ye kya gumsum se rahte ho tum, thoda hasso-khedo. Introverts are often labeled weirdos and made points of fun mainly. Some think that their introverted people are some kind of mentally ill. Being a part of the introvert community, I know this feeling very well. And even I started to think that there was some problem with me. I went to fix it, I tried to learn to make friends, tried to be open, and I was certainly finding it difficult. And then someone came to me and told me that being an introvert is not a bad thing. There are two types of people: introverts and extroverts. None of them is absolutely good or absolutely bad. They both have some good and some bad traits. He told me that there was nothing wrong with me.
The Importance of Realization
The fact that nothing is absolute and everything is relative is very important. It can literally save lives. Some debates tend to violence, and people get murdered because of mere misunderstanding. In the book I mentioned earlier, Narsimha exterminated the race of Asuras. Devas approached him for help, and he believed that Asuras were evil. Later, when he had already killed every single one of the Asuras, he learned that they were not evil. They were just different. Then he was drawn to the sense of regret. He retired and never picked up a sword again.
There are so many riots over religions. Humans kill other humans in the name of God. Hindus think Muslims are evil and Muslims think the other way around. But if you think carefully, they both are the same. Religion is the way to describe God, and their rituals are the way to make God happy. There is a single God entity; Hindus and Muslims approach it from different paths. Their paths tend to do the same thing. But still, they kill each other when they meet. It's like fighting with my brother that whose dad is better. It's the same person, and when he sees us fighting, he scolds us both. Similarly, if God really existed, he would chad both Hindus and Muslims and make them sit in the same corner.
We don't need to decide what is wrong or right. Sometimes we need to look at things from a different perspective, and we can find both things are somewhat right and somewhat wrong. Next time you argue with someone, don't assert all your energy to prove yourself absolutely right. Listen to what the other person is saying, and I promise you will find new wonders.
I wrote this article on Saturday, and I thought I would edit it and publish it on Sunday. But things went unpredictably so I could not publish it yesterday. Well, I am getting to hang on in IIT. The classes have started and the work is keeping me busy. I think I need to adjust my schedule.