Ready … Set … Bang!
Standing at the finish line for the one hundred yard dash we saw the runners adjust their feet to the starting blocks, lean forward, their shoulders over the starting line, their feet and hands still behind it, and propel themselves forward as the starter’s gun flashed. We didn’t hear the starter say “Ready”: we were 100 yards away. We didn’t hear the starter say “Set”: but we knew he had. And we didn’t hear the starter say, “Go!” We saw the flash, and knew that that’s what he had said: because we had heard the ritual at the other end, at the beginning “end” of the race course.
At increasing distances, news is always old.
Agons of Conception
The sound of the blank of the starter’s gun reached our eyes a fraction of a second later. The runners reached the finish line ten or so seconds later. Ten seconds wasn’t bad for freshmen: not in 1952. the varsity sprinter could cover the distance in less than ten seconds, but he was a junior; my friends and I were freshmen.
The coach had explained to us that sound was slow. The flash from the gun reached us over the 100 yards “right away”; the sound not quite right away. Two things accompanied each other, flash and bang. Our minds knew they happened “together”; but we sensed them separately, in a sequence, where light traveled fast, sound slower: much slower. We knew the same phenomenon from jet planes. We’d hear a sonic boom. Even a seventh grader knew to look for the plane well “ahead” of the direction of the boom. The plane was leaving sound behind, and what we were hearing was behind behind!
Chuck Yaeger broke the sound barrier in the 1940s. The army kept it hushed. But by 1952 even we ninth graders knew about it. My father, graduating high school in 1922, may have known that the starter’s flash would be seen before the report was heard. Oliver Cromwell would have known that. But Cromwell can not have known that the velocity of light would ever be measured. That happened around the start of the Twentieth Century. Cromwell’s contemporaries, and Sampson’s, and Noah’s might have heard sound travel slowly, but it’s not likely that they spent a lot of time, as Einstein did around 1905, thinking about light as fast but finite. No, by 1952 we were not living in the same world that Newton had been born in, or Galileo, or Francis, or Jesus. And trust me, I am not living in the same world in 2011 as I was in 1952.
And, as the following paragraphs shall demonstrate, you are not likely to be living in the same world that I am.
Maybe you’re happier (though I doubt it: me being so very happy, more often than not). Which of us, all other things equal (which all other things never are), is more likely to survive?
I’ve been shunned, blackballed, beaten, jailed, censored … after I’d been shunned, and sabotaged, and interrupted, and not published, and finally censored … so you might with reason suspect that my prospects for survival are not good. And that’s true so long as societies can gang up on smart people, on independents … so long as Caesar and his mob can crucify Jesus, while the Pope and his mob send assassins for Luther, and Einstein himself had a contract put out on him … I still like Jesus’ chances better than I like Caesar’s once just a few circumstances are changed. I’ll bet on Gandhi in jail against the survival chances of his jailer …
Anyway, that aside, my contemporaries may be familiar with starter’s guns being seen before they’re heard, and with jets being heard, then seen, streaking far away … Some in the audience in 1967 quickly recognized what Bucky Fuller meant when he said to look up at the night sky, see the stars, and realize … “Some of those stars haven’t been “there” for millions of years: they blew up millions of years ago, but the light from the explosion hasn’t reached us yet.
At increasing distances, news is always old.
E’en so, here are other considerations that I doubt many in Fuller’s 1967 audience would follow:
Edward Norton Lorenz did math with weather data that few of his contemporary mathematicians could follow. Before Lorenz, the Farmer’s Almanac could predict the weather, but without a much better than random chance of being right. The network news could predict the weather, about as well as the Farmer’s Almanac had. Lorenz figured out ways to predict the weather much more reliably: but there was a problem. If you gathered all the necessary data to predict Friday’s weather by Monday of the same week, say in 1985, and you had access to mathematicians, using them as slaves, the way the Manhattan Project used Richard Feynman and his crew of calculators, and the team made zero errors while making a calculation per second, you’d have your weather prediction for Friday, 1985 by Thursday, 2059. (My symbol is not mathematically derived, folks.)
Ah ha. Maybe that’s true, but by 1990, we could have Friday’s weather predicted, with some reliability, by Thursday of the same week! thanks to number crunching computers! With them, we have the worlds’ first reliable weather forecasts; without them we’d have the same magic and posturing magicians and used car salesmen we always had, with not forecast better than the Farmers’ Almanac!
So: the starter starts the race. One hundred yards away a spectator sees a flash, sees the runners propel themselves, then hears the report, then sees the runners advancing, then arriving …
Yaeger breaks the sound barrier, there is no sound barrier! First Yaeger knows it, then his ground crew knows it, then the Pentagon knows it, then, eventually, the NY Times knew it … and me, and my class mates, and eventually the guy in the rice paddy in Vietnam … Eventually the kid in Bangladesh knows something that Newton didn’t know, or Abelard, or, the best we can know, Jesus.
Before 1492 Columbus thought one thing about the world, the king thought another, the pope thought another, this or that merchant perhaps another … Now some tribesman in the New Guinea Highlands may think that the world is “two hundred” miles wide; but school children here and there are fed precise (or sort of precise) figures that seem to be backed by common experience: from travelers, military personnel … astronauts.
I like the way I started this. I’ve certainly gotten more than two steps closer to my target points. One or two may be predicted by an alert reader by this point, but I doubt that my middle is as efficient as I hope my beginning was. The remaining stretches may be a muddle, at least for the first draft: for the first couple of drafts. Can’t be helped. I don’t know how to write a second draft ahead of a first draft, or I would.
Oh, a caveat here becomes part of my resuming: I’m saying that we know things today that we didn’t know yesterday. Yes. But don’t stick any assumptions about inevitability of progress onto my statements. Our grandfathers could have forgotten things that our great grandfathers knew that Einstein and Hawking (and pk) haven’t guessed at. What’s the New Guinean Highlander forgetting while he learns what our schools are showing him? I am not predicting that in time we’ll know everything, be wise, have achieved immortality. I doubt it very much. I’d don’t predict human presence very far into the future: though of course I don’t know this any better than you do! (or than Lorenz.)
But yes. Sound has a velocity. Light has a velocity. Light’s velocity is finite: very fast, faster than we can see, faster than we can think (without all sorts of special aids — mathematical tools, telescopes, microscopes … academic fraternities (which always do as much harm as good). Learning has a velocity …
But now let’s consider a different tack: related, to be linked eventually:
In the Church’s cosmology, man was at the center of the world. God was what surrounded the universe which surrounded man. Man saw things, thought things, knew things. God saw things, thought them, knew them: faster, better … indeed, perfectly. And simultaneously. In the Church’s cosmos, man might hear the gun second; but God would see it and hear it and know it instantly: indeed before it happened.
That’s a world familiar to human imagination (according to the victor-theology). Many a person still lies in that universe, in their minds. That’s still the orthodox universe. But astronomers, and others, have ceased living in it for some time. The world that Bucky Fuller was referring to is one in which an observer observes within a cone of light. The light comes from far away, spreads in a circle, forming a cone. Observers can see what is within that cone; observers cannot see what is not within that cone. When we put telescopes on the other side of the earth, and then in space, gradually we began to be able to live in more than one cone. But no way do we live in any cones, or in all cones.
And since we don’t know, however much we can guess, the size of the universe, we have no way of knowing how small, or big, or representative, our couple of cones are. We can assume that they’re similar; but it’s an assumption.
I had a class in graduate school that kept referring to a final analysis: students would say “in the final analysis, the professor would say in the final analysis … What were they talking about? What final analysis?
The Church taught that time was temporary, that eternity was eternal.
How could we know that? I know a little of time; I used to believe I understood a great deal about eternity: I understood it the way I understood my belly lint.
What we do see
is puny compared to
what we don’t see!
But how would we test that? Do you know a test for testing what we don’t know to test? What we see is puny compared to what we don’t see (know, experience, sense).
Not only do we only see what’s in a cone of light, not only is the light in the cone of finite age, not only can we not know how much bigger a cone some other observer might inhabit, but we can’t know what part of what we see we can’t process or how many mistakes we’ve made in processing the part we believe we can.
Still, we can’t avoid, those of us with imagination, imagining entities that are not limited by our limitations. Even as we give up the God who know everything, knows it perfectly, knows it in advance, I, even I, imagine that our drama of not knowing is being performed, maybe scripted, and has an audience, that knows at least part.
Indeed, I imagine alternate universes such that a god creates an infinity of universes for no other purpose than to play a joke on some joker who imagines he knows what’s what: not that different from the gods’ playthings as imagined by the ancients after all.
revision note: I’m altering the title, from Velocity to Finite Velocity to Velocity Differential, fretting about involving the idea of a simultaneous world being reconcieved as non=simultaneous, while planning to streamline the whole and get to expedite the killer ideas.
And how do I categorize the main ideas? as thinking tool, as culture limiting survival options? Of course it’s all macroinformation: difference of perception: one Pleroma, many maps of it, mutually contradictory.
I’m reminded of a K. piece I’m just putting up — NEWS: the Governed Faucet — where media maintain a differential between specialized knowledge and public knowledge. The experts upgrade the official version of the truth: slowly, testing the waters: can’t tell the best you know all at once.
2011 05 07 Not only do I have to revise and improve the above, I have to relate it to more than a couple of other modules here: fer instance: Selective Attention illustrating differing velocities of perception among the members of a society: some people absorb the idea that the earth is curved while a greater number still perceive it a flat.
and I must develop the idea of any differential as a source of macroinformation: macroinformation emerging from differences among differences, particularly meta-differences. The information spanning a society of flat-earthers slowly (and incompletely) becoming round-earthers is richer than any details of flatness or roundness.
2011 06 03 The same sort of observations apply to time differentials:
How many contemporaries realize that “standard” “time” is a recent innovation? Our great grandparents, before the telegraph lived in local time. It was noon when the sun was “overhead.” If it was noon in Boston it was not noon in NY. Neither was noon in Brooklyn noon in Hoboken. But, so long as there was no near instantaneous communiation between Brooklyn, Hoboken, San Francisco … no one noticed, only a Newton would care.
Conrad, Maugham, one of those great writers about British global imperialism had a story in which the English functionary lives and works in Burma but still loves his English cricket leagues. The mail takes six months to leave England and arrive in Burma. The klepto-bureaucrat has trained his wog boy to put his paper by his tea and egg in chronological order: so his six months behind will be regular: as though he were experiencing London in the correct sequence. But the new boy doesn’t know this, and puts the most recent paper by his egg!