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Einstein’s Freeway

 

Beyond speed is night

Beyond speed is night

Night is plain before the fog: mere darkness, pink sodium light, tight headlight comets. Freeway spreads as open as the ocean or the sky brought down, cars sliding past one another in ruby-tailed atoms. I can hear the engine and wind, and looking down at the hoodline the car is floating, disconnected but not astray, going fast but seeming perfectly still.

Everyone has the experience of driving and ending up at work or school with no memory of going, thoughts on something else and spinal cords having done the driving. But this is being there and not there at all, being in space where everything is smooth, where the car is still and the world moves around it.

Light does not exist in time. The faster you go, the more slowly you appear to a stationary observer, and the more quickly time seems to pass when you look back on the observed. At the speed of light there is no faster left, and the fastest fast runs out to zero. Riding a photon you would experience a timeless, motionless world, the world of ultimate stillness.

The joke went: if you were driving at the speed of light and turned your headlights on, would anything happen?

Americans love cars because they are a place out of time–an escape hatch. We are all going somewhere and we believe we choose where we are going, that we have control over events and outcomes. But almost all our driving is to work, school, the store. Have we really burned all that oil to keep going to the same place?

What you really need to ask yourself is: where is it you are working so hard to get to? I was asked this in college and could not answer. You worked hard in school and at work because you had to, even if you were dissatisfied, if it provided nothing substantial. Everyone had to, all the time. Right?

Matt and I are in the wandering, mowed parkland down some streets, behind the school, past the creek. Up on the hill, the microwave tower pulses red assurance, cut out dark and solid against the stars muddy from city light. We are looking at the stars and talking about school, eternity, Carl Sagan. All this light is from a billion years ago, he says. They’re stars but they’re specks, I say. We’re just little specks looking up at the big specks that look smaller than us, he says, and laughs. The ground is burned with summer and we can hear freeway trucks over past the trees, and we are in a little Texas town watching the stars that may have long gone out, but the tower is there–red, dark, red, dark–and in this slice of time everything is still, complete, a world. 

Sometimes it doesn’t matter when and where we are going. When we are most unaware is when we most need to know we are just spinning, wandering, caught up with going but not arriving.

Fog had come and the way home was smoothed. There were no edges and the car floated on the freeway as the planets float in the dark ocean. Light bloomed and I saw how the light was made to take up space by being obscured by the fog. Fog doesn’t block light, I realized. It makes its medium visible. There is so much light we do not see.

Riding the light, there is no rider and there is no light. When we are going the fastest is when we are least moving. Giving up speed lets everything drop away and let in the stillness that is always there.

Light has no mass for a reason.

No privileged observer

No privileged observer

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