The Silver Year: Chapter 7

Chapter​​ 7

A Boy at Heart

 

 

APRIL​​ 2012

 

“What stays with you most from that day?”​​ she asked​​ sitting on the sofa across from​​ him, pen​​ circling her open​​ notebook.

“It wasn’t seeing him dead,”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “In fact,​​ he looked quite peaceful.” Her pen began​​ scratching​​ at the pace of his speech across the page. “He​​ even had​​ this​​ smile on his face​​ . . . It was when they put him in a body bag.​​ That faceless bundle of flesh and bone will haunt me forever.​​ It’s amazing the​​ guilt you suddenly feel for being alive when face-to-face with someone who no longer has that privilege.”

“Why would you feel guilt?”​​ she asked.

“I wasn’t always the nicest to​​ Brian.”

“You two didn’t get along?”

“Hardly ever.”

“Why was that?”

“I suppose egos got in the way. We just didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things.”

“What were your last moments with him​​ like?”

“Um…” Walter’s fingers unthinkingly began to fidget in an effort to fight his natural urge to always tell the truth​​ even when he didn’t have to.​​ “I... I... I...​​ Do I have to tell you?”

Her​​ bucktooth grin flashed beneath her​​ chipmunk-like cheeks,​​ making​​ her button nose​​ crinkle​​ adorably​​ between her doting, big,​​ brown eyes.​​ “You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to,”​​ she​​ said. “Remember you reached out to me.​​ This is your story​​ Walter,​​ not Quinn Quark’s, Cirkus’s, or anyone else’s.​​ No​​ one knows about this interview but us.”

Maybe it was​​ the​​ disarming​​ English accent, but​​ somehow she’d​​ become his closest counselor and was pulling things out of him that had long been sewn up, when only an hour earlier, she’d been nothing but a stranger—well not exactly. Francis Jones was​​ Rolling Stone’s foremost​​ reporter, and there was a reason why.

However,”​​ Francis​​ said,​​ I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask. A lot of people want to know what happened that night.”

“And so​​ would I,” Walter said.​​ “But​​ I was pretty​​ much blacked out​​ by the time​​ ‘it’​​ happened, so yeah...​​ Um, do​​ you mind?”​​ he​​ said eyeing a bottle of Jameson​​ and an​​ ice bucket​​ filled with mixers​​ on the coffee table.

“Go ahead,” she said.​​ “That’s why it’s there.” She flashed​​ him​​ another​​ grin.

He poured himself a drink,​​ then leaned back in​​ his​​ armchair.​​ The​​ tranquil​​ glow of​​ Francis’s​​ living room​​ fireplace​​ was​​ dangerously​​ homey,​​ a feeling he hadn’t felt in​​ some time.​​ Although​​ Cirkus​​ had given him some money to get by​​ until the show—what they were​​ promoting as​​ “Quinn Quark’s last and final show”,​​ it was nowhere near enough to get him out of Grandma’s. Also,​​ he was paying for it in other ways.​​ 

Unbeknownst to​​ Walter,​​ his​​ emotional​​ soundcheck​​ performance of “See The Sky About To Rain”​​ had been filmed and recorded. With​​ no single or music video to use​​ for​​ promotion,​​ the​​ label​​ instead​​ pushed​​ the video—one tight shot of​​ his​​ genital-swelling​​ face rolling through the emotions of the song​​ until climaxing in​​ a money shot of tears.​​ Being​​ such an emotional performance​​ and​​ recorded​​ on​​ the day of​​ Perfect Crime’s​​ last​​ performance​​ with Squids,​​ the video​​ quickly​​ became​​ a​​ viral​​ hit​​ amongst​​ rock and indie circles,​​ then​​ spread just​​ as quickly​​ into the general public’s circles, but​​ especially their genitals.​​ The swelling was all anyone​​ could​​ talk about.

After the song became a surprise top ten hit,​​ Quinn Quark​​ was then hailed as the​​ return of the​​ rock star, even though​​ Quinn Quark was supposed to​​ be​​ dead and​​ the​​ song​​ was far from​​ being​​ rock n’ roll.​​ But America wasn’t really interested in rock n’ roll again, just​​ the idea of having​​ a​​ rock star.​​ Rock stars are like cowboys to Americans;​​ mythologized​​ clichés​​ they loved​​ to resurrect​​ over and over again.

Walter set​​ down​​ his drink and cleared his throat.​​ “While it​​ does​​ feel​​ good​​ to finally talk about​​ Squids’s death,”​​ he​​ said,​​ “I’m not sure this is the right​​ place. I’m sorry. I hope you understand.”

“Of course,”​​ Francis​​ said, however, there was​​ a​​ pinch​​ of exasperation on​​ her​​ face.​​ “So...”​​ she​​ turned​​ a​​ page​​ in​​ her notebook, “...how’s​​ rehearsal​​ going​​ for next month’s show?​​ How’s it been​​ working​​ with​​ Jason?”

“Rehearsals are going great actually. It just feels great to be playing with a band again. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.​​ It’s like not having sex.​​ And Jason, oh man, it’s​​ like a whole​​ new​​ sex​​ now that​​ we​​ have a bassist who can​​ actually​​ play—shit.​​ I​​ shouldn’t have said that—I​​ mean,​​ I​​ didn’t mean to say that.”

You’re​​ fine,​​ Francis said​​ surrendering her pen to the air. “I can leave​​ it​​ outI can leave anything out. This isn’t a live interview. Remember, it’s just​​ us​​ here.​​ 

That’s reassuring, Walter thought. He didn’t have to be perfect. He wasn’t​​ onstage with thousands of eyes​​ stalking​​ him, just two big brown ones; the eyes of​​ a​​ cutesy cartoon forest animal.

“Thanks,”​​ he said. “Um... what I ‘meant’ was, everyone in the band has nothing but the upmost respect for​​ Jason, and it’s inspiring to be playing with someone of his caliber.”

“Does this mean​​ there​​ might be a​​ possibility​​ we’ll​​ see this lineup​​ of Perfect Crime​​ perform again?”​​ Francis​​ asked.

Walter’s​​ face turned sour.​​ No,” he said.​​ Let’s make that perfectly clear.​​ N-O. There will be no Perfect Crime​​ after this show​​ or Quinn Quark.

“But what about your unreleased album,​​ Love Songs in a Minor Crash?”

“I never finished it. And the songs I had​​ written for​​ it, they​​ weren’t​​ right for Perfect Crime.”

“But​​ maybe​​ a solo project?”​​ she asked.​​ 

“Actually, yes,” he said.​​ “I am​​ considering them for​​ a solo project.”​​ 

“Really?”​​ She​​ repositioned​​ herself​​ on the couch, pen ready to transcribe.​​ “What kind of sound is this new project?”​​ 

“Silence,”​​ he answered.​​ Francis’s​​ eyes hung on​​ him​​ for further explanation, but​​ Walter​​ just smiled.

“I’m sorry,” she said,​​ “but​​ I’m not understanding.”​​ 

“It’s a​​ novel,”​​ he said.

“A​​ novel?” She looked to be reshuffling notes in her head.​​ “Why?”

“Personal reasons. But also,​​ I like the privacy of it.​​ With a novel, my​​ physical image​​ doesn’t have to be packaged alongside my art.​​ I​​ also​​ don’t have​​ to relive​​ the emotions​​ of​​ my art night after night​​ on tour.​​ I can just write it, then move onto something else.”

“That’s​​ surprising to hear from someone who seemingly​​ enjoyed​​ performing​​ very much,”​​ Francis​​ said. “What’s​​ this novel​​ about?”​​ 

“Death,​​ life,​​ love, existence—all the typical stuff,”​​ Walter​​ fibbed.​​ So far​​ his​​ novel​​ was about nothing, because​​ other than​​ his​​ lacquered piece of shit​​ that he tore to bits, he’d​​ still​​ written nothing.

“Care to expound​​ a​​ little more?”​​ Her​​ pen​​ rapped​​ frustratedly​​ against her notebook.

“I guess you could also say it’s​​ a revue​​ of sorts,​​ featuring​​ all​​ the women​​ who have shaped​​ me, good and bad.”

“Past lovers?”

“Some.”

“Can you tell me about​​ some of​​ them? Your love life is something of a mystery to most people.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Francis’s button nose crinkled​​ sharply​​ and her lips pursed into a taut circle.​​ “Okay Mister Huxley,” she said, “well,​​ where do you want to go,​​ because I’m not having​​ much​​ luck driving?”

“Anywhere​​ but​​ my past,”​​ he said.

“Okay,​​ let’s​​ continue with​​ the future​​ then. This novel you’re working on, when can​​ we expect it?”

“Sometime,​​ but you won’t​​ know​​ it.​​ I’m releasing it under​​ a​​ penname.”

“Why​​ is that?”

“Because the​​ book​​ can’t make it on the back​​ of​​ my music career.​​ I couldn’t​​ take myself seriously​​ as a writer​​ if​​ it​​ did.​​ That’s why people can’t know I wrote it.”

“So will anyone ever know​​ the author’s true identity?”

“God, I hope not. All I want is to disappear into​​ obscurity after this​​ farewell​​ show.”​​ 

Francis sighed​​ sympathetically​​ as​​ her demeanor shifted gears.​​ “That’s​​ a shame​​ you want to disappear from the world​​ Walter,” she said,​​ “because the world really​​ seems​​ to​​ like you.​​ A​​ lot of great things​​ have been said about you, you know?​​ Some​​ have​​ even called​​ you​​ genius.”

“Genius?”​​ he​​ said chuckling.​​ “I’m a​​ failed​​ songwriter. The one hit song I have is a cover.

“Oh, but I’m not talking about your music career,” she said.​​ “I agree your accomplishments in music have been blown out of proportion.”

Francis then​​ set down​​ her notebook and pen on the coffee table, then​​ picked up a​​ thick​​ binder from the floor​​ Walter​​ hadn’t noticed and​​ opened​​ it​​ across her lap.​​ “Actually,”​​ she​​ said. “I’m​​ talking about your work in physics.”

“Physics?”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “I was a C-average physics student.”

“Yes, that’s what you tell everyone...” she said thumbing through the binder’s plastic-sheathed pages, “...but​​ there’s also​​ much​​ more to the story.​​ I hope you don’t mind​​ revisiting​​ your past again—just​​ briefly,​​ but​​ I​​ spoke​​ to​​ one of​​ your​​ professors​​ at UCLA,​​ an Alan Schechter,​​ and​​ he​​ said before​​ your junior and senior years,​​ you were the​​ most promising physics student the department had seen in some time.​​ He​​ also​​ showed me your papers. And while he admitted there was a lot wrong with them, he​​ also said…” She read from​​ the binder: “…‘They’re the type of creative​​ genius​​ of someone who could revolutionize physics.’ And​​ that​​ your choice to apply that creative genius to rock music was​​ ‘an unfortunate​​ result of being young and​​ disproportioned​​ in​​ blood flow between​​ brain and penis.’”

Walter laughed. “Sounds like Schechter,” he said.​​ “But​​ what does​​ he​​ know?​​ He was a great teacher, but a failed theorist himself.​​ A whole life wasted chasing dead-end theories. I’m sorry, but I didn’t​​ want to end up like him. He’s gone so crazy now​​ he’s trying to convince naive journalists who haven’t the slightest clue about theoretical physics what’s going to revolutionize it.​​ Probably because they’re the only ones who will take him seriously now.”

“You​​ don’t have to be condescending,”​​ Francis​​ said​​ under her breath.​​ 

“Condescending?” Walter said. “Okay, what’s the uncertainty principle?”​​ She​​ shrugged.​​ “See,​​ naïve journalist who doesn’t​​ know shit​​ about physics.​​ Not condescending,​​ just​​ the truth.”

“But still,​​ you don’t have to be​​ a...”​​ She tried to come up with a​​ polite​​ rebuttal, but went blank.​​ 

A what?” Walter continued​​ his charge.​​ An asshole? Is that what you want to call me? Go ahead,​​ I’ve been called worse. However,​​ the real asshole here​​ is​​ you.​​ This entire interview you’ve been trying​​ to​​ trap me​​ because​​ you​​ thought​​ by putting together some extensive book report on my life you’d​​ know it better than​​ me.​​ And by the way, just because​​ I’m​​ somewhat​​ famous​​ now,​​ that​​ doesn’t mean you have an all-access​​ pass to riffle through my past

“Actually,​​ it​​ does,” she interrupted.​​ “Maybe I don’t know​​ ‘shit about physics’,​​ but​​ I do know​​ shit​​ about media law.”​​ 

“Whatever,” he said.​​ “I’m done.​​ If you think you’re going to prod any more information​​ out of​​ me,​​ you’re nuts.”​​ Walter​​ stood from his chair and walked to​​ the​​ front​​ door.

Seriously?​​ Francis​​ said. “You asked​​ me​​ for this interview.​​ I thought you wanted to introduce​​ the ‘real you’ to the world?​​ But how am I supposed to do that when you won’t tell me anything​​ about you?

“Well,​​ apparently you already​​ know​​ everything,” he said. “What else do you need to know?”

“How about why someone so gifted continually​​ throws away​​ his​​ talents?​​ Songwriter, physicist, and now you tell me writer. You’re so much more than Quinn Quark​​ the one-hit rock star​​ and I​​ just​​ want​​ the world​​ to​​ know.​​ Isn’t that what you want​​ too, for people to know the​​ ‘real you’?”

Walter stood silent, contemplating.​​ “No​​ actually,” he​​ then​​ said.​​ “I’m sorry​​ Francis,​​ but​​ this​​ was​​ a mistake.”​​ He opened her front door​​ and began to leave.

“Walter stop,” she​​ begged​​ as she ran to the front door. “Why?”

“Because​​ the real me is not who you think​​ he​​ is. Wanna know the truth? I have no​​ novel, not a single​​ page. So cross off writer.” He slashed an​​ invisible pen over the air. “And some crackpot ideas I had while smoking too much pot in college doesn’t classify me as a physicist either; in fact, it’s just an​​ insult to the field.​​ So we’ll cross​​ that​​ off too.​​ I guess I’ll give you​​ songwriter, but​​ as​​ of next month I’m officially resigned of that title​​ also. So there it is: I’m​​ an over-hyped,​​ title-less nobody who can’t commit himself to​​ anyone or​​ anything; just a big fucking face for people to​​ talk​​ about, that’s all.​​ You know, sometimes I wish nature hadn’t made me so brilliant if that’s what I really am. It’d sure make things a lot easier. I envy the average man; the person who can float through life blissfully ignorant​​ of the world,​​ because... because​​ fuck the world!”

The front door​​ then​​ struck​​ its frame like a thunderbolt.​​ 

 

Walter​​ tried to​​ walk​​ to his car,​​ but​​ only made it to​​ the​​ curb in front of​​ Francis’s​​ house. Her unanswered​​ questions​​ began to​​ sting at him like tiny ants.

She’s right,” he said​​ sitting, his head tilted to the night sky.​​ But​​ why?​​ . . .​​ Why-why-why-why?​​ Why​​ Walter—or​​ whoever the fuck you are today, why​​ do​​ you​​ always​​ throw away​​ everything good​​ for something uncertain?​​ Physics for rock stardom, rock stardom for writing, Amber for​​ Catherine—what’s next and when will it stop?​​ But​​ please, just stop. I can’t take any​​ more pain.

A​​ cycle​​ then​​ began​​ to formulate.​​ Every​​ time something became too​​ comfortable,​​ he abandoned it​​ for​​ something new and more​​ challenging.​​ He couldn’t stand​​ to be comfortable, to be stable—to be bored.

“But then who am I?”​​ he​​ asked. “What am​​ I? Can I still be​​ or should​​ I​​ be asking these questions at​​ twenty-five? I can’t keep going around like this,​​ flirting with everything life has to offer. I have to stick to something, stick to someone. I have to be an adult . . . But I like new things. I like to dream. I like change.​​ I like being​​ single.​​ Why does it have to stop?​​ Why does life have to revolve around one resolute identity?”​​ 

The dilemma of being twenty-five.​​ Walter​​ had grown into a man, but was still very much a boy​​ at heart.

“Who are you talking to?”​​ Francis​​ asked​​ from​​ her doorway.​​ Walter stirred​​ to​​ his​​ feet​​ in surprise.

“Um…​​ myself,”​​ he replied.

“You realize that’s kind of​​ crazy,​​ right?”

“Guilty as charged,”​​ he said then sat back down.

She​​ scoffed and​​ shook her head.​​ “So what’s your deal?” she​​ said. “Do you really hate being famous?​​ Does it​​ really​​ drive you​​ that​​ crazy that​​ people recognize you​​ sometimes; that you impact their lives?”

“Just because people recognize me doesn’t mean I affect​​ their​​ lives.​​ I recognize Kim Kardashian, but if she​​ never existed​​ I think my world would be no different.”​​ 

But​​ you​​ don’t​​ represent the world​​ Walter.​​ Kim Kardashian may have no impact on you, but she sure​​ does on the rest of the world—and that’s important. If there’s one thing I’ve learned​​ as an​​ actual​​ writer,​​ it’s that​​ you can’t be so consumed in your own world that you​​ forget about​​ the​​ actual​​ one. Kim Kardashian, as unfortunate as it may sound​​ to you, is the real world.

“Since I’ve already tanked my interview...”​​ Francis​​ continued,​​ putting her hands to her hips, “I’m just going to be brutally honest with you​​ now:​​ you​​ need​​ to​​ buck the fuck up and stop being such a whiny bitch.​​ Yeah, you’ve been dealt some​​ bad​​ cards​​ lately, but​​ there’s a lot worse curses that could be placed on​​ you​​ than being intelligent,​​ multi-talented,​​ good-looking,​​ and famous.​​ Also,​​ if​​ you​​ think writer is the answer to freeing you​​ from​​ fame, you’ll be sorely mistaken.​​ If your intention is to have an impact on people, whether it be through a song, a​​ story, or​​ even​​ a​​ theory, you’re​​ also​​ going to have to deal with them—deal with being famous.​​ People​​ don’t connect with ideas​​ insomuch as they​​ connect with​​ other​​ people.”

Her voice then softened as she walked and sat beside him. “And I know at one point you had no problem connecting with other people,” she said,​​ “especially on a stage.​​ You also loved doing interviews. But I can understand why you’re not so trusting of people now and maybe don’t want to do​​ one. You’re still healing and​​ people aren’t making it easy, including me.”

“No...” Walter said​​ quietly. “You were just trying to do your job, the job I asked you to do.”

Thank you for understanding . . . So, are you going to let me finish it, or am I​​ going to​​ have to​​ call the cops​​ and tell them some madman is talking​​ to himself in​​ my front lawn?

String Theory in 1000 Words (Kind Of)

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By Bradley Stockwell

Because my last two posts were quite lengthy, I’ve decided to limit myself to 1000 words on this one. Before I begin, I must credit the physicist Brian Greene for much of the insight and some of the examples I’m going to use. Without his book The Elegant Universe, I wouldn’t know where to begin in trying to explain string theory.

In short, string theory is the leading candidate for a theory of everything; a solution to the problem of trying to connect quantum mechanics to relativity. Because it has yet to be proven experimentally, many physicists have a hard time accepting it and think of it as nothing more than a mathematical contrivance. However, I must emphasize, it has also yet to be disproven; in fact many of the recent discoveries made in particle physics and cosmology were first predicted by string theory. Like quantum mechanics when it was first conceived, it has divided the physics community in two. Although the theory has enlightened us to some features of our universe and is arguably the most beautiful theory since Einstein’s general relativity, it still lacks definitive evidence for reasons that’ll be obvious later. But there is some hope on the horizon. After two years of upgrades, in the upcoming month, the LHC—the particle accelerator that discovered the Higgs Boson (the God Particle), will be starting up again to dive deeper into some of these enlightenments that string theory has given us and may further serve as evidence for it.

So now that you have a general overview, let’s get to the nitty gritty. According to the theory, our universe is made up of ten to eleven dimensions, however we only experience four of them. Think about the way in which you give someone your location. You tell them you’re on the corner of Main and Broadway on the second floor of such-and-such building. These coordinates represent the three spatial dimensions: left and right, forward and back and up and down that we’re familiar with. Of course you also give a time in which you’ll be at this three dimensional location and that is dimension number four.

Where are these other six to seven dimensions hiding then? They’re rolled up into tiny six dimensional shapes called Calabi-Yau shapes, named after the mathematicians who created them, that are woven into the fabric of the universe. You can sort of imagine them as knots that hold the threads of the universe together. The seventh possible dimension comes from an extension of string theory called M-theory, which basically adds another height dimension, but we can ignore that for now. These Calabi-Yau ‘knots’ are unfathomably small; as small as you can possibly get. This is why string theory has remained unproven, and consequently saves it from being disproven. With all the technology we currently possess, we just can’t probe down that far; down to something called the Planck length. To give you a reference point of the Planck length, imagine if an atom were the size of our entire universe, this length would be about as long as your average tree here on Earth.

string_dimensions

Calabi-Yau shapes, or ‘knots’ that hold the fabric of the universe together.

The exact shape of these six dimensional knots is unknown, but it is important because it has a profound impact on our universe. At its core, string theory imagines everything in our universe as being made of the same material, microscopic strings of energy. And just the way air being funneled through a French horn has vibrational patterns that create various musical notes, strings that are funneled through these six dimensional knots have vibrational patterns that create various particle properties, such as mass, charge and something called spin. These properties dictate how a particle will influence our universe and how it will interact with other particles. Some particles become gravity, others become the forces that attract, glue and pull apart matter particles. This sets the stage for particles like quarks to coalesce into protons and neutrons, which interact with electrons to become atoms. Atoms interact with other atoms to become molecules and molecules interact with other molecules to become matter, until eventually you have this thing we call the universe. Amazing isn’t it? The reality we perceive could be nothing more than a grand symphony of vibrating strings.

Many string theorists have tried to pin down the exact Calabi-Yau shape that created our universe, but the mathematics seems to say it’s not possible; that there is an infinite amount of possibilities. This leads us down an existential rabbit hole of sorts and opens up possibilities that the human brain may never comprehend about reality. Multiverse theorists (the cosmology counterparts to string theorists) have proposed that because there is an infinite number of possible shapes that there is an infinite variety of universes that could all exist within one giant multidimensional form called the multiverse. This ties in with another component of the multiverse theory I’ve mention previously; that behind every black hole is another universe. Because the gravitational pull within a black hole is so great, it would cause these Calabi-Yau ‘knots’ to become detangled and reform into another shape. Changing this shape would change string energy vibrations, which would change particle properties and create an entirely new universe with a new set of laws for physics. Some may be sustainable—such as in the case of our universe—or unsustainable. Trying to guess the exact Calabi-Yau shape a black hole would form would kind of be like trying to calculate the innumerable factors that make up the unique shape of a single snowflake.

The multiverse theory along with M-theory also leads to the possibility that forces in other universes, or dimensions, may be stronger or weaker than within ours. For example gravity, the weakest of the four fundamental forces in our universe, may be sourced in a neighboring universe or dimension where it is stronger and we are just experiencing the residual effect of what bleeds through. Sort of like muffled music from a neighbor’s house party bleeding through the walls of your house. The importance of this possibility is gravity may be a communication link to other universes or dimensions—something that the movie Interstellar played off of.

Well I’ve gone over by 52 words now (sorry I tried my best!), so until next time, stay curious my friends.

 

A Crash Course in Relativity and Quantum Mechanics

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By Bradley Stockwell

In this post, I’m going to attempt to highlight the basics of the two most successful theories in all of physics, relativity and quantum mechanics. Relativity governs objects on astronomic scales; planets, stars, galaxies and so forth, while quantum mechanics governs objects on subatomic scales; particles smaller than an atom. I’m also going to address why while these theories have been proven beyond a doubt, when combined together they are completely incompatible. A theory that successfully combines the two, a theory of quantum gravity, aka “the theory of everything”, is the holy grail of physics because it holds the key to the origins of our universe.

Relativity describes gravity and the universe in a beautifully simplistic way. Think of nothing more than a ball sitting atop a blanket stretched out between two people. The tautness of the blanket between the two people always remains constant. In the language of physics, this is the gravitational constant. The blanket is the fabric of the universe, called spacetime and as the name suggests, not only is it made of space, but also time. This is why the blanket analogy isn’t exactly accurate, because technically spacetime is four dimensional; three dimensions of space and one of time. However the analogy makes the concept easier to comprehend. The ball represents an object in space. The more massive an object, the more it depresses, or distorts the blanket. The distortion is what is known as a gravitational field. The more massive an object, the greater its gravitational field and ability to attract less massive objects. Say a large ball was placed on the blanket with some smaller ones. The smaller balls would naturally gravitate towards the larger one, like planets in our solar system to the sun.

Now one logical question probably came to mind when visualizing this, what keeps those smaller objects from falling completely into the larger one? Or what keeps our planets in orbit instead of falling into the sun? The answer is angular momentum. Objects in space are always moving. If it wasn’t for the gravitational pull of more massive objects, these objects would travel in straight lines. It is this inertia that keeps them in orbit instead of being pulled in completely. Think of a skateboarder riding the walls of an empty bowl-shaped pool. The skateboarder’s momentum keeps him glued to the walls and if he were to stop, he’d roll into the center of the pool. The planets are doing the same thing. They are riding the walls of the depression the sun makes in the fabric of spacetime.

Gravity keeps everything very orderly and very predictable because it obeys certain laws. This is how astronomers are able to predict the timing of cosmic events with amazing accuracy. Isaac Newton was the first to recognize these regularities and calculate them. He believed gravity was the attractive forces between objects in space. This theory survived for over two hundred years until Einstein realized gravity’s close connection to time. Gravity was not an attraction, but a distortion in the fabric of space, spacetime. And when this fabric is distorted, not only is space distorted but so is time. Time is relative to the observer and how distorted spacetime is at his, or her position. Time moves slower the closer you are to an object of mass because the distortion of spacetime is greater. This is called gravitational time dilation. For example, if you were to stand atop Mount Everest, time would move faster (an unperceivably small amount) for you than say someone standing at sea level because those standing at sea level are closer to the gravitational source (the earth) and deeper within the ‘gravity well’. This has been measured in experiments with atomic clocks at differing altitudes and clocks on GPS satellites have to be regularly adjusted because of this. So technically your head ages faster than your feet.

Gravitational time dilation however only applies to relatively stationary objects. Since you atop Mount Everest and the person standing at sea level are both standing on Earth, you both are traveling through spacetime at the same speed. If you or the other person begins to move, another form of time dilation needs to be applied to receive a correct calculation called relative velocity time dilation. According to relative velocity time dilation, the faster an object moves through spacetime, relative to another object, the slower time moves. Time dilation of relative velocity is much stronger than that of gravity. This can be observed with astronauts aboard the International Space Station. According to gravitational time dilation, because of their higher altitude, the astronauts should age faster than humans on Earth. But because they are moving much faster than humans on Earth, they actually age slower—about .007 seconds per six months. As strange as this all sounds, not only has this effect been proven by atomic clocks, but a measurable difference in brain activity has also been observed.

Gravity and time can be counteracted by velocity and this is a key component to the wackiness of quantum mechanics.  As I said previously, according to relativity, the faster an object moves through spacetime relative to another object, the more time slows down for that object because the effects of gravity are less until time and gravity become completely irrelevant at the speed of light. To understand this better, let’s go back to the blanket and balls analogy. Think about one of the smaller balls in orbit stuck at the same speed going around the larger ball. Gravity and angular momentum regulate this orbit and speed. But again, gravity is not a strong force; it can be beaten. Let’s say you take another ball and skip it across the surface of the blanket. The effects of gravity, which include time, are less on the ball you threw than the idly orbiting one. Time, compared to the idle ball, moves slower for the one you threw because gravity doesn’t have the same grasp on it. If you were somehow able to throw a ball at the speed of light it would travel so fast that it would catch up to the point before you ever threw it, like a jetfighter catching its own sound waves. However unlike the jetfighter which can break the sound barrier and outpace its sound, it is impossible for the ball to outpace the speed of light, at least as far as we know. At the speed of light the ball is stuck in the light barrier; its future, present and past existences become piled on top of one another and it has now entered the strange world of quantum mechanics. The ball exists at every time in every place. This is what existence is like within an atom because everything within it moves at, or nearly at the speed of light. This is where the term quantum mechanics comes from. The position and time of particles on a subatomic scale can’t be predicted to an absolute certainty. They can only be ‘quantized’ into approximate probabilities.

Let’s go back to our theoretical ball traveling at the speed of light across our spacetime blanket. I’m going to say this ball is a particle of light, a photon, because a photon is massless and only massless particles are able to travel at the speed of light. The reason being, if the ball had any mass it would distort spacetime and therefore has to play by the rules of gravity and consequently time. As we learned in my previous post, a photon is timeless. It is timeless because it has no mass and without mass, time and gravity have no grasp on you. Even if the ball had massive (pun intended) amounts of energy, it could never reach the speed of light because the energy needed would require an infinite amount of mass. As we also learned in my previous post, mass equals energy. The more energy required, the more mass required so the two counteract each other.

spacetime

Light from a star being bent by the curvature of spacetime around the sun so that it appears to be in a different position. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was proven by comparing the known positions of stars with their positions behind the sun during a solar eclipse. Light travels over the contours of spacetime which are created by massive objects within it. The star’s light bends around the distortion the sun’s mass creates in spacetime and appears to be in a different position when viewed from Earth.

However there are places in the universe where even massless matter, like light, has to give into gravity and the worlds of relativity and quantum mechanics come crashing together. Those places are called black holes. Although light can escape the grasp of gravity, it still has to travel along the contours of spacetime that gravity creates. Imagine our theoretical photon ball traveling across the dips and dents of the blanket created by the mass of the other balls. Now imagine if it were to encounter a hole in the blanket; there would be no escape. A black hole, the afterbirth of a collapsed massive star, is something so massive it completely rips through the fabric of spacetime. This is where the theory of relativity fails. The most dreaded symbol in physics is an infinity sign. If your calculations end in infinity, it means your theory has failed. When calculating the gravitational field of a black hole using relativity it ends in infinity; an impossible amount of mass has to be compressed into an impossibly small area, called a singularity. A spacetime singularity is where the quantities normally used to measure gravitational fields become so strong they curve in on themselves. They become looped much like the wacky world of quantum mechanics. Naturally you’d think a combination of the two, a theory of quantum gravity, would solve this. However it produces an answer that is infinity plus infinity for an infinite amount of times. It is an infinitely bigger failure than relativity at predicting the mechanics of a black hole. String Theory is the closest we’ve come to solving this, but it has yet to be definitively proven. If we could find a successful theory of quantum gravity, we’d most likely discover the origins of our own universe. The reason being, our universe has been continually expanding for the last 13 billion years from a singularity much like the one found inside a black hole. Our universe could be the answer for what’s inside a black hole—well at least one black hole. Pretty trippy to think about, right? Until next time, stay curious my friends!