by brian a
A humorous examination of whether one can ever be at rest.
|You might have heard a mother pleading with her fidgeting child, "Oh, for goodness sake, sit still!" For the poor child this may appear impossible, but it is truly more so, than even the mother likely suspects. The meaning of stillness is different for mother and child, a matter of perspective perhaps, but beyond this the term is relative, and in this scientific age revealed to be unobtainable.
Imagine you sit down one afternoon in a comfortable armchair for a moment of peace and quiet. You have a view from the verandah to your garden where you can watch local birds play and the sun set.
`Oh', I hear you say. `You are going to tell us that even though we are sitting still our bodily functions continue.'
Indeed I am. Your heart is pumping five litres of blood a minute through your body, your hair is growing at 0.44 millimetres a day, finger nails at half a millimetre a week, and your toenails half as fast, never mind the kilos of dead skin you are dropping everywhere. Outside and inside your body there are countless dynamic processes in action, while you are just sitting there.
`Humph, big deal. I knew that,' I hear you trumpet. `It is not something, one thinks about that's all. These small things are part of us - we aren't moving physically. I am left immobile by your argument.'
Is that so? Look, the sun is lower in the sky gilding your camellia bushes. What time do you think it is?
`Around four,' you answer.
Curious isn't it, relativity? We all look at the sun, knowing that it is the centre of our solar system, yet in our observations of time we constantly perceive the sun as passing around the Earth. Sitting there in your chair you have been heading East at the frightening rate of four hundred and sixty five metres a second, as the Earth spins. By the time it is five o'clock you will have travelled another one thousand six hundred and seventy four kilometres.
`Funny,' I hear you say. `I didn't feel the breeze.'
Perhaps not, but the atmosphere does, and tends to get caught up on hood ornaments like mountain ranges, which set the complexities of weather rolling. Extending the motor vehicle analogy, let's put your seat in a car. When driving you will have noticed that it is possible to become conditioned to a speed. If you have been travelling at one hundred kilometres an hour for some time down a straight road, it begins to feel like fifty kilometres an hour. You usually realize this when confronted with a slow zone, and become frustrated with the new restriction.
`What has this got to do with anything?'
We have already established that you are travelling due East at a speed of over sixteen hundred kilometres an hour. Now picture if you will, at this point, while maintaining your forward momentum, a subterranean shift of unprecedented, though improbable magnitude throws your car, the entire road and surrounding country sideways. How fast? Why, at over one hundred and seven thousand kilometres an hour, of course - the speed of the Earth orbiting the Sun. Dizzy yet?
No, well hold onto your seat and look out that windscreen to the night sky. The velocity of our Solar System around The Milky Way has to be factored in - stellar orbital speed is between 210 and 240km/s .
`Is that it? I want to lay down in a dark room."
Not quite - you mentioned the dark. Scientists have determined a large part of space is made up of this stuff we can't see called Dark Matter. Seventy-two percent, as it turns out. Dark Matter could be described as the anti-gravitational spider web of space-time driving an ever expanding Universe. Over time we get further and further away from all other heavenly bodies until the night sky will be black, except perhaps for Andromeda, which may hang with us in oblivion. Professor Gerry Gilmore and associates of the Institute of Astronomy at The University of Cambridge have recently estimated the speed of Dark Matter. How fast is the end of the Universe approaching the windscreen of your speeding, hurtling, rotating car-accident-in-progress existence? At this time, the speedometer reads a modest thirty-two and a half thousand kilometres an hour. This equates to nine kilometres a second, but fasten your seat belt, this speed has been increasing for the last five to six billion years and what the final speed will be no one knows.
Before you stand up and attempt to walk across the room, at an actual combined vector speed one can only imagine, for the sake of safety, I urge you put out of your mind everything I've told you, but remember next time the kids get antsy, give them a break, it's just the Universe/s they live in.