Einstein for Dinner Parties: A Post-Pandemic Primer

A little bit of relativity is bound to spice things up. 

Hey everybody! On this day in 1905, during what he later called his “Miracle Year,” Einstein submitted his paper, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” for publication in Annals of Physics. If you were looking for a clever excuse for a get together (because “I haven’t seen you guys in fifteen months!” is quickly becoming passé), look no further.

Emerging from cocoons of pandemic-induced isolation, we are all obviously wanting to put our best foot forward in every way. It goes without saying that, in certain circles, no dinner party or backyard barbecue is complete without someone referring to one or another theory of relativity. Depending on the number of credentialed or amateur scientists in the room, it may be of only passing importance whether the speaker appears to have any concrete understanding of various details, such as the difference between special and general theories, Cartesian or Euclidean geometry, or any scientific or mathematical principles in general. In fact, broad strokes are often preferable in these situations. 

With this in mind, I found an English translation of the paper and made some quick notes, which I am sharing here in the event that others with an eye towards personal growth might be as excited as this reader is with the possibility of making a grand splash in the social scene. Many of us have observed how, judging by the number of at-length discussions entertained, these past fifteen months, about the daily antics of various household pets, we may have unwittingly arrived at some unanticipated level of conversational stagnation. A little bit of relativity is bound to spice things up. 

Below, find a collection of found phrases which may be sampled and remixed individually, or (depending on the intoxication and patience level of assembled listeners) in entirety as a sort of pseudo-scientific monologue bound to return you to fond memories of late-night pontifications of stoned peers in college dorms, with the wild-eyed, wild-haired scientist on the wall, extending his tongue (in a move that would later be imitated by Steven Tyler to wide acclaim), right next to a poster of John Belushi in a toga. Cheers!

Take a magnet and a conductor, one in motion, another at rest
and currents of electric forces. Examples suggest phenomena,
suggest the same laws will be valid, though apparently irreconcilable.
Postulates will enter.

Light is always propagated in empty space. Recall the velocity of C,
independent of the state of motion of the emitting body. A luminiferous
ether is superfluous! At least, inasmuch as special properties are concerned,
with a velocity-vector of empty space.

Let us take certain difficulties of time.
Let us consider a train. And my watch.
And the times of events in places remote from any watch.

We might, of course, content ourselves with time values, 
as hands with light signals, but this coordination has a disadvantage,
as we know, from experience.

Assume a universal constant 
between A time and B time
and a principle of constancy, the velocity of light.
Define the length of a moving rod in space, an observer moving with it.

We imagine.
We imagine further.
We imagine further with each clock.
We imagine a moving observer.

We cannot attach any absolute signification to the concept of simultaneity.
Note well: x, y, k, z –– and a simple calculation we will now imagine,
compatible with principles.

We now inquire 
We give our attention
It follows
We envisage
It is at once apparent
If we assume
It is worthy of remark
We have now deduced
Evidently, as to the interpretation

––it is clear.

[Note: it is very important to leave the room at this point. Do not consider alternative views. Do not take questions. Especially do not give in to the temptation to further elaborate. Drop the mic. Exit. Refill!]

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I am here to wonder out loud. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

Leave a Reply