The Theory of Special Relativity

As any Mudder whose been through the funs and not-so-funs of pass-fail should know, the theory of special relativity is indeed pretty special. Yes, all freshmen go through the rigor of learning the basics of Lorentz transformations and Einstein’s brilliance, but I’m not the person to teach others about how fast a clock runs for a rhino speeding through at 4/5 c. I easily failed that midterm, really.

As any Mudder should also know, imposter syndrome is real. Whether they’ve experienced it first-hand or have seen others pound themselves down to the ground, moaning “I’m so stupid,” imposter syndrome is a popular term that gets thrown around here and there, supposedly as a way to ease the pain of those big fat C’s and D’s and F’s you (may) get on assignments.

But really, it’s all relative. Let me explain.

Postulates of Special Relativity – 1. The laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames of reference.

There is no such thing as absolute time, nor is there an absolute space in any frame of reference. The positions and velocities of objects are relative to each other, not to some specified spacetime.

As a Mudder, we get graded on a lot of things. Especially problem sets. I don’t know how many hours I spend looking at the dreaded hmcpset.cls formatting with those boxes trying to bind the problem statements into pretty little packages of doom, and I don’t really want to know the exact number, either. Either way, it takes me long and it takes me far to get through a set. So I must admit, it hurts a little too much when you worked real hard on that thing, just to receive it back with a lowly number on top to define how well you did in getting to the right answer. It hurts a little more when you see your friend’s all smiley about their grade.

A grade is a letter, which approximately translates to a number, which approximately is supposed to translate to how well you understood the material you were taught in a 50 minute lecture. A grade is absolute. Your position is pounded into the Shanahan floors. Your velocity only seems to slow as you lose momentum, which seems almost impossible since it’s already time for the next midterm.

But understanding is not a letter nor a number. The relative space is wrong here; an individual should not be compared to another individual. An individual deserves and has their own spacetime. An individual’s velocities and positions across various topics shouldn’t and need not be compared to another’s. Slow should not be a slow compared to that kid who passed out of core. Slow is a “I don’t get math as fast as I get chemistry.” It’s relative to you. So it’s okay. Don’t panic. Grades are stupid and wrong.

Postulates of Special Relativity – 2. The speed of light is constant in all inertial frames of reference.

If I’m sitting, facing front, on a rhino who’s charging at 2/5 c and I shoot a bullet at initial speed 4/5 c, what’s the final speed of the bullet? If you passed Spec Rel, you know it’s obviously not 6/5 c.

No one really seems to agree how fast (or slow) time flies at Mudd, and rightfully so. Each semester drags you up and down mountains and hills of all kinds of terrain. At one moment, the top seems way too high to climb. Lecture after lab after lecture after lunch after lecture. Someone please take me to bed. At another moment, it’s already Friday and people are going for red cups– oh, shit now it’s already Sunday and there’s a problem set due in 8 hours. Either way, time seems inconveniently spaced. It’s like I’m an ant on that bullet on that rhino– a confused ant who doesn’t know its speed. Is it 6/5 c? c? 6/13 c???

In this confusion we forget that we are still going at some speed that’s constant for some godly being up there. At some point, we’ll see that we’re still physically mortal beings. There’s too many things that we need to care about that we forget there is something called fun. Something called adventure and hobbies and yes, sleep. Something called health. We all run out of time at some point, and it’s just too sad if all you have to take with you to your grave are problem sets.

I’m guilty of not realizing this. I’m guilty of realizing this and yet still pinning myself down onto an absolute board of failures and successes. I’m guilty of not seeing that time will come running right through me, and it’s up to me to decide how I’m going to spend it.

I’m gonna blame it on the fact that spec rel is/was/will most likely be still too damn hard for me. But let’s all try to understand, yeah?

The Theory of Special Relativity

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