Ways to explain/illustrate the space-time continuum?
February 21, 2015 3:15 PM   Subscribe

What are some good resources for helping to imagine/understand Einstein's concept of space and time as interdependent/related? I liked a lot of Brian Greene's visualization, though some of the shifting now-slice metaphor remained a bit opaque. Mention of experimental evidence would also be appreciated.

(Son's interest is piqued; would love to help him overcome his current wariness of concepts that are "just theory".)
posted by progosk to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The time/space interrelationship is characterized by Einstein's theory of special relativity. When "combined" with other experimentally-verified laws of physics, this theory predicts the equivalency of mass and energy in the famous equation E=mc^2.

There are abundant experimental verifications of the theory, but it might be hard to understand why and how they verify it. Here's a list of experiments which support special relativity.

Because most of the consequences of special relativity are easier to see in very inaccessible and/or large-scale contexts, e.g. the conversion of matter to energy in fission and fusion or the way in which GPS systems work by accounting for the bending of spacetime, it might be difficult to do a back-yard type experimental verification. Depending on what's in your back yard, I guess.
posted by clockzero at 8:48 PM on February 21, 2015

Reddit's ELI5 is my go to for things like this - nontechnical explanations of interesting, difficult topics. Reading a few of the answers to related topics on ELI5 might be what he's looking for.
posted by Tehhund at 8:54 PM on February 21, 2015

Go straight to the source.
posted by flabdablet at 12:24 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Tehhund, the Explain-Like-I'm-5 is pretty much what I'm after, unfortunately the answers there aren't great help; what's specifically puzzling in Greene's metaphor are the implications of differently angled now-slices on what we'd normally consider still-to-happen, future events. Ideally, I'd like other metaphors or practical examples to help conceive time as not fixed/constant. For example: the twin paradox, with it's demonstrably differentiated clock rates is a very strong fact to face, but hard to reconcile with our intuitive conception of time, so any exercise that helps reconceive time is what I'm after.

Clockzero, that's a fantastic, on-point list; and flabdablet: sure thing, A. E. may be future reading material - I was hoping for more layman's terms for now.
posted by progosk at 1:39 AM on February 22, 2015

The exposition of Special Relativity in Einstein's book, which is the part you need to come to grips with in order to grasp the idea of spacetime, is in layman's terms. It's a good read.
posted by flabdablet at 2:18 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

IIRC Carl Sagan tackles this in the original Cosmos.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:59 AM on February 22, 2015

I thought this was an interesting and visual way of looking at it.
posted by guy72277 at 3:11 AM on February 24, 2015

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