Light is the Normal Speed of Stuff in the Universe
2005-08-18 2200 Light is the Normal Speed of Stuff in the Universe
It's not that light or any other electromagnetic force have properties that allow them to reach the maximum speed, it's that everything other than these forces have properties that increase their impedance, hence slowing them down below the maximum speed.
Most people can't get their heads around the fact that nothing can travel faster then the speed of light. We quite rightly ask why, if something can reach this fantastical speed why it can't just go that little bit further and break light speed? Physicists will answer this question with an answer that is perfectly correct but simply incomprehensible. And also nonsensical. It goes against all of our human logic.
But what if we simply look at it from another perspective? What if light, magnetism, gravity etc. all move at a normal, measurable speed and then we work downwards from there? All the clumpy mass that constitutes the average object on our planet slows it down from that standard.
Some very strange things happen to objects travelling at or near the speed of light. The laws of physics as we know them and take for granted get weird. Time does not pass at the same rate for two objects travelling at different speeds. This is called time dilation and its effects are there to be measured for any object travelling at any speed. It just needs some very accurate measurement for speeds much below the speed of light. The theory has been borne out by an experiment with synchronised atomic clocks, one on the Earth and another on board a plane travelling at several times the speed of sound. Results showed that fractionally less time had passed for the clock on board the plane than the one on Earth.
There are other odd features of travelling at the speed of light - none of which we can experience in our everyday lives stuck on the surface of a planet and moving no faster than a tiny fraction of the ultimate speed. What if we are living on the weird side of life? What if there could somehow be a conscious being living in the realm of light speed that would hear of our strange existence and think it as odd as we think his?
All of these wonderful effects disappear as we slide the down the scale of speed, or move up the scale of slowness as I'd prefer to visualise it. The slower, the clumpier, the heavier things get, the more their speed decreases from normality. Viewing it this way, it seems that it would be impossible for anything much larger than a photon to travel at the speed of light.
I'm no scientist, I'm just very interested in quantum physics and the philosophical quandaries it raises.