matt grant

sitting still

Curiosity can arise from the most unlikely situations.

An unassuming question from a friend.

“Where are you?” “Exactly where I was. Where are you?” “Not where I was.” Thus we establish that one of us is moving and the other one is sitting still.

But then I started to think. Surely it depends on your frame of reference. Relative to the chair, I’m sitting still. And relative to the pavement, my friend is moving. But relative to the sun, we’re both moving. And pretty quickly at that. So, if we were to take the same situation in one year’s time, would I be back in the same place? Is the Earth’s orbit regular? And the answer was, I don’t know.

Whenever I find myself saying I don’t know, I have a choice. I have to decide whether something matters enough to warrant spending some time exploring and learning. Or whether I’m happy just not knowing and not worrying about it.

This time I was curious.

Turns out, the answer is no. The Earth’s orbit isn’t regular. It’s mildly eccentric. This is due to the gravitational impulses or perturbations from other planets as they pass each other during orbit. The nature of these interactions means that the eccentricity is periodic, but on a much longer time-scale than I will be around to experience.

Hypothetically though, if I hung around for 100,000 years or so, then the chair I was sitting on might be in the same position relative to the sun. But then something else occured to me. The Universe is expanding. But what does that mean for me and my chair? Can you actually define the position of anything in the Universe?

I don’t know.

Fortunately I don’t need to understand the metric expansion of the Universe in order to navigate back to that chair. But this simple thought experiment has made me ask a lot of questions I wouldn’t otherwise have asked. I find myself wanting to learn more about physical cosmology. About relativity and the characteristics of spacetime.

So for the next month I’m going to dive in and see what I can learn. I’m going to ask questions, do my research and choose things that fascinate me. I don’t have any expectations, I’m just going to explore.

Sometimes you have to follow your curiousity. To pursue random thoughts without any concrete idea why or what for. Where you end up might surprise you.