Hey, photons….thanks for giving us this day our daily energy.

Today is Sunday, everyone loves Sunday, what an excuse to stay in the bed for one more day. Interesting enough in ancient times Sunday was kind of the first day of the week. When religion was full-time entertainment, people started their week with the worship of Sun God. Modern day religion seems to have adopted Sunday as a day of worship, but the day of worship seems to have shifted to the end of the week rather the beginning.

Interesting shift in perspective from prospect to retrospect.

One interesting thing about religion is that although with time gods change their form and name, practices and rituals largely remain the same. Moreover, religion is more about humanity than gods and interface to god is more or less an interface with humanity itself. As it takes a long time for humanity to change and evolve so does its interface with god and associated practices.

In hindsight it looks like our ancestors were reasonably practical people, at least some of the things they believed were rather tangible as compared to modern day concept of God. Even though they did not understand anything about photons but were spot on to understand the role of the Sun as life sustainer.

Now coming back to our pilgrimage, let’s meet photons and ask them about their journey. Well, the photons that we see buzzing around us started their journey in the sun. Scientists believe that it takes 8 minutes and 20 seconds for them to reach from the Earth.

Now the question is were they born about 8 minutes 20 seconds ago, the answer is that I don’t know, but sure we can explore it one day. There is a belief that they are trapped in the sun for quite some time before they gather enough courage to escape and travel all the way to enlighten us.

There are some other interesting things about photons.

Firstly what are they ?

The simple answer is they are chunks of energy, a discrete chunk, physicists might say quanta of energy. Yes, these quanta have everything to do with the spooky science of quantum mechanics and the “the quantum leap” which is just a jump from one chunky state to another chunk. Energy science tells is that at the absolute bottom things are not continuous, the measurement of reality is quantum in nature, or is measured in discrete steps. It is like as if you measure distance in kilometres and there are no meters or centimetres at all. It is not that you don’t measure in smaller units, but rather as if those units did not exist at all.

With this quantum thing, did we simply hit the limits of our measurement? or it is a real limit, the answer is we don’t know, but I suspect it is rather our limit and not that of the nature.

We did hit those limits before, at one stage atoms were truly atomic as we had no means to peak inside them, now we have subatomic particles. These subatomic particles rather behave in a strange way and these photons are no different.

If you happen to ask a photon how long it took for it to get here, it would say no time. Well, the sun is about 150 million kilometres away, how come a photon instantly travel all that distant in no time, and what if you ask a photon from a distant star, the one from a star that is millions of light years away.

Millions of light years!!
What the heck is a light year?

Well, it is how far light can travel in one year.

So what would be the answer of the photon that started its journey from a place millions of light years away?

It will say it took no time, or I was just here as if there was no distance for it to travel, but that does not make any sense. Well, that is the whole point. The time and distance are all relative, that is Einstein’s space-time relativity in a very crude form.

When you travel at the speed of light, you travel instantly from one place to another, but there are few catches here and there.

The instant is from the perspective of the traveller if you happen to fit a clock on a photon it will remain stuck forever, no matter how far it has travelled.

That is a good news for people, especially the ones who wish to live for eternity. Find a place on a photon, you not only get a chance to travel through the entire universe but live forever. But I am not sure how it would be like being on a photon, it will either be very boring or very very chaotic.

It is the time that separates things from happening at once and if we have no time in between things everything will happen at once. And from a distance perspective if you are travelling from place A to B in no time you kind of get away with the distance as well.

It is the distance that keeps things apart, if there was no distance things will happen at one place, we won’t be able to tell apart one from another.

This kind of world gets very very strange and spooky so we need something else to keep us sane, an impossibility comes to rescue. The law of impossibility says that it is not possible for anything with a mass to travel at the speed of light. But how does a photon get away with it, well in photon’s case it has no mass?

The real laws suggest that mass increases as we go faster, distances become shorter, the increase is such that mass becomes infinite and distance becomes zero as an object with non-zero mass travels at the speed of light.

Such an object will be a very very heavy object, to move those heavy objects you will need lots of energy. You need the energy to move mass and as mass is energy and energy is mass you need the energy to move energy and mass to move mass.

That is a very confusing sentence, but it is mathematically correct.

Why invoke mathematics ? well, because we can, mathematics is kind of another way of looking at the world. It is another kind of abstraction and depending on who you ask–such and abstraction may be a rather profound one.

“Philosophy is written in that great book which ever is before our eyes — I mean the universe — but we cannot understand it if we do not first learn the language and grasp the symbols in which it is written. The book is written in mathematical language, and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single word of it; without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.” Galileo Galilei

But whatever the mathematics says, two things are clear;

One is that these photons are tireless creatures, they are constantly flowing through this invisible stream of energy, hauling incredible loads from places of abundance to places of scarcity. It is this stream of photons that continue to maintain the energy churn in the universe and keeps things energised around us.

No doubt these photos are truly selfless creatures, they have no motive of their own, and they make a stupendous effort to escape from the gigantic pull of sun’s gravity and make this voyage deliver our daily dose of energy.

How we turn that energy into our daily bread is something we can explore later ? For the time being, we can at least assure us that our ancestors were not outright stupid as they worshipped their Sun God, “the ultimate house of photons”, I think photons do deserve our due respect and are worthy of a daily homage.

The second observation is that it is all about perspective, things look very very different from different perspectives, a photon’s point of view is very very different from that of an observer on earth. We will explore the observation part in due course.

Originally published at scriptgrandeur.wordpress.com on August 21, 2016.

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