Reference Frame

Dear J-

I always thought that reference frames of motion in a Newtonian (non-relativistic) physics world were an elegant way to reduce a lot of jargon (like Newtonian, for instance, meaning pretty much at speeds not approaching the speed of light) to instinctively-understandable prinsiples. I say reference frames, but think of it this way: as you sit in a car, the car itself is not moving from your perspective (that dashboard isn’t getting further away, is it?), but your sense are telling you that the world is slipping by at 66-ish miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour in the rest of the world). If you were standing by the side of the road, all those people would be rushing by you at 65. It’s all about what you choose as your reference frame: car or ground.

Of course, if you choose the reference frame you’re ignoring that the earth itself has both rotational (day) and translational (year) motion. Likewise it’s sometimes hard to discern the changes in life when you’re immersed in the details; riding in the car you may not appreciate your fellow passengers coming at the same rate — or that guy passing you at an increased rate of speed — while the world rolls by under the wheels. The further we get, the less dazzling the change.

We regularly mock ourselves in an effort to deflate the seriousness of a situation; humor has a way of defusing tensions. It’s more about perspective and tolerance; what are you able to sustain? How do we see ourselves, and how does the rest of the world? Engineers tend to want to reduce the world into a series of instructions (rules and references) but it really comes down to how we frame the questions and our perspectives.



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