A Slower Speed of Light
Imagine breakfast. Pulling your spoon to your mouth, you see it shifts colours from silver to blue. Moving away it shifts to red.
If that’s the case, fear not, you’re at a Slower Speed of Light. The video game of the same name was developed at MIT and it simulates Einstein’s theory of special relativity but with the speed of light down-shifted to about a running speed.
If you’re wondering why that’s interesting, all it takes is a look at the game. The visuals are complex. As you move, surrounding objects change colours and can even start to emit light. It’s a psychedelic experience that teaches basic - if hard to conceptualize - physical laws, while exploring deep realities about colour and light. Guess what: they’re all relative!
Gerd Kortemeyer owns the game, and is an Associate Professor of Physics Education at Michigan State University:
"There’s beauty in relativity. You could look at relativity, and say it’s weird, it’s difficult, it’s only a thing for geniuses - you know you hear all these kinds of notions of what relativity is like - but actually, relativity is a very elegant and beautiful thing. And yes, much of the beauty is in the math and that is a little bit hard to convey. But other parts, if you move them to a human level, those aspects become accessible."
Kortemeyer was inspired in part by George Garmow’s Mr Tompkins in Wonderland illustrated book series in which Mr Tompkins dreams worlds where physics is all out of balance. Kortemeyer thought a video game would express these worlds better than images, while correcting inaccuracies in the books.
"It’s all about relative motion. I mean, it’s called relativity, so it’s about relative motion. You only notice these things when things are in motion. You can’t really make a snapshot of this, it wouldn’t convey the message," said Kortemeyer.
The game works off an open-source physics engine that accurately represents light from the infrared spectrum up to ultraviolet. The games themselves are simple: move around the environment and complete basic quests, like collect x number of floating orbs.
The more you move the more psychedelic it becomes. For example, hot objects will start to shine bright like a bulb.
It’s a cool way of understanding the deep realities of the universe.
"The idea of the game was: let’s play around - kids learn by playing - and make a game in which the speed of light is slow and see if people can get an intuition about it. Let’s see if people can start to feel native and start to function in a world like this. Let’s see if people can lose some of their fear of physics, and maybe lose some of that sense that this is all so weird," said Kortemeyer.
- Tomek Sysak