Re: answers I'd like from an SI

From: Jeff L Jones (
Date: Mon Nov 12 2007 - 16:06:37 MST


I very much agree that tilting is the keystone to the whole system of
SR, and it's frustrating that it's not explained very well in
introductory courses. I happen to be a teaching assistant for a very
introductory astronomy college course called "Overview of the
Universe" this quarter, and we covered special and general relativity
very briefly and superficially a few weeks ago. Lots of students came
to me in the discussion section asking for a better explanation than
the professor gave in lecture. I did my best, and they seemed
pleased, but the truth is that certain ideas are complex enough that
they rely on understanding a less complex set of ideas first... you
build up knowledge like this modularly. So the only thing I could
really do is give them analogies. I've explained both SR and GR to
friends plenty of times, and I always explain it to them in terms of
rotating (or "tilting") space and time axes if they are people who I
think can easily visualize geometry and have some inclination for what
coordinates are, and other basic math type stuff that most of my
friends generally have (regardless of what field they're in).
However, with these astronomy kids, a lot of them have trouble with
very basic math (like exponents and fractions), and explaining it to
them in terms of rotating space and time axes into each other just
doesn't help at all. You always have to explain things on a level
that's appropriate for your audience. You have to use very different
analogies and speak in different terms if it's someone who is 8 years
old versus someone with a high school diploma, versus someone in
computers, math, or engineering.

Getting back to the topic at hand, I think a superintelligent AI is
not going to understand GR all that better than the experts today do,
as there is just not that much more to understand about it. It's easy
to say an SI will be thousands of times better at explaining something
that many people consider hard to learn. But it only seems hard and
mysterious until you fully learn it. Do you think an SI is going to
be able to explain how to cook a turkey 100 times faster than a normal
person? Sure... they can say the words 100 times faster, but the
person listening who doesn't know how to cook the turkey, is still
going to have to hear it explained at the same rate.


On Nov 12, 2007 12:39 PM, Norman Noman <> wrote:
> Well, speaking from personal experience, I can explain general
> relativity in nontechnical terms a hell of a lot better than I've seen
> anyone else do it, and I find it hard to believe my explanation is the
> best one.
> When I was first taught that when travelling near the speed of light,
> distances become shorter and the rest of the universe gets slower
> (from your point of view), it didn't make sense to me, because if from
> my perspective it only takes a day to get to alpha centauri, why is it
> that when I get there, five years have gone by, and when i take the
> one day trip back to earth, an additional five years have gone by back
> on earth? From my reference frame, where does the extra time get in
> there?
> I asked the professor and he wrote some equations on a napkin, but
> essentially he couldn't find the words to explain it. The answer turns
> out to be that as you accelerate to near the speed of light, your
> reference frame "tilts" so to speak, and the five years happens all at
> once for alpha centauri, then when you get there and decelerate it
> tilts back, and five years happens on earth. Like letting down a set
> of venetian blinds.
> In all the handy "guy on a train with a clock and einstein's on the
> platform with two mirrors and a bouncing photon" intros i've seen,
> regardless of how computer animated they are, I've never seen this
> basic fact mentioned at all, and it's kind of the keystone of the
> whole system.

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