The Suitcase Lady

E=mc2

February 27, 2007, 11:54 pm

One of my life goals is to understand the equation E=mc2. I’m smart enough to know that only a brain like Einstein’s could come up with the equation, but I also know that many more ordinary people can grasp its meaning… people like my son, husband, nephews, nieces, assorted friends and countless others.

I have come tantalizingly close to getting it. If energy and matter are the same thing, then I, who have lots of energy and also mass, have the potential to go nuclear… right?

I think the key here is that I can’t go fast enough. The speed of light is staggering. Granted, I move quickly, but there’s that troublesome gravity. If only I could get in a weightless situation, I might be able to seriously speed up and create some fusion. Or should that be fission?

I keep reading Richard Feynman and Brian Greene. My son, Christopher, keeps trying his best to explain it all to me. He sees it so clearly. He can bring me just to the brink of understanding. And then bang, I’m back into my black hole of ignorance.

If anybody out there in the universe can clear up this matter, I’m here waiting for your e-mail or comment to this blog.


2 Comments for this entry

  • Anonymous

    OK – I’m giving myself 15 minutes to comment on this :-)

    First off, I’d say that Feynman would lothe a philosophical discussion like this – I think he’d say that if you want to understand something, study it! Don’t talk about it! Still, most of us are not as equipped as Feynman to just go off and study something and hope to make any sense of it at all, so we talk about it with people who (may or may not) know more about the subject than ourselves.

    So anyway, I think it is an incorrect approach to try and “understand” what e=mc^2 means. Very smart people spend their entire lives thinking about this and would themselves say that they have an incomplete understanding of the subject. Rather, I think the goal should be to increase one’s familiarity with the subject.

    For example, what does it mean for something to be equal? 3 = 2+1. OK, that does not mean that the number 3 is the same as the numbers 2 and 1, it means that there is an unbreakable link between the two sides – a relationship of some kind that (as far as we know) cannot be violated.

    With this in mind, Energy is somehow the same as Mass and the Speed of light (times itself). But how? This is where the work comes in, and where looking at examples of how energy and mass manifest themselves will help us gain familiarity.

    So if you want to “understand” anything, just increase your familiarity with the subject. Every once in awhile you will say “aha! that’s cool – I can see that!” When you say those words enough you will then understand (or not!).

    OK – that’s about 10 minutes of comment so I’d say that’s enough for the day…

    -Chris is San Diego :-)

  • irb

    Just read “anonymous” and must admit after learning about Einstein in college I’ve long since forgotten how to understand him. I do know, however, that I am LOATH to say that I LOATHE booboos in otherwise highly articulate text. We who lack scientific minds often have other areas of expertise — but I promise not do do any more proofreading, dear talented and oh-so-versatile Suitcase Lady. Carry on! IRB