I felt as if I was Bob

I think I felt the General Theory of Relativity very recently. Felt. That’s different from understanding it, or solving a difficult numerical problem from a text book. Now I am not an expert of the general theory. In fact, I don’t even understand it very properly. So I am not really sure whether what I felt was the general theory. However, I remember reading about the famous elevator experiment where Einstein demonstrated that it was not possible for a person (Bob) closed in a spaceship to differentiate between gravity and the pseudo force caused by acceleration of the spaceship in different directions. So if he observes that a ball when dropped falls down, that can be because the spaceship is accelerating upward or because there is a planet below it. Bob has no way to find out which one of the above is true. The elevator experiment is what I had a recent experience with. I felt as if I was Bob.

It happened in Madras, at the airport. I was in a plane that had just landed and was soon to take off for Kolkata. I had not slept properly the last night, so I was half asleep, or, since I have my GRE in three days from now, I was somnolent. You know, the kind of state where your consciousness is transformed into a strange amalgam of dreams and reality, the state where you want to be in the world of dreams but reality keeps disturbing you by constantly running in the background. But why was I half asleep, you would ask, why not full? Because I was sitting, on a chair shaped thing, with my back almost vertical and head unsupported and gravity pulling my lungs towards my butt. This, in general, is a particularly uncomfortable position for going to sleep. Hence the result.

But then something weird happened. Between all this shifting from dreams to reality and back, from the cute girl from school who used to sit next to me to the pretty female crew members in the plane and back, I felt a small, very small period of relief, about a minute long. All this while I was cursing that chair shaped thing I was forced to sit on, I was cursing the fact that I was not going to be able to recline horizontally on a bed for at least six more hours, when suddenly, for that one minute, I felt as if that stupid chair shaped thing I was sitting on, got transmuted into a comfortable bed, as if someone tilted it and tilted it even more until it became almost horizontal, or, better yet, as if someone took the earth and placed it right behind the plane for a while. It was a relief. That one minute was the best sleep I had in the whole journey. Yes, right, the plane was accelerating for the take off.

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11 thoughts on “I felt as if I was Bob

  1. Haha, didn’t expect that ending until I reached the “until it became almost horizontal” part. Thank #god you don’t think your readers are dumb 😀

  2. When I read that line where you felt relativity for one minute, the first thing that came to my mind was that “ritual” described in the Da Vinci code where you feel you are in “god’s presence” for a moment.

    If you understand what that is : wink wink 😉
    if not, go read the Da Vinci Code.

  3. vinayakpathak says:

    @pranesh, anurag, chinmaya…
    Thanks

    @Baffling
    ok

    @Naveen…
    Hmm, well, yeah.

    @Harsha
    I had read the Da Vinci code about 6 years ago I think, so I don’t remember every singe detail. But yeah, a ritual within quotes and with lots of winks reminds me of that weird pagan thingy that had a lot of nudity in it. Is that what you are insinuating?

  4. I should probably be the last person commenting on this blog… because neither do I understand the theory of relativity nor have I ever been in a flight. So as the writer of this blog, it is now your responsibility to a) teach me about the theory b) sponser a flight ticket for me.

    also, you owe me a samosa. from pretty long ago.

  5. Fortunately, i don’t have pending samosa debt with you. As far as feeling relativity is concerned, yes, it is something i haven’t been able to quite wrap my mind around fully either, but acceleration has its joys. I guess you see lots of Bobs in amusement park rides, though rather than think on the lines of relativity like you did, they are more inclined to going ‘Wheee!’

  6. Vinayak says:

    @the non-sense guy (for the sake of brevity) …

    ok I will sponsor your flight ticket…

    @the guy who…

    Hmm… My point was, that for a few seconds, I was actually in a state where I couldn’t distinguish between acceleration and gravity… It happened for two reasons – 1. I was enclosed in an aircraft, so was fairly separated from the outside, 2. I was half asleep… None of the above happens on an amusement park ride. On a ride, it is very evident that the visceral sensation in your intestines is being caused by this extremely violent motion in all three spatial dimensions. It will require a lot of imagination to convince yourself that someone has stealthily placed a planet above your head.

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