Skip navigation The best way to educate yourself

Slowing Down Time with Special Relativity

We may be used to thinking of the space and time as two separate things. But the theory of special relativity, proposed by Einstein in 1905, tells us that this is wrong – space and time are in fact intertwined in a remarkable way which leads to a number of physically observable phenomena.

For instance, did you know that time slows down the faster you move? 


Bizarre physics in action

The theory of special relativity is not just an interesting theoretical idea: it has been confirmed numerous times experimentally and withstood intense scrutiny. Besides the bizarre consequence that a moving clock actually measures time running more slowly compared to a clock at rest, special relativity also tells us that the length of a moving object contracts! It is as if the very fabric of space and time becomes distorted, particularly when one approaches velocities comparable to the speed of light.


It’s in the art

The below picture of the famous 1931 painting “The persistence of memory” by Salvadar Dalí is often taken as a symbol for the collapse of our idea that space and time are separate quantities. The melting clocks can be viewed as a representation the “softness” of time, which resonates with the fundamental consequence of Einstein’s theory that time is not absolute and fixed. In reality, Dalí stated that the picture was not inspired by Einstein’s theory of relativity, but as a physicist it is difficult to not appreciate the beautiful interpretation of the melting clocks as precisely a visualization of clocks slowing down.


Elegant equations

For the more analytically inclined among us, Einstein’s theory of relativity represents a different type of elegance in the form of a mathematical framework that describes how space and time are intertwined and cannot be thought of as separate quantities. An essential postulate in the theory is that the speed of light is always measured to be the same, regardless of how fast the observer is moving. Remarkably, this postulate has been experimentally verified by seminal experiments conducted as early as in the 19th century by Michelson and Morley.


Relatively special

The eBook Introduction to Lagrangian & Hamiltonian Mechanics includes a treatment of the special theory of relativity developed by Einstein. The reader is guided through how one can make sense out of the strange and seemingly counterintuitive consequences of relativity, which nevertheless are well documented experimentally. This book will also serve as a fundament which allows the reader to later move on to more advanced topics in theoretical physics.

Download the book here and find out the answer to how one can make sense out of relativistic phenomena such as time slowing down for moving clocks!


More interesting blog articles for you:


Jacob Linder

Jacob Linder received his Ph.D in physics in 2009, winning several national awards for best Ph.D thesis. He became Professor of Physics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in 2013. He has taught several university courses in quantum mechanics, classical mechanics, and particle physics and written eBooks on these topics which are freely available on Bookboon.

More posts by Jacob Linder