Sophie Newman

Issue 14


He will seem to be hovering motionless in the air.
Where then, is our frame of reference?
Men of science believe in a luminiferous ether.
The ether itself remains motionless as the light
like the wind through a grove of trees.

If there be any relative motion
between the earth and the luminiferous space,
it must be quite small.
Suppose we fasten a balloon by a string.
Suppose the time needed by light to traverse space.
For the speed of light always remains the same.

Interesting things happen to such objects.
The dot-man is taking a walk.
Since he would be familiar only with a two-dimensional world,
the ball would resemble a pancake.
The answer to all three questions is “yes.”

For one thing, the speed of light is the ultimate speed.
Also, we must remember that at speeds approaching that of light, time is
slowed up.
The observer inside the box would discover that he is in a gravitational forecefield
Just what happened to the dot-man,
who had returned to the place from which he started out?

Source: The Book of Popular Science, Volume 4

Method: I am fascinated by old science texts and found this one on the shelves of a friend’s house. I was drawn to the section on the theories of relativity partially because I realized I lacked this foundational scientific knowledge. While reading, I was struck by the weight of some of the language that, while technical, traverses the realms of the mysterious and cosmic. I highlighted phrases I found surprisingly lyrical, then cut, re-ordered, and clarified where necessary.

Sophie Newman is an incoming MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at The Ohio State University. Born in Berkeley and raised on the Central California Coast, she moved to Houston to earn her B.A. in English from Rice University, where she was the recipient of the Inprint Marion Barthelme Prize in Creative Writing.