Imagining the World without You

by  —  October 11, 2009

There is a way to look at existence which involves the concept of light cones; at the very least it governs technically the ability we have to communicate, to exchange information, with one another. This is an optimization of how people can exchange voice, image and/or data, because we don’t simply exchange information at the speed of light between two points in the shortest possible distance — there’s a plethora of satellite bouncing and non-shortest-distance cable routing, through varying mediums of conductance and transmission, which is being thoroughly hand waved over in this light cone depiction.1

The idea of the cone is to give an easy visualization as to whether two people, who sit at the base of their own cones, are able to exchange information at any given time. While this is technically a depiction of an evolution of a 4-dimensional surface, it might be more helpful if you think of the cone as a circle on the surface of the earth, which radiates outward from you evenly with time – like a rock dropped in a pond. As i sit here in San Francisco, starting at any given instant the radius of my light cone grows with time; in under 2 milliseconds, it has grown to cover Los Angeles; less than 10 milliseconds to encompass Mexico City; under 13 milliseconds to Washington D.C; below 22 milliseconds and there’s Reykjavik; after 30 milliseconds and Paris is part of the union; before 45 milliseconds it’s taken Mumbai…

If i should be lucky enough that a person in one of those locales is looking to exchange information with me, then our light cones need only grow for half the time until they meet — ~in the middle, per se. Should my friend’s cone not intersect my cone until 2 seconds from now, there’s no way i can know anything about my friend for another 2 seconds. Adding another turn to the situation, the information which i’ll hear in 2 seconds is actually ‘stale’ information. In much the same way, but on a harshly smaller scale, that our telescopes which spill forth pastorals while trained to night sky reveal not what is, but rather what was: so too will the information received from my friend not represent what is, but what was.

While we still find ourselves inhabiting just planet Earth, the impact of our separated light cones pales in comparison to the impact of our separated time zones, separated continents, separated hemispheres and slow notification systems; the meaningful events of one person’s day occurring while the other distantly wrestles through fitful sleep serves to sever. It’s only when we’ve gone far off-world that our light cones will define our existence; more than 1.2 seconds to the moon, 180 to more than 1330 seconds for Mars, and on and on.

Now or later, we find in either case when we sit in muted silence looking out on to depthless monochrome skies, midst that lack of information and contact, we begin to infer and make up data where none now exists and we’re left only to imagine the world without you.

  1. When discussing what governs our ability to exchange information, i’m blissfully ignoring “spooky action at a distance” without qualm until we have become such masters of our domain that we can employ this in our daily lives []

Marked as: Introspection  —  2 comments   (RSS)

2 Comments so far
  1. soulboy January 5, 2010 3:14 pm

    ok, so I’ve skimmed this twice, read it slowly in between both skims, and found the idea missing in a crucial point of ‘how’?
    the analogy of a cone dynamic can be a quasi-mystical / scientific construct if used as a meta-phor what?

    Or rather, how? Why I comment is that this is the middle of a whole discourse which I haven’t read yet. I am sure that there is a philosophical backdrop I’m missing here.

    Movement of information is a measurable effigy? I would hazard that quantum mechanics would also imply that the information would exhibit dynamics beyond a cone as information becomes a wave when many believe mythos and hearsay, and particles..well they are points from which any angle the light is seen. That could be a scientific discovery which =true now matter how many times you reproduce it, or the innate cliche that is many a pyschodrama.
    But given that you said we don’t transmit/receive in light speed, then I prefer an osmotic/liquid view whereby currents (and waves) and this time particulate, are carried.
    And then there is sublimation.
    Please expand. Or at least give links.

  2. Loki der Quaeler January 10, 2010 9:06 pm

    Well, the cone is really a subspace representation here – since we’re talking about four-space/spacetime really, there’s no way to get a good visual representation of something in that space and so a common trick is to drop a dimension. The cone in this case is really two spatial dimensions and one time dimension; imagine the finest smallest dot on your floor; now imagine in the next second, the dot floats to 1 cm above the floor, while growing constantly to become a disc 1 cm across; now imagine that over the next second, it continues to float 1 cm higher, the disc constantly growing to be now 2 cm across. If you can envision that entire process as a blur in front of you, like a photo with the shutter held open for 2 seconds, what you would see is a cone.

    (As a thought experiment, imagine the point becoming an orb, not a disc, which grows with time – how that would look in a photo with shutter length of, say, 5 seconds)

Leave a Comment

If you would like to make a comment, please fill out the form below.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

© 2007-2015 Process Media Labs and the respective authors. This WordPress theme began as a public work by Speckyboy.