Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe
THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE, Brian Greene, 1999, 2003
```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
Chapter 3 - Of Warps and Ripples
Conflict Resolution
By introducing space and time as dynamic players, Einstein provided a clear conceptual image of how gravity works. The central question, though, is whether this reformulation of the gravitational force resolves the conflict with special relativity that afflicts Newton's theory of gravity. It does. Again, the rubber membrane analogy gives the essential idea. Imagine that we have a ball bearing rolling in a straight line along the flat membrane in the absence of the bowling ball. As we place the bowling ball on the membrane the motion of the ball bearing will be affected, but not instantaneously. If we were to film this sequence of events and view it in slow motion we would see that the disturbance caused by the introduction of the bowling ball spreads like ripples in a pond and eventually reaches the position of the ball bearing. After a short time, transitory oscillations along the rubber surface would settle down, leaving us with a static warped membrane.

The same is true for the fabric of space. When no mass is present, space is flat, and a small object will blissfully be at rest or will travel at a constant velocity. If a large mass comes on the scene, space will warp—but as in the case of the membrane, the distortion will not be instantaneous. Rather, it will spread outward from the massive body, ultimately settling down into a warped shape that communicates the gravitational pull of the new body. In our analogy, disturbances to the rubber membrane travel along its extent at a speed dictated by its particular material composition. In the real setting of general relativity, Einstein was able to calculate how fast disturbances to the fabric of the universe travel and he found that they travel at precisely the speed of light. This means, for instance, that in the hypothetical example discussed earlier in which the demise of the sun affects the earth by virtue of changes in their mutual gravitational attraction, the influence will not be instantaneously communicated. Rather, as an object changes its position or even blows apart, it causes a change in the distortion of the spacetime fabric that spreads outward at light speed, precisely in keeping with the cosmic speed limit of special relativity. Thus, we on earth would visually learn of the sun's destruction at the same moment that we would feel the gravitational consequences—about eight minutes after it explodes. Einstein's formulation thereby resolves the conflict; gravitational disturbances keep pace with, but do not outrun, photons.
Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe