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Light Has No Speed

Part of multisense realism is a new interpretation of light – what it actually is. As I am not a physicist, there is no way to introduce this idea without sounding like a crackpot, but nevertheless I have not found any reason to suspect that this view is wrong. To the contrary, the more time that goes by and the more experts who I talk to about it with, the more I am confident that this understanding is closer to the truth than any other that I have come across. To begin with, it is necessary to come to grips with the worldview which is implied by Einstein’s Special Relativity. In doing so, I think that it can be said that actually, There Is No ‘Speed of Light’.

At least not in the way that most people would think of it, if they did ever think of it. There is a speed at which a state of illumination radiates from molecule to molecule or body to body which depends on physical qualities of the bodies in question, but I think that it is correct to say that light does not travel ‘through’ a vacuum at all, but figuratively jumps from within bodies sympathetically through perception and imitative participation.  It is the behavior of matter which waves and scatters, not independent projectiles or structures of any kind. Light, warmth, color, motion, are experiences, not objects.

Albert Einstein postulated that the speed of light with respect to any inertial frame is independent of the motion of the light source, and explored the consequences of that postulate by deriving the special theory of relativity and showing that the parameter c had relevance outside of the context of light and electromagnetism. After centuries of increasingly precise measurements, in 1975 the speed of light was known to be 299,792,458 m/s with a measurement uncertainty of 4 parts per billion. In 1983, the metre was redefined in the International System of Units (SI) as the distance travelled by light in vacuum in 1 ⁄ 299,792,458 of a second. As a result, the numerical value of c in metres per second is now fixed exactly by the definition of the metre.

I’m not an expert by any means, but the thing that makes light interesting is in the first sentence above: “the speed of light with respect to any inertial frame is independent of the motion of the light source”. This is that business of how velocities are added among moving objects, but not with light. Light is always faster than any object, no matter how fast the object is moving. Light is not just the fastest thing, it is the thing that defines faster-than-anything-elseness.

What I think special relativity tells us is that contrary to this conception of light,

what is actually going on looks like this:


This is the tricky part because although my rendition of the entire beam appearing instantaneously is, I think, correct within this hypothetical setup of a human scale train, if this train were millions of times larger, then it could be argued that the beam would actually grow non-instantaneously compared to a human sized observer (i.e. miniscule). Rather than thinking of being able to see light moving, I think we have to anchor ourselves in the fixed Einsteinian constant of c, and understand that the latency which we observe (in a radio transmission between a distant spacecraft and the control center on Earth, for example), is not the result of waves of ‘energy’ traveling through space from antenna to antenna, but rather a reflection of the relative scales of the events involved. When we talk to the spacecraft we have to use a much larger ‘here-and-now’ compared to our own native human scaled time, so that the nesting of smaller and larger nows is reflected as scaled experiences of delay. This is just how matter makes sense of itself on different scales. It is not the speed of light, it is the speed of speed or the speed of sense, matter, or time.

The picture that I propose would be more accurate is this:


As our naive perception suggests, there is no concretely real ‘beam’ of light, rather there is a spot of light present at the target, as well as an illumination at the flashlight source, and in our eyes, and (not pictured) in our upscaled human mind.

In other words, when we think of light as having a speed, we are not really understanding the full ramifications of special relativity and are merely projecting our Newtonian-Cartesian prejudices onto something which is not classical. The reason that it is not classical, however, I propose, is because visible light is not a projectile at all, but rather access to visual sensitivity, i.e. an extension of self-experience to incorporate the appearance of non-self in the visual range of percpeption (as opposed to tactile, aural, olfactory, emotional, or intellectual).

*gifs cannibalized from here.

  1. October 5, 2012 at 2:22 am

    Amazing post! Although I had trouble understanding it, I believe what you say is believable and sheds a new perspective on how I see perception!

  2. October 10, 2012 at 5:39 am

    I think of photons as being states of information. Light traveling thru the vacuum of space doesn’t exist as light with nothing to be illuminated. Only the idea of light is sent out like a message in search of an object to receive it. A perfectly transparent object does not know how to “hear” the information in that message, and thus the photons continue on their journey while the object remains unlit. We never see a photon; we only see the surface which is struck, in its new state having been altered by light. The speed of light from source to object is only half of its path; the light isn’t light until the information reaches our eyes and brains. (Is that close to what you are saying?)

    • October 10, 2012 at 11:25 am

      Yes, this is close to what I am saying – however, the revolutionary, brain melting, Earth shattering step that is still necessary is to question what ‘information’ or a ‘message’ really is while it is traveling between the sender and a receiver. What is it made of? What laws govern it?

      Once you can entertain the idea that ‘information’ is itself an idea that infers how concrete experiences are perceived and interpreted, you can begin to see that it is only a metaphor. There is no actual information there. There is no message-ness flying through space literally. Complex organisms like us have separate channels of experience, so that our thoughts are interpretations of our perceptions, which are interpretations of our sensations, which are interpretations of our cellular and molecular detections, etc, but on the lowest levels of atomic interaction, I suspect that they are all the same thing – Just one sense which detects, orients, projects, and responds, and through that interaction, larger groups of molecules, structures, bodies, and bodies within bodies (organisms) are able to participate in a higher quality of sense interaction.

      You are right when you say that a perfectly transparent object doesn’t know how to hear the information, and that it why it cannot be illuminated by it. What I think that really means though, is not that there is a photon passing through it which doesn’t get flagged down and absorbed/reflected but rather it means that the transparent target of the light is simply not sensitive to the source in that range of sensitivity. There is nothing whatsoever in between the source (light bulb) and the target (eye glasses) which the glass molecules are colliding with, rather, the glass itself can ‘see’ the light bulb in some ways, but not in others. This example is an ideal example in a vacuum. In an atmosphere you’ve got gaseous molecules in between which are themselves targets, each receiving and expressing their version of what they have received like a game of telephone. All of these molecules respond however, not by releasing projectiles into space, but by changing their own configuration, and when they do, everything in the universe notices on one level, close things notice on another level, transparent things notice on another level, heavy things notice in other ways, etc.

      Everything has its own class of recognition and self-reconfiguration, and the higher the quality of the grouping (experiences of higher organisms), the more unique and idiosyncratic their class is, at least in their own estimation. It is difficult to know whether human individuality is really as many orders of magnitude more significant as say mouse individuality, but that either is a relative bias which is inherent with sense that is complete fiction (which means more of a Horton Hears a Who universe where ever particle of dust is literally like a planet full of human quality citizens) or there is some objective truth to this bias and mice are to some extent lacking in individuality compared to dogs and family members. This really is multisense realism in nutshell. I hope my answer makes some sense, thanks for asking. Feel free to ask more if anything seems unclear. The bottom line is, information and energy are metaphors. They make our equations work out so that we can account for and control effects in our world by impersonal means (rather than directly by personal or sub=personal means, as we control the content of our own attention). What we are really talking about when we say information is that we know that something has been informed by something else. Something’s state has been changed and something can tell the difference. It is happening at the receiving end and refers back to the source but implies no physical collisions, at least not on the very bottom levels which give rise to matter (whether that is at the subatomic level, molecular level, or above). At whatever point we choose, beneath that there is sensemaking taking place. Something is making sense of something. I suspect that it is the subatomic level which is, for us at least (and this goes back to the unacceptable, Horton Hears A Who pan-anthropism) which is the sense of atoms rather than independent structures. I could be wrong. Photons could be separate structures…which are intangible, invisible, massless, ambiguously formless givers of form which travel between surfaces of objects at infinite speed within any inertial frame, but, um, what the hell kind of a structure is that? How does that carry information?

      It doesn’t. Emperors New Clothes. Our brains are made of the same atoms as everything else. If I can see and feel someone smiling at me from across the room without pieces of their mouth colliding with my eyeballs, then atoms might be able to do the same thing. They see. Not focused animal vision of a billion years of evolved quality, but what they lack in qualities of focus and intelligibility they make up for in universality. They see it ALL, but only barely (assuming non-pan-anthropism).

  3. October 16, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Reblogged this on msamba.

  4. February 17, 2013 at 2:29 am

    Ok, so I’m not crazy. Or at least not alone in my state of being such. I had begun to try to find some proof of a “speed of light”, beyond the theoretical, some time ago and after finding none, I propose that light might as likely exist as a constant within a field like magnetism and darkness exists where light either been eclipsed or when the light source is not producing.

    • February 17, 2013 at 3:01 am

      Yes, it’s interesting to when you start to look at physics from the perspective of what we have actually observed rather than the official interpretation of those observations. What do we really mean by light? What really is a field?

      From what I have pieced together, the only explanation which makes sense every way that can possibly I look at it is that light is a visual feeling, and that electromagnetism and optics are founded in a misconception. The misconception is that privacy is a trivial oddity of the human organism rather than the ontological source of ontology itself. To exist – as object, subject, force, field or law of nature depends, in my estimation on a capacity for sensory participation of some kind. That is what electromagnetism actually is: sensory-motor interaction on the microcosmic scale. Photons are figurative, and the speed of light is the speed of matter’s sensitivity to its own separation from itself.

  5. jeff
    May 2, 2013 at 4:15 am

    there is plenty of proof of how fast light is travelling. When scientists communicate with objects in outer space it takes time for the messages to get here. Your argument is really just rhetoric. Light does not depend on our feelings or perception, it just is.

    • May 2, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      Proof in this case is when we infer that something is true by interaction with instruments, is it not? There is latency in communication, yes. The latency of transmitting and receiving electromagnetic signals in a vacuum can be deduced that way, but that is not to say it is evidence that this process relies on light particles traveling in a vacuum independently of the instruments. In the same way that when we see someone smile at us from across the street, it takes a certain amount of time for us to recognize them and smile back, but that does not mean that our smiles are flying across the street independently of our face. See what I mean? The universe is not made of matter or energy, it is made of perceptual participation. I could be wrong about photons, but it doesn’t matter, because the processes which cause photons to be generated and emitted would then become the fundamental level of sense participation. It is only because of the odd properties of light, the massless nature, its quantum nature, as well as our ordinary experience of illumination as a sensory medium through which we see rather than a torrent of particle streams which collide with our eye that I suggest that it may actually be at the subatomic level where objectivity itself begins to break down (from our perspective as humans anyways).

      I did not say that light depends on *our* feelings or perceptions, I say that light *is* itself the feeling-perception of matter. Energy is an abstraction, it does not exist as forms or functions in free-standing vacuum, it works like a crowd wave, contagiously, in node-to-node imitation/reflection/inversion/augmentation…

  6. Rodrigo
    June 15, 2015 at 8:35 am

    so basically if I point out a laser from the moon to earth, Its light will reach earth instantly?
    If so, I believe.!

    • June 15, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      “instantly” is relative. Considering the distance between the Earth and the Moon, the time that it takes for matter on the moon to be illuminated and for something on Earth to detect that illuminated state, 1.282 seconds is as instant as instant gets. What I propose is that this latency reflects the scale of the various frames of reference involved – it’s a way of honoring the reality of scale and ratio, not evidence that light is physically present in the gap between the Earth and Moon.

  7. daramantus
    September 26, 2015 at 5:14 am

    I don’t believe that light depends on us to exist, this is completely nonsense. Bright light exists completely independent of human perception, and we do have a lot of evidences with no human presence.
    But I also believe that light has no speed, I mean, I do believe that particles of light (photons) are travelling, however, electromagnetic waves spreads out in an infinity speed. (when you look at the sun, you are not seeing the past …from the distance of the sun, electromagnetic waves reproduces in the earth instantly, not travelling at all..

    • September 26, 2015 at 12:56 pm

      It’s very common for people to think that I’m saying that light depends on *us* to exist, but that isn’t the case. In my view, human beings could disappear forever from the universe and it would not make much of a difference in the big picture. What I am saying is that light is a visual feeling, not an independent particle or wave. We see it as a particle or wave because we are using instruments which respond that way to being illuminated.

      Having said that though, there is no such thing as evidence with no human presence. What is evidence for us can only be that which is evident to human sense experience. When we think that we see the results of an experiment, it can only be what is seen through human presence. There can be no human access to nature outside of all human presence.

      As far as light having infinite speed (or technically infinite rapidity), we agree, although there is latency between transmitter and receiver. We know that the latency exists because we see it in our communications. Transmitting signals to astronauts for example carries a delay. I think this shows only how space and time work and not how light works.

      • daramantus
        September 29, 2015 at 7:03 am

        There is a common quote from vsauce “Look at your feet. You’re seeing them as they were about 5 nanoseconds ago. That’s how long it takes light from them to reach your eyes.”
        I don’t think this is true at all…I don’t think we are seeing the past when we look at the sun, or vision still a mystery, or there is something wrong…
        this video below is a proof that we are not seeing the past in any moment of our lives…even when we look at the sun I believe we see the sun as It is now
        look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRV1em–gaM
        If the camera is capturing individual photons of light pulsed into a 3 dimensional scene, what is hitting the camera sensors to produce the image? How can one photon of light be inside the coke bottle AND hitting the camera’s sensor at the same time?
        light waves are not travelling, this is the only explanation.

  8. September 29, 2015 at 9:24 am

    I have had similar thoughts, and I agree that light waves are not traveling in the sense of moving through empty space. There does seem to latency though in electromagnetic transmission. When we communicate with astronauts, there is a delay. There have been tests, such as Hafele-Keating which show time dilation in precise clocks at high speed.

    • daramantus
      September 30, 2015 at 7:15 am

      actually, there is no delay of astronauts communications between here and moon

      • September 30, 2015 at 12:10 pm

        There was no delay in Mission Control’s response to the astronauts because they are recording it at Mission Control. Whenever they receive a signal from the Moon, it is being recorded along with their immediate response to the astronauts words, immediately. If you were taping on the Moon instead, then it would be Mission Control who lags behind instead.

        Because we are hearing Earth’s responses, the delay would be after Mission Control transmits to the astronauts, not after Mission Control receives. It would take 1.3 seconds for the astronauts to hear Mission Control before they could respond.

        In this video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtwSgvstl8c you can hear at 1:35 the only time on this video that Armstrong responds to Mission Control, and there is the expected delay (he doesn’t reply until 1:38). So actually there is a delay, as expected. http://www.spaceacademy.net.au/spacelink/commdly.htm

  9. Kyle Garcia
    February 25, 2017 at 7:48 am

    I typed into my google.search light has no speed it exists or doesn’t and this helps to unravel what I was thinking a bit I’m not a scientist or highly educated but I think about a lot of things and I think when they say we are seeing stars that don’t exist any more I don’t believe that can be I believe that light is not traveling the distance at all and when the source extinguishes there is no beam remaining still moving though space to our eye it is simply gone at the time the source is gone I don’t know if you can understand what I’m saying but your writing help me to understand better what I was thinking so thanks

    • February 25, 2017 at 11:56 am

      Yes, I understand what you mean. The clues are in the aesthetics. A beam of light can only exist in some medium like a vapor, where the particles are large enough to cause a visible effect for us when they are illuminated. I think that we are more seeing illuminated particles than a beam of light in empty space being captured by the particles. The beam is more figurative than literal. What is more literal is the shared state change common to the particles. It is a feeling-doing empathy experience, not a geometry of unconscious mechanics and geometry. The unconscious mechanics and geometry are a side effect of our distance from the microphenomenal scale of experience. IMO. I’m not sure that doesn’t mean that what we see of a star isn’t billions of years old, but even if that’s true, there may be much more to it than that.

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