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.
Would you have any objection to postulating that all matter is a form of concentrated energy (E = mcc), and that all energy is aware-ized?
I agree in a sense but I think we can go further than that. I would say that energy is nothing except awareness in the efferent-output mode (motive), and matter is awareness in the afferent-input mode (sense). E=mc² gives us the measure of how the two modes relate to each other. When we talk about energy, we are referring to a quality of dynamism of experienced events to persist through time and across space. The idea that matter is concentrated energy is more true if we mean concentrated in time than concentrated in space as density.
To say that matter is concentrated energy conjures an image of a bright glowing haze being squeezed into a particle, which I think we could say is figuratively true, but not literally. It is *as if* that were happening as far as particles can be destroyed and there is an explosive dynamism produced in surrounding matter, but I don’t think that there is actually any bright glowing haze to begin with. If we use a sense-based model instead, with energy as nothing more or less than the experience-behavior of things (particles, objects, cells, bodies), so that empty space cannot in any way contain energy, I think it makes more sense in addressing our experience, and no less sense as far as interpreting physics. Energy is a notational concept of how things happen to matter statistically, but I think our mistake is to model it as a pseudosubstance that literally exists.
Instead, energy condenses as matter not through space but through time. It is not frozen energy but an accumulated history which has been perceptually collapsed due to the defining conditions of our subjectivity. We see a slice of the whole history of the thing from the outside as a 3D object.
Remember too that both fission and fusion produce energy. Most of that energy is not from particles being turned into energy but from mass being lost as nuclei either “move into the same apartment together” under fusion and thus save on “rent”, or in fission by breaking up big businesses by selling off divisions. It’s interesting that it works both way – apparently because of the Iron Peak: Matter lighter than iron wants to be heavier – it’s looking for roommates. Matter heavier than iron wants to get rid of employees. That’s my goofy understanding anyhow. I think that particles can actually be lost but the amount of energy generated by that is surprisingly low. The power is in changing the relation of materials, not in converting them directly to energy.
It’s really a whole different way of looking at energy that I’m trying to get across. Once we can let go of our inherited 20th century models of energy and try out the sense-primitive model instead, I think we recover a great deal of our native realism. We experience energy directly. We see light, we feel heat, we hear sound. None of those things can be described in any meaningful way as objects in space. Our instruments and observations only tell us what they are experiencing, how the event changes them. The 20th century gave us a brilliant unifying vision of energy as an underlying quantitative omnipotence, but I think that is only true in the most physical and qualitatively flat sense.
I think a new understanding of energy must recognize the disunity of sense channels; the qualitative deepening of material experiences driven from top down significance attraction as well as bottom up accumulation. By breaking up the monolith of physics, we unify the outermost definition of the cosmos with the definitions which are evolving within (biology, neurology, anthropology, psychology, etc.). By breaking up Einsteinian spacetime relativity into sense-motive perception, we unify qualitative subjectivity with quantitative objectivity.