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Perspectives in Boulder: An Exploration through Paintings, Perspectives, and Points of View

Stained Glass Sunrise or Stained Glass Horizon Setting? Is There Any Real Difference? Sunrise over the Boulder Valley. OR Horizon-Setting in the Morning?

Does the sun rise over Boulder or does the horizon set? Is there any difference? Is Sunday morning a great time to chat about dimensional convenience? What IS dimensional convenience? EASY! We pick our “dimensions” depending upon the problem we are approaching. The answer changes as the question changes.

I cannot resist another example. To drive from Boulder to Denver we ignore that the earth is curved; that it is a grapefruit. We assume it is flat, and with that in mind we arrive in Denver as planned. Do we care that we traveled over a curved surface and not over a flat surface? NO! To get to Denver we can assume that the Earth is FLAT! The flat earth plan gets us to Denver. Can it get us to Amsterdam? Not so good. At those distances on the surface of the earth, the curvature of the earth matters. We must consider that curvature or we’ll miss this marvelous Dutch City entirely. Since missing Amsterdam would be a tragedy, we want to avoid that, and we avoid it by avoiding “flat earth navigation.”

The sun rises AND the horizon sets! Both can be true. What matters is the nature of the question being asked. If the question is “what time does it get light?” then the answer is the same whether the sun is rising or if the horizon is setting. Either way, the sun appears higher in the sky to those of us on the surface, as “sunrise” progresses. Where is the center of the Universe? It varies! If we are trying to launch a space capsule from the Earth to the Moon, we treat the earth as if it is holding still, and the moon as if it is moving.

With Our “Flashlight Sun,” we can place the sun where we need it to make our teaching point.

We have to pick SOMETHING as a starting point, a reference point. If we treat it all as independently moving pieces in the puzzle, it is pretty hard to hit the target. Imagine shooting a BB gun at a target. No problem. Now, imagine that the target is swinging. Harder problem. NOW imagine that the target is swinging and that the BB gun is also moving. It is getting harder and harder to hit the target. Instead of setting up an impossible math problem, we simplify the problem by assuming that something is holding still. Then we can describe how everything else is moving compared to the point we are treating as if it were holding still.

Is it really holding still? Yes and no! If we are standing on the surface of the BB gun, the rest of everything is moving and the BB gun is holding still.. If we are standing on the surface of the BB, it all changes. SO to make it to the moon we have to treat it as if we have something that is holding still as a reference point. This “eye”picture demonstrates the importance of choosing you POV Point Of View. The “correct” point of view is the one that makes the problem most easily illustrated and demonstrated. That way, a solution is at hand.

Advice: Drink another cup of coffee and re-read these paragraphs. While it appears confusing, it is confusing. Basic does not always mean “simple.”  It is merely setting up the problem so that we can find the answer most easily. Call it relativity. I’m not talking about the complex side of Einstein. I’m not talking about the expansion of the universe. I’m not talking about what clocks do on imaginary space ships. I’m not even talking about astronauts aging more slowly as they travel away from the Earth at near-light speeds. Those are questions for the astrophysicists. In other words, those are questions for tomorrow and not for this morning. One thing at a time.

Here’s a wonderful thought experiment. Hold up an orange. A grapefruit works also. Shine a flashlight on the surface. Now rotate the grapefruit. The dark part of the grapefruit gets lit up, and the light area falls into darkness. Is the flashlight rising or is the horizon setting? SAME THING! What matters is that it is getting lighter outside. Our scientist can hold the flashlight still and turn the orange (with his extra hand). Although his “flashlight sun” does not move, the area of the earth grapefruit which is illuminated does change. Relativity at work! Seriously, it is generally accepted that grapefruits work better in the laboratory than oranges. OK, so not so seriously. I prefer grapefruits, so I have decreed that grapefruits make better science. I dare you to prove me wrong!

So what’s the point? Here’s the magic! The point is that we pick what we need to hold still and what we pick to be moving depending upon what problem we are solving.  THIS is my idea of a Sunday Morning Sunrise in Boulder. What is a good Boulder sunrise without some relativity thrown in? What is breakfast without relativity thrown in for good measure? Is there any “real difference” between the two? NO THERE IS NOT! I can raise the grapefruit or lower the flashlight. The result is the same: the sun comes up. OR the Earth goes down. That is one way to look at relativity. We get to choose what is holding still and what is “moving.” We do that based upon what problem we are trying to solve. There is not ONE answer. There are however many different questions. To get the “right” answer we must ask the right question.

Phrases like “POV” “point of view,” “relativity,” and perspective are fun to use. AND are useful to have fun with. With just our flashlight and our grapefruit (our orange still works too) we can see relativity at work. With just our flashlight we can see relativity at work.

OK, now let’s get fancy! If we shine a red flashlight onto a piece of white paper, what do we see? We see a red sheet of paper. IS the paper “really” red? Is it really white? The answer is cool! The answer (do not give this away) is “BOTH!” Do we care? Again the answer is “yes!” We choose the color of the flashlight depending upon what we are trying to see. I’d say “it’s all relative” but that is so trite.

SO for this Sunday morning the sun is rising AND the horizon is setting. Both are true! Time to eat a grapefruit!

Lenny Lensworth Frieling

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