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Re: <eyebeam><blast> Astronomical hindsight

Like Athena Tacha, I also read Martin Jay's "Astronomical Hindsight"
with great interest. While Athena raises lots of interesting points, I
thought I'd respond to a comment of hers that seems central to Jay's

>>> "richard e. spear" <rspear@ufl.edu> 03/08/98 10:05AM >>>
"Baudrillard ...has his facts wrong about light (which NEVER slows down 
-- it goes always at its same speed)" 

While I hesitate to give Monsieur Baudrillard any credit whatsoever (I
consider him a simulacrum of a theorist), his vision of a domain where
light slows down is not entirely without scientific basis.  Here are
three cases, in order from most quantifiable to most semantic:

1. Light slows down any time it travels through a dielectric medium,
such as water or glass.

2. Light appears to slow down near a significantly large gravity well.
In one sense, Jay is right that "the gravitation of Black Holes [sic]
only deflects light, it does not effect [sic] its velocity," but the
point is that light is deflected into a bend in spacetime that is not
visible to us as observers. Since we can't perceive the extra distance
it is covering, light--or the events it describes--appears to have
decelerated. (This effect of general relativity is different from the
case Jay mentions of swiftly moving objects, which is the domain of
special relativity.) For example, an observer who watched her brother's
spacecraft fly into a black hole would see her brother's actions
gradually slow to a stop as he fell inside. Meanwhile, because the
brother is in the bend looking out, he would see his sister's actions,
along with those of the rest of the universe, speed up and race toward
the distant future.

3. Light slows down in a network, as anyone who has tried to download a
file from the Internet on Sunday evening knows. While not due to a
change in light's velocity per se, this sort of blockage strikes me as
much more important for cyberspace than light's finite velocity (which
Jay rightly points out had profound consequences for physics). If light,
even at its finite velocity, could travel unimpeded in an electronic
network, then you could still download a file on a server in Tokyo to a
pc in New York in .04 sec. The reason it can't is that the radiative
model of light that is the subject of Jay's essay--in which people are
either "enlightened" or "in the dark"--has given way to a network model,
in which people are either "well-connected" or "out of the loop."

I will try to post an expanded text on point 3 when I get a chance.


Jon Ippolito

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