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Are we moving through time with constant speed? Or we're constantly accelerating through time?

Under special relativity, everyone and everything moves at a constant speed `c` through spacetime. If you feel like you're not moving, it's because all your speed is being put towards travelling faster through time. Conversely, if you manage to move very fast through space, the world around you will appear to speed up, because you've had to trade off some of your forward travel through time so as to travel in space; the rest of the world is moving forward in time faster than you are.

So you can change your acceleration through the time dimension of spacetime, by dint of changing your acceleration in the spatial ones.

I've always intuitively understood this to be the reason why it would take infinite force to achieve light speed for a massive object. When we apply a physical force, it is applied in the spatial axes, so it is always perpendicular to the time axis. Acceleration is just rotating some magnitude of your fixed velocity vector out of the time axis and into the spatial axes. When your spatial velocity is apparently zero, then the component of force that is perpendicular to your velocity is large, so you achieve a large deflection. But as you rotate velocity out of time and into space, it becomes more perpendicular to time, so any force applied perpendicularly to time is now more parallel to your velocity, having a smaller component perpendicular to one's velocity. You can't rotate a vector with a parallel force.

This is also why you can't travel backwards in time through just acceleration. There is no way to impart a force perpendicular to your velocity vector when it is already perpendicular to time, giving you no way to rotate the vector to have a component that points backward in time.

So I've always wondered, whether general relativity allows for forces parallel to time, and we just don't know of any mechanism to actually do so, or if it does not cover such cases because we have no mechanism, or if it disallows it entirely.

This is a useful way to think about it, but you have to keep in mind that (even flat) spacetime is not Euclidean but Minkowskian: in the distance metric, time has an opposite sign to the spatial dimensions. So when you "rotate" a four-vector, it actually follows the surface of a hyperboloid rather than a sphere, which means that rotation has a discontinuity at Θ = π/4 (in normalized units) and the vector escapes to infinity! Only massless objects can travel "at the speed of π/4", everything else can only approach but never reach that speed.

And at the same time, in your new frame of reference, you're still moving at exactly c through the time and 0 through space. But your time axis is no longer parallel with the time axis of the rest of the world.

Axes being parallel by whose point of view?



When you're asking if two objects have the same velocity, relativity does not change the answer.

I think it does if they do not occupy the exact same space. It's only objective that they have the same velocity from their point of view (but then parallel lines concept hardly makes any sense).

are you talking special relativity or general?


I mean the whole way looking at it seems wrong to me. There is no "rest of the world" in relativity. Assigning some objective vector to everybody doesn't work. These only make sense from some specific point of view.

By the question you asked now I'm assuming, you meant "but hey, without GR..", but even without GR, ignoring that the universe is expanding, assuming flat space time etc. If the universe consisted just of 3 bodies, 1 being you and 2 being rest of the world, then the way of thinking you described still doesn't make sense in context of relativity and may lead to some confusion (apart from it being, to me, incoherent in context of special relativity).

But maybe I'm missing something from your picture, I'm happy to read and learn.

I don't understand.

You can certainly imagine a scenario where two objects measure their mutual distance as being constant in time. You can also imagine other scenarios, but I'm asking to imagine the scenario where two objects do measure their distance to be D and then measure it again and it's still D, and measure it again and again and it's still D. That's just the definition of standing still with respect of each other, and when you plot a space time diagram, their space curve is parallel (because their spacial distance doesn't change).

Special relativity doesn't make that scenario impossible. It doesn't force things to move. It just describes what happens when things do move (through spacetime).

Special relativity definitely won't be a problem. Everyone see timings and speeds a little differently, but everyone can also do the calculation from anyone else's point of view. Objects that are in the same reference frame are objectively in the same reference frame in special relativity; everyone agrees. The reference frame is determined only by velocity. And the distortion is determined only by the observer's velocity, so both objects will have the same distortion.

GR I'm less familiar with.

Is it similar to how changing FOV in a game makes the movement appear slower/faster, but in both cases the space traversed is identical?

We're moving through spacetime with a constant speed, so the faster you move through space, the slower you move through time.

I just had another thought.

The word “dimension” in this context is overloaded. We think of space being three dimensions but really it’s only one - velocity relative to a specific reference frame. Thinking of it this way, the word “spacetime” makes sense; it’s a two-dimensional system: “spatial velocity” (S) on one axis and “temporal velocity” (T) on another. Both velocities are always measured against a reference frame, and their sum is c (c=S+T).

This would mean that time travel is impossible not because of a “speed limit”, but because c is a dimensionless physical constant.

By c do you mean the speed of light? How is it dimensionless?

Whether something is dimensionless is pure convention. By making c dimensionless and, for even more convenience, setting its value to 1, you can measure distance in seconds!

You can simplify some of your wording here. Direction-less (your "spatial") velocity is simply speed.

I still don’t understand the graphs at the link, but this intuitively makes sense to me. Thank you - I now have a new, apparently accurate mental model of relativity.

You’re moving tough time at the speed of light.

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