All the Futurelearn courses I've done - and there have been ten of them on a variety of subjects - have been great, but none has been as thought provoking as this one. The debate on the comment threads has been of an extremely high level, and the chief educator, one Pierre Binetruy of the Diderot University in Paris, is an excellent lecturer with a bone dry sense of humour.
Such concepts as Galilean Frames of Reference, and Einstein's Special and General Theories of Relativity, have been covered in such a way that even a tired out working fellow such as myself can get to grips with them.
If only to a level that I can blag it in conversations at the pub with my friends.
Where am I really enjoying getting utterly lost is in the concept of "Space-Time". The favoured method for explaining how the universe expands is with the aid of an inflating balloon. Dots getting further apart as the balloon blows up represent galaxies moving apart from each other, the greater the distance between them, the greater the displacement. Within all this, phrases like "Imagine the surface of the balloon is the fabric of Space-Time."
We hear it again when the reason gravity works the way it does. "Imagine this mattress is the surface of Space-Time, and this brick is a large mass...see how things fall in towards it as Space-Time is distorted. If the mass is great enough, even light beams may appear to bend."
Aha, thinks I, Space-Time must be a physical thing if it can be distorted by masses, and post such in he discussions, only to be shot down - politely - by proper science people saying "Well, not really, it's not really a tangible thing, imagine it more of a terribly terribly terriblyterriblyterriblydifficultsciencemoresciencebrainbentbrainmangledbrainfried concept."
So I'm still left with my tangible Space-Time, a tight skin of rubber, or a wafting satin sheet drying in the breeze, smeling gloriously of pink bottle Lenor, before the wind blows it off the line and it wraps itself around me in super symmetric knots. Galaxies gathered along filaments, 23 dimensional superstrings.
N and P. The branes. The Eleventh Dimension that wraps the entire Universe round yet is closer to you than your own clothes. Harmonics in space. The vacuum that isn't a vacuum but rather spits out and reabsorbs energies as subly-sub atomic particles come into being for trillionths of seconds.
None of it is understandable. All of it as beautiful. Not beautiful as a bird or flower I might photograph of a summer's day, but the beauty of it being simply every damn thing there ever was or could be.
Enjoy this film of the universe from near, to farther than far can be.
All text Copyright CreamCrackeredNature 05.11.15