For most of the 20th century, both relativity and star travel fascinated this writer. The reasons Albert Einstein concluded there is an absolute barrier at the speed of light seemed at first clear, then later not so clear upon closer examination. "The speed of light relative to what?" I often asked anyone who would listen. The common response was, "Light needs no specification of that kind; its speed is the same no matter who measures it." "That's true." I would respond; "That's just the second postulate of special relativity which is not in doubt; but that postulate applies to light, and we're talking about rocketships here." However it seemed that no one understood what I was saying. By referring to the universal constant c= 299.792 458 megameters per second as "the speed of light," we paint ourselves into a logical corner in which light is automatically taken as the subject of discussion even when it is not. The careful reader will know not to immediately think "light" when he hears or reads "the speed of light." But it is better to have a neutral name for that universal constant. It has been called the Lorentz speed; Ignazio Ciufolini & John Archibald Wheeler (1995) called it the characteristic speed of space, and they were then able to apply it to all "primordial forces" whether electromagnetic or gravitational or other (what other, C&W did not say).
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[v1] 25 Feb 2007
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