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The Shape We’re In

March 11, 2010
Maui Weekly

As we begin this trip, you might want to note that our sun holds 99 percent of our solar system’s mass. So, our sun—like any massive object—curves the space around it. Because of this, our planet is curving us around the sun. All the while, our planet is also spinning us around her axis. After 365 spins, we return to where we began our journey around the sun.

Each of our journeys around the sun is what scientists call an orbit—and what the rest of us call a year. So, each time you complete another orbit, you earn yourself a birthday party! And it’s worth celebrating your birthday, because it’s quite a journey that you’re on. In fact, because of your annual journey, you will be more than a million-and-a-half-miles from where you are now by this time tomorrow.

Back in our high school geometry class, we memorized this theorem by Euclid: “The  shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” Yes, Euclid, this is true, but only on a flat surface. Euclid, who lived in the third century before Christ, believed that we’re living on a flat, motionless Earth.

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Euclid, who lived in the third century before Christ, believed that we were living on a flat, motionless Earth.

So here we are, struggling mightily to think straight—as if we were living on a flat, motionless Earth.

Back in the days before Albert Einstein, scientists assumed that what keeps the planets in their orbits was a force they called “gravity.” Fortunately, Einstein understood that nature is elegantly simple.  Speaking on behalf of nature, he questioned his fellow scientists: “Why do we go to all the trouble of hypothesizing a force that tugs our planet around our sun? Why don’t we just say that the space around our sun is curved?”

Space is curved. The path of our planet is curved. The shape of your life’s journey is curved… and I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that it’s also the shape of your thinking!



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