Relativity and Relationships: Military Think

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Relativity and Relationships


© Al Turtle 2006



I want to share with you a way of looking at successful relationships that may take us all the way into nuclear physics.  I hope the trip will be enjoyable.  Recently I read a book about Albert Einstein and how he came to teach Relativity and E = MC2 .   As I was reading, I began to think back about the journeys and adventures I have been on in developing a great relationship with my wife.   And I became more and more amused.  Here’s what made me laugh.


As I gather it, Einstein’s great work followed from the discovery that light travels at a specific speed.  Before that time it was taught that when you saw something happen, the image was brought to you instantaneously.  But a scientific squabble about the speed of rotation of one of the moons of Saturn led to the clarity that light travels at a speed that can be measured.   Apparently Albert began to ponder what things would look like if objects and people  traveled away or toward each other at nearer and nearer to the speed of light.  And the rest was history, as they say.

Two things amused me.  The first was about the point of view of the observers.  Einstein imagined a person standing on the earth looking at a spaceship traveling away at nearly the speed of light.  He imagined a person in that speeding spaceship looking back at earth.  He pondered these two points of view.  To him, clearly the behavior of and the looks of the spaceship would change as it came closer to the speed of light – that is, from the point of view of the earth observer.  But simultaneously the shape of earth would change from the point of view of the speeding observer in the spaceship.

Albert started to use the word “relative to” as a way of referring to which point of view he was considering.  One thing he held onto was that the experience of, say, drinking a glass of water would continue to be the same for both observers  – i.e. there would be no change in the observer’s immediate experiences. 

The amusing part for me was the seemingly preposterous question, “Which was which?”  Which was the speeding thing: the earth or the space ship?   Albert would have said, “There is no way to know. The answer was relative to the person you asked.  The answer was ‘It is relative.’” 

The second amusing point was that over time Albert Einstein apparently began to dislike the term Relativity.  People seemed to use it to say that “anything goes” or that “there is nothing solid.”   He had never suggested that. What he was trying to do was find the reliable, solid laws that help people relate when their solid points of view were so radically different.  These were the rules, the laws that predicted the differences in point of view.

As I laughed, I became aware that what I have been doing for years is developing the rules for “relationship”, the solid rules that help people get along, comfortably, while they have differing points of reference.  

Military Think

The world Albert lived in did not want to ask the question, “Which is the speeding thing: the earth or the space ship?”  The world of his time “knew” which was which, and what he was doing was challenging that world.

As I see it, for thousands of years people have been led into a kind of thinking I call “Military Think”.   I do not believe this kind of thinking, this way of seeing things is natural.  I believe it is trained into almost all of us at an early age. This training is most clear if you go to “boot camp” or basic training in the Army or Navy or Air Force, or Police Academy, etc.  There you will experience the teaching of Military Think at its most concentrated.  I believe the prime function of basic training is to alter the recruits thinking about “points of view”- about reality. 

Here is my encapsulation of the prime rule of boot camp and of Military Think. “At any point of time there is one, and only one person who’s point of view is important.”   Put ten soldiers together and in very short order they will all know who is the “senior person who’s in charge,” whose point of view counts.  When 5 more soldiers join the 10 already present, there will be a few moments while they all survey the new group to see who’s point of view now is important. My experience in the Navy eventually led me to feel uncomfortable when it was not clear who was in charge. It also taught me to recognize when I was the “senior person” and when I was an “obedient one.”

Me off Pearl Harbour in 1964. Sailing west.

The principle purpose of Military Think is to make quick decisions possible.  I believe there is nowhere that “quick decision making” is more important than in the military.  It’s pretty important on boats, airplanes, or even driving a car.  (It is why we have only one steering wheel in a car.) 

Much of our society seems run using Military Think: families, associations, businesses, communities, states, countries, churches, religions, etc.  Talk radio and politics abounds with Military Think.  We call it hierarchy or patriarchy, but I prefer Military Think as the term points to the fundamentals.

Most novels are written using Military Think.  The author writes as though he or she knows everything.  There is no other point of view.  This is called the “third-person omniscient.” 

And Military Think immediately solves the problem that Albert Einstein asked, “Which is moving away?” Just ask the “one who is in charge.”

Because we are so familiar with Military Think, I believe we have many words that would not otherwise exist.  Here’s my list: right, wrong, correct, true, factual, real, unreal, etc.  These words do not refer to anything by themselves.  Each one is used to refer to a point of view that is aligned with the view of the “one who is in charge.”    “Right” is the “same as the view of one who is in charge.”  “Wrong” is “different from the view of the one who is in charge.”  “What actually happened yesterday” is a “recollection that is the same as that of the one who is in charge.”  Some six years ago I got tired to typing “one who is in charge,” and I replaced the phrase with the title, Master.


Albert Einstein directly confronted and revised Military Think.  He spoke of Relativity – reality is only defined in such a way to include the reference system – the person’s whose point of view is involved.  And he spoke of the mathematical rules, the concrete rules for relating these two “realities.”  In physics this became called the study of Relativity.  In human relations this is called Dialogue.  Understanding this is critical in developing the capacity for Empathy.

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