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Relativity Speaking

The power of thoughts and theories

by By Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage students to consider the value of random thoughts (SEAL theme: self-awareness).

Preparation and materials


Leader: What do you consider is the greatest scientific moment ever? For some, it will be a moment of achievement, such as the first Moon landing or Alexander Fleming's isolation of penicillin. For others, it will be a moment of proof, such as the first atomic explosion or Tesla's working model of the alternating-current induction motor. For some of us, however, it may be the posing of a theory that was to become overwhelmingly influential. Darwin's theory of evolution would be an example of this.

One hundred years ago, on May 11, 1916, a certain scientific theory was presented for the first time. This theory has proved to be of inestimable value to the study of physics and astrophysics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Some say that the presentation of this theory is the most significant scientific moment in recent history. The theory we are talking about is Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity.

Many of us have heard of Einstein's famous equation E = mc2, which shows that a quantity of energy is equivalent to a quantity of mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. But very few of us actually understand what this means. However, this theory and equation have significantly altered the perceptions of astrophysicists. Einstein's theory of general relativity has led to discoveries about black holes, white dwarfs and red dwarfs, changes in the orbit of Mercury, red shifts and even the Big Bang. His theory also affects our daily lives. Televisions, GPS guidance systems, digital cameras and supermarket price scanners all involve practical applications of Einstein's theory.

Time for reflection

Leader: Albert Einstein was a great thinker who was constantly observing what was going on in the world around him. He observed people and objects jumping and falling, clocks and watches, warm and cold objects and fast and slow objects. As he observed, he thought both random and logical thoughts. What made him significant was that he held onto many of these thoughts and tried them out, with the hope of finding greater knowledge.

I believe that we are great thinkers, too. I believe that many of us have ‘what if?’ thoughts. They may be about ourselves, our environment, our relationships, the things we do, the words we say or the effect of the life we're living. Some thoughts might be totally random, such as ‘What if strawberries tasted like cheese?’ or ‘What if humans had wings?’ Other thoughts might have a more logical bent, such as ‘What would happen if we had one day a week when nobody did any work, but simply spent time with their family?’ or ‘Why not paint pedestrian crossings red, rather than black and white?’ The most important point is what we should do with our thoughts.

One way of giving some value to our thoughts is to record them at the end of the day. We won't remember them all. The crazy ones will slip away, but there'll always be something worth hanging on to. Some people call this technique 'journaling'. It differs from keeping a diary, which is usually a record of what we've done. A journal is a record of what we think, our imagination, our logic and our opinions - what makes us an individual.

The next step would be to look at our journal every month or so and to consider, with a little hindsight, whether it might be worth trying out one or two of our better ideas. This might only require a simple step, particularly if it's to do with our routines and practices. If it requires the help of other people, more organisation will be needed. What matters is that we're trying out our ideas. We're experimenting.

What kind of thoughts am I talking about? Let's start by thinking about some examples close to home. For example, we could consider what and how we eat and drink, what and how we learn, how we train and organize our teams, what we do for our friends and family and how we treat the very young and the very old. Your mind might drift off in a different direction entirely, but that's fine. However, remember that thinking is only the start. If Albert Einstein hadn't also noted down his ideas and tried some of them out, where would we be today?

Dear Lord,
Thank you for our minds and for our random thoughts.
Thank you that, although we may have little control over these thoughts, they can inspire us and cause us to move in new directions and to take action about important things.
Please remind us of the best ideas we have and help us to have the courage to try these ideas out.


‘Daydream’ by The Lovin' Spoonful, available at:

Publication date: May 2016   (Vol.18 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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