For many years I have worked at perspective, most notably through the study of human behavior in financial markets, as well as an academic pursuit of how our brains work. Perspective is rooted in humility and begins with the recognition that no matter how certain you are of your stance, you could be wrong. But few get this far. Unfortunately, it is quite uncommon for individuals to allocate even a single moment of their day to the possibility of being incorrect.
Luckily, a small effort can go a long way: For a couple of weeks, dedicate five minutes of each day to thinking about the world from a perspective other than your own. And do not just assume you are a diverse thinker and rest on the notion that you are special – all of us are extremely bias, no one is immune to being human. Slow the heck down and truly contemplate. Reflect on the world from the perspective of the opposite gender, from the perspective of another nationality, from the perspective of a dissimilar employment status, from the perspective of a different religion, from the perspective of no religion… Honestly try to transform your mindset and experience for yourself.
Eventually, through consistent application, one discovers an important, troubling, yet empowering facet to our existence: When it comes to perspective, the only truth is that there are no absolutes. Everything is relative.
But all this is highly intangible and meaningless to most. Somewhere between our greed and fear, the obscure idea of self-reflection is sadly lost on the vast majority of humankind. So, let us look to science to provide empirical evidence and therein, hopefully, motivation.
Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity (1905) established a relationship between space and time. We call it, “Spacetime,” and now know that both time and distance are relative. That is right, what counts for one second on earth is different than what counts for one second elsewhere. And what counts for one foot on earth is different than what counts for one foot elsewhere. Astrophysicists and other scientists refer to these concepts as, “Time dilation” and, “Length contraction,” respectively.
Its turns out that the faster you move, the slower time evolves (time dilation) and the smaller distances become (length contraction). Everything is relative. Not just philosophically but scientifically there are no absolutes. Time and distance change depending on your speed, and we are never truly at rest – the earth itself is constantly in motion. And if, for example, you could travel at the speed of light, time would stop altogether.
Einstein’s special relativity defined much of how the universe works. And above the purely physical, it can be applied to perspective – taking perspective out of an abstract, philosophical domain and transposing it for scientific viewing. The world comes to all of us in a relative nature. No one sees the same things you do, no one experiences the same way you do – not even in units of time and distance. Everything is relative. Politics are relative. Relationships are relative. Business is relative. Time and distance are relative. Right and wrong are relative.
Therefore, the next time your opinion seems more fact that fiction, remember special relativity. The next time you think you are right, remember special relativity. The next time you decide to skip self-reflecting, remember special relativity. In our universe, the only truth is that there are no absolutes.