The ‘twin paradox’ shows us what it really means that time is relative

Einstein’s special theory of relativity teaches us that time is relative. But what does it mean that time is relative? How can we live in a universe where no one can agree on when events begin, when they end, and how long they last? The infamous ‘twin paradox’ shows what it’s like to live in a truly relativistic world.

Easy said, special theory of relativity tells us that moving clocks run slowly. This is a phenomenon called time dilation, and it’s a cold, hard fact of the universe. Einstein had to introduce the concept to save what he thought was much more fundamental: the universality of physical laws. If we want the laws of physics — which also means the experience of physics — to be the same regardless of your frame of reference, perspectives for observers have to shift at different rates.

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