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The ‘twin paradox’ shows us what it really means for time to be relative

Einstein’s theory of special relativity teaches us that time is relative. But what does it mean for time to be relative? How can we live in a universe where nobody can agree on when events start, when they end and how long they last? The infamous “twin paradox” showcases what living in a truly relativistic world is like.

Put simply, special 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 rescue something 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 reference frame, perspectives have to shift for observers at different speeds.

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