The Speed of Light is Zero Slowness

Aaron Steers
7 min readNov 1, 2020

Note: This article was originally written in 2020, but I have updated it in 2024 to be more applicable and better structured overall.

Here I propose a new theory on the speed of light, offering crucial amendments to the traditional mental model. While this theory may seem both mundane and profound, it addresses, with surprising simplicity, several complex physics problems that have traditionally caused much confusion.

What we solve by changing our mental model

Our new mental model addresses some “big problems” handily:

  1. It explains succinctly why traveling ‘faster than light’ is categorically impossible.
  2. It clarifies why time travel falls into the same realm of categorical impossibility.
  3. It resolves the classic “two-slit” problem by elucidating light’s wavelike and particle-like behaviors as functions of objects with near-zero-slowness as they are committed or not committed to a specific vector.

Before we try to answer these problems though, we first need to point out some flaws in traditional framing.

Why “The Speed of Light” is an Obviously Misnomer

To begin, let’s acknowledge a widely accepted yet crucial assertion: the term ‘speed of light’ is a misnomer for several reasons.

First, the so-called speed of light is not a fixed velocity. Physicists, acknowledge that what we refer to as “the speed of light” is the speed in a perfect vacuum, and…. well, there’s no such thing as a true vacuum. A better way to describe “the speed of light” is the limit which the light’s speed approaches, in conditions minimally affected by surrounding mass, as the density of mass in its path approaches zero.

Now, let’s go further. Let’s redefine what “C” means in the classic formula “E = mC²”. Let’s take it as a given for now that “C” can’t be “the speed of light” because we know that light never actually travels at that speed, and light can travel at lots of speeds slower than C. Then what is C? If we concede that is true, then we should be open to a new definition of C.

C = Zero Slowness.

In the classic equation, it seems clear Einstein erred in the naming of his terms. What if what he described as the theoretical “speed of light in a vacuum” was something else entirely? What if what he was actually describing as “C” was zero slowness? This would give a more robust and helpful explanation why light approaches C but can never reach it.

C is then a description of what velocity looks like after a near-complete conversion of mass into energy, and the resulting near-zero friction that is a result of such a conversion.

The really important question isn’t “what is the speed of light” but what is the behavior of mass and/or energy through space when that mass and/or energy has no friction relative to the fabric of spacetime.

Answer: it achieves near-zero slowness.

Yes. “The speed of light is zero slowness.”

Or, more accurately stated:

The hypothetical maximum velocity of light in a vacuum is zero slowness, aka “C”.

Why we have had it backwards for so long

Now that we’ve turned our “speed” paradigm on its head, we can go further to argue that the concept of "speed" in itself is perhaps not very relevant in most the universe, except in relation to objects in space with extremely high degrees of slowness, such as ourselves. Perhaps measures of “slowness” are much more interesting and helpful when applied to the nature of the universe around us. Perhaps when a mass is truly massive, it’s slowness exceeds what we would consider “zero velocity” and starts to exert its “slowness” on the spacetime surrounding it. Perhaps this slowness would bring other objects toward it — like a black hole or a large planet pulling in surrounding objects with mass — and indeed even those without any mass to speak of. Of course, now I’m talking about gravity, which is what happens when an object is so massive that its slowness exceeds what we would refer to as “zero velocity”.

Using the Slowness Theory to Answer Classic Physics Problems

As promised in our introduction, let’s now apply the slowness theory to some classic physics problems

The Slowness Theory on Why FTL Travel is Impossible

Now that we’ve correctly re-named “C” as “zero slowness” and canceled the “the speed of light” misnomer, it should be obvious why FTL (“faster than light”) travel is categorically impossible. Namely: it is impossible for anything to travel faster than “zero slowness”. Like asking “what is more blue than blue?” or “what number is closer to 10 than 10?” — we arrive at a simple and definitive answer to this classic and otherwise-frustrating problem.

Please note: I’m not ruling out some bizarre futuristic workaround where we bend, break, or contract spacetime itself. This is only to say, definitively and without any doubt: there’s no point in talking about “faster than light” travel. It is categorically impossible — because you can never achieve less-than-zero slowness.

Time Travel is (Categorically) Impossible As Well

In the same way that moving faster-than-light through space is categorically impossible, it is also impossible to use FTL travel to traverse backwards in space. Yes, as you near velocities approaching C, time slows down. In other words, as you reach very low slowness, time goes slower. As you have a very high slowness, time goes faster — or has much less slowness.

We can tie ourselves in mental knots redefining “very fast speeds” as “much less slow speeds” but the limit of C now exists as an absolute and un-negotiable threshold. You can’t go travel at less than zero slowness. Period.

The “Double Slit” Problem

The classical physics experiment known as the double-slit experiment poses a profound question: How can light exhibit both wave-like and particle-like properties? Traditionally, this duality has puzzled scientists and led to the development of quantum mechanics, a field that embraces the probabilistic nature of particles at the quantum level.

Under the traditional model, when light is shone through two parallel slits, it creates an interference pattern on a screen placed behind the slits. This pattern — a series of light and dark bands — suggests that light behaves as a wave, interfering with itself. However, when the experiment is conducted with detectors observing which slit the photons pass through, the pattern changes to two distinct bands, indicating that the photons behave as particles, not waves.

1. Explaining Wave-like Behavior

Under the “Zero Slowness” framework, light’s ability to exhibit wave-like behavior can be seen as a result of its minimal interaction with the fabric of spacetime. This minimal interaction allows light to navigate spacetime with what can be described as “zero slowness,” enabling it to display patterns and behaviors — such as curving and interference — that are characteristic of waves. This behavior isn’t inherently “wave-like” in the classical sense but is a manifestation of light’s unrestricted movement through spacetime, allowing it to exhibit interference patterns. Thus, light’s behavior can be more accurately described as “vector-indeterminate,” where its direction and manner of propagation are not fixed but are probabilistically distributed, leading to the observed interference patterns.

2. Explaining Particle-like Behavior

Conversely, the “particle-like” behavior of light — its ability to interact with matter and detectors as discrete packets (photons) — aligns with the “Zero Slowness” theory by considering the moments when light’s propagation becomes vector-determinate. This determinacy arises not from light inherently possessing particle-like qualities but from the conditions under which it is measured or interacts with matter. When light’s path is observed or it interacts with a physical system, the interaction imposes constraints on its propagation, effectively “committing” it to a specific vector. This commitment does not contradict the “Zero Slowness” concept but complements it by showing how external energy or interactions can localize light’s behavior, making it at least temporarily commit to a specific vector without noticeable impact to the lights velocity or energy profile.

3. The Transition Between Behaviors

The transition between light’s vector-indeterminate (wave-like) and vector-determinate (particle-like) behaviors can be explained within the “Zero Slowness” framework by the influence of external energy or the act of observation itself. This does not necessarily mean a physical force is applied to light to commit it to a vector but that the interaction with the measuring apparatus or environment results in a collapse of its probabilistic wave function to a definite state. In this context, “energy exerted upon it” can be understood more abstractly, including the informational exchange involved in observation or measurement of the particle’s vector — and doing to committing the particle to said vector.


The “Zero Slowness” article, by proposing a novel interpretation of light’s behavior, elegantly explains the dual nature of light observed in the double-slit experiment, attributing wave-like interference patterns to light’s unimpeded movement through spacetime and its particle-like behavior to the conditions of observation that momentarily define (and commit) its vector. By reframing the speed of light as “zero slowness,” we also gain a fresh understanding of why faster-than-light travel and time travel remain beyond our reach, grounded in the fundamental properties of spacetime rather than arbitrary limitations.

This theory not only demystifies the wave-particle duality of light but also invites us to reconsider our concepts of motion, speed, and interaction within the universe. It suggests that the universe’s fundamental nature might be more about relationships and interactions — how things move through and with spacetime — rather than static properties or velocities.

In conclusion, the “Zero Slowness” theory offers a profound yet elegantly simple framework for understanding some of the universe’s intricate behaviors. As we continue to explore the mysteries of quantum mechanics and general relativity, the concept of “Zero Slowness” challenges us to question traditional framings and to examine old questions under new light.