Bruce Harvey's Alternative Physics site

Special Relativity

Still controversial

Nearly a hundred years after its conception, Einstein's theory of special relativity is still surrounded by controversy and disbelief among those outside the physics fraternity. The reasons for this are many. Not least is the poor way in which the theory is taught and expounded. The news group sci.physics.relativity abounds with arguments, which centre around the use of certain equations and the results obtained from them, missing the real issues. Such arguments will never come to a successful outcome and future generations of protagonists and advocates will still be repeating the same old dogmas, half truths and misconceptions for decades to come.

Historical note

When Einstein published his first paper on relativity in 1905, it contained very little new material. The equations which we associate with relativity had all been previously derived by Lorentz on the assumption that there exists a background, called the aether, through which light travels at a constant speed. Lorentz was concerned with the fact that in spite of the movement of the earth through this background, the laws of physics remained constant. The equations he developed, known as the Lorentz transforms, showed how physical processes taking place in the aether resulted in the same laws of physics applying in the laboratory in spite of its possible motion through the aether. Poincare showed that any two observers each moving with their own distinct velocity through the aether and making their own observations would be able to relate them using Lorentz transforms.

Lorentz was ignorant of the recent work of Poincare when he read Einstein's paper and instead of accusing Einstein of plagiarism, he acclaimed his genius.

The special theory of relativity as expounded by Einstein in 1905 is based on the argument that since all attempts to detect motion through the aether fail, the assumption of a "privileged background" is superfluous. The idea that light travels at a constant speed against some background is subtly changed to the assertion that all attempts to measure the speed of light will result in the same answer. The result is a theory which is very different in explanation, but identical in outcomes to that of Lorentz.

Einstein's derivation starts from the assumption (now regarded as an experimental fact) that any attempt to measure the speed of light over a there and back path will yield the same answer. To measure the speed of light in a single direction requires two clocks to be set up some distance apart and very accurately synchronised. Unfortunately, this is impossible. Therefore Einstein defines a way of synchronising clocks which results in a constant value for the speed of light in any one way direction.

Fundamentally flawed

I believe Einstein's fundamental error to be that he confuses the measurement of time with the passage of time. Einstein would say that relative motion and gravity both have the effect of slowing time. I prefer to regard time as an absolute and say that relative motion and gravity slow time dependent processes.

The relativities of Einstein and Lorentz-Poincare differ in their description of time dilation. For Einstein, it is the relative motion which causes both observers to see the other's clocks as having slowed. This effect results from the way in which he specifies that remote clocks should be synchronised. For Lorentz, the motion of the clock through the aether produces an actual slowing of the clock. When an atomic clock is placed in an orbiting satellite, its speed is affected by the reduction in gravity and by time dilation. The latter effect differs from that predicted by Einstein's special theory of relativity in that it is a real slowing and is not reciprocated by an apparent slowing of clocks on earth as seen by the satellite. However, since the satellite is undergoing centripetal acceleration as it moves on its circular path about the earth, the special theory of relativity is said to be no longer valid and the general theory is used to explain the result.

The twins paradox provides a good demonstration of the difference between the two relativities. Lorentz would argue that the twin who went to the nearest star and back would have aged less because of the effect of his motion through the aether. Einstein however must resort to arguments about acceleration and simultaneity.

I believe Einstein's theories of special relativity and general relativity to be wrong because they describe the universe as having a fourth dimension of time in addition to the three dimensions of length width and height.

We live in a three dimensional universe which is in a state of constant change. As conscious beings, we have the ability to remember what we experienced in the past and attempt to predict what we will see in the future. The development of our sense of time and of methods of measuring and recording time give us a false impression of its nature. Time does behave as a fourth dimension in the records of events recorded in Cartesian co-ordinates (x,y,z,t), and Einstein's equations consequently give consistent results, but that is not to say that he has described the way in which nature works. In records of observations, time is extended, and we can move about in it, but that does not match reality in which we are unable to pop into the future to see the result of a contest and return to place a bet upon it.

The fact that the equations of relativity are so strongly supported by experimental evidence is no grounds for accepting the validity of the theory. Those equations can and have been deduced from other theories. If the same equations can be derived from several different theories. Verifying the equations by experiment does not support a particular theory. The Lorentz transforms which form the heart of Einstein's 1905 special theory of relativity were previously deduced from very different conceptual bases first by Voigt in 1887 and later by Lorentz.

Magnetic fields in relativity

There is an equation which predicts that a moving electric charge will generate a magnetic field about its line of motion. The only problem is that the velocity of the charge appears in the equation without any stipulation as to how it is to be measured. In all our experience of velocity, it is something which can only be measured relative to something else. How should observers moving at different velocities measure the velocity of the charge and calculate its magnetic field? This is the fundamental question which Einstein attempted to answer in the special theory of relativity. Einstein's answer is that each observer should measure the velocity of the charge relative to their frame of reference. This means that the magnetic field which each observer sees is due to their relative movement with respect to the electric field of the charge.

The question arises as to whether a magnetic field is a real entity, or an artefact of the relative movement of the observer who measures it. Relativity supporters will say that the latter is true. Others will disagree. Many I suspect hold both views from time to time depending on the context within which the subject comes to mind. As we follow the history of the subject, we find that the early experimenters took the view that magnetic fields were real and that they were located around the magnet or electric circuit generating them. Maxwell was the first to assume otherwise. His understanding of magnetic fields is that they are composed of a flux which is stationary in the aether. When he moves a magnet, the magnetic field decays behind it and is built up in front of it. This requires a movement of energy from the back to the front of the moving field described by the Poynting vector. This concept lives on in our explanation of the way in which radio waves convey energy, and in the theory of how energy is conveyed by the electricity main into every home. In relativity, the magnetic field is stationary in the reference frame of an observer who observes it because it is an artefact of their observation.

Local absolute velocity

The velocity to be used in calculating the magnetic field surrounding a moving charge can be found quite simply if we understand the mechanism behind the generation of magnetic fields. This is very simple to understand. The idea is that magnetic fields form in response to the movement of the electric fields of charges through each other. When we look at the motion of an individual charge, its electric field is slipping through the electric fields of all of the other charges in the universe. They all have different strengths depending on the inverse square law. The velocity of an individual charge to be used in calculating its magnetic field is the weighted average, of its velocity relative to other charges, on the basis of the magnitudes of the strengths of their electric fields. Such a calculation is dominated by the presence of massive bodies in the same way as is the calculation of gravitational force.

There is thus a property of local absolute stationary-ness which I call "stasis" against which moving electric charges generate magnetic fields. The speed of light is constant relative to stasis. My prediction is that the surface of the earth moves through stasis with two significant components of velocity, one of about 16 metres per second in the direction of its path around the sun; the other, which varies with latitude, equal to half the surface velocity due to rotation, in a westerly direction.

The Lorentz transforms

Voigt derived the Lorentz transform equations by considering how Maxwell's equations might be modified to explain the doppler effect. Lorentz's derivation is based on the idea that the dimensions of material objects are determined by the equilibrium between electrical forces within their structure. Motion through the aether modifies these forces and a stable solution is found if length is contracted in the direction of motion. The other equations of the transform are derived from this.

Whithout a physical cause, authors of books on relativity must use other methods of deriving the transforms. Becuse their aim is to derive a relativity independent of any notion of an absolute background, they are all obliged to do some nifty footwork to obtain the desired result. To put it bluntly, they are mathematical fiddles.

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© Copyright Bruce Harvey 1997.