A Natural Question
For the reader who is unfamiliar with physics academia, it might seem difficult to understand why Special Relativity (SR) remains one of the key foundation blocks of academic, theoretical physics. After all physics thinking should be based on empirical data and logic – there should be little room for subjective preferences, etc.
Unlike our prior discussion on the physics aspects of SR, we can NOT always give QED arguments on the above. Sometimes we will just relate our experience and the experience of hundreds of others who have interacted with physics academia, about the above issue. And we even bring in some well-known traits of human nature for your consideration.
Some Historical Background
As addressed in Part 3, Henrik Lorentz developed his Lorentz Aether Theory (LAT) in the latter part of the 1800s. In LAT, the aether was the medium that light traveled through. However, the Michelson-Morley Experiment (MMX) could be interpreted as indicating that the speed of light was the same for all observers regardless of their state of motion. Since this was at odds with LAT’s role for the aether, Lorentz had to add length contraction and clock retardation to LAT.
A year after Lorentz published this modification, Einstein published his SR paper where basically every inertial observer was asked to observe the world as though he was at rest in modified LAT’s single, preferred frame. Einstein claimed that all inertial frames were equivalent and indistinguishable and further that the speed of light in all inertial frames was the same. Further, Einstein made his Clock Paradox/Twin Paradox claim that SR time dilation would cause a net proper time difference between clocks in different states of motion.
This latter point, caused a great deal of resistance to SR by physicists of that time as they basically asked, “How can inherently symmetric SR time dilation) cause an asymmetric, physical effect (i.e., a net proper time difference)?”
As a thorough physics review by a Harvard physicist has noted, that latter concern was never addressed. Further, there was NO empirical data that favored SR over LAT. So how did SR win out and become the darling of physics academia?
Physics historians note that there was concern over Lorentz having made “ad hoc” modifications to the original LAT so as to address the problems the Michelson- Morley Experiment (MMX) had raised regarding (pre-modifications) LAT. In contrast, there was great intellectual favor given to SR as it seemed to have been derived based on general principles (i.e., all inertial frames were indistinguishable and the speed of light was the same in all inertial frames). Hence, this perception, that SR had purer intellectual origins than LAT, gave SR the inside track in physics academia.
However, since there was no empirical evidence that favored one of the other, SR was still considered to be “on trial” in the early 1900s and, in fact, Einstein was never awarded the Nobel Prize for this “foundation block of modern physics”. SR did not become established as physics academia doctrine until A. S. Eddington, in 1919, allegedly showed that the sun bent light waves passing close to it as General Relativity predicted. This alleged confirmation of General Relativity created a worldwide media frenzy and General Relativity (GR) became solidly accepted and Einstein was enshrined as the high priest of physics and SR gained credibility by association. From then on, physics academia has considered any criticism of SR or GR to be heresy.
However, it was later discovered that Eddington gave a fraudulent summary of his empirical data allegedly supporting GR. As several reviewers have put it, Eddington “cherry picked” the data – he reported on the data that would show light as bending, but did NOT report most of the data which showed no such bending. In fact, the bending was near the sun in its corona where the bending is best explained as a change in the index of refraction from empty space to the gaseous corona of the sun. This new insight had minimal impact on physics academia.
In addition, the irony regarding SR is that Einstein himself recanted on his Clock Paradox/Twin Paradox claim in 1916, after much agonizing. This recanting was an admission that SR did NOT describe the physical world – it did NOT describe what was happening physically. Hence, SR could only be describing “just observed” effects and, by definition, those “just observed” effects were NOT associated with any physical effects. Thus, SR could not describe or deal with changes in proper time accumulation rates (i.e., physical clock rates). Ironically, physics academia chose to ignore Einstein’s 1916 insight, that was also backed by Neils Bohr and other prominent physicists, and to, paradoxically, crucify Prof. Herbert Dingle for agreeing with Einstein’s 1916 insight. Incidentally, Einstein, implicitly, and Dingle, explicity, were in general agreement with what is written in Parts 1 & 2 of this series.
Of note is that SR’s 2nd postulate leads to SR using Einsteinian Synchronization of clocks which in turn leads to redefining “time” in terms of the speed of light! This was a huge change! Yet, Einstein never discussed it in the terms of “We need to redefine ‘time’” or “This new definition of ‘time’ is an improvement because …”. Further, physics academia did NOT comment or debate this change in this redefinition of “time” – although it was duly noted, discussed and regretted by academic philosophers. As Prof. Lee Smolin has noted in his relatively recent book “Time Reborn”, SR has tended to remove the key constructs of “time” (e.g., past-present-future) from physics and Smolin attempts to address this concern.
Is the above a complete, objective history? No, but what it says is accurate and very well documented by multiple mainstream academics, even though physics academia does not choose to feature it in classrooms or in texts.
Is Special Relativity Really Solidly Backed By Physics Academia?
If one asks the above about the “powers that be” in physics academia, the answer is “Yes”. However, as stated, it’s a complex and interesting question.
What Happens If One Is In Physics Academia AND Criticizes Relativity
If one is building a career in physics academia and is in good standing, yet then critiques relativity, there’s a good chance they will be fired. This happened to William Lucas and Stephen Crothers, two personal, NPS/CNPS colleagues, well known to me, and there are many other such examples.
Similarly, tenured Prof. Herbert Dingle was one of the acknowledged experts in Special Relativity in his era – for example, he wrote a text book on SR, headed a physics department at a prestigious university and founded multiple, prestigious academic organizations. Then, he came across the Twin Paradox that our Part 2 addressed and concluded that SR could NOT describe what was happening physically. He was then labeled a quack by physics academia and ridiculed and his career was marginalized
How Solid Is “Solid Support”?
Above, I noted that certain key insights seemed to have no real impact on physics academia. Well, even though that’s clearly true of the official positions of physics academia, if we look under the covers a bit, we see that some insights clearly have had some impact on many individuals in academia. As I debate mainstream relativists, I very often find an allegedly passionate supporter of relativity who claims something along the line of “SR is correct, but the current mainstream interpretation of SR is incorrect” and then they propose some major change to SR. One of the most popular proposed changes to SR by these “relativists” is to eliminate “relative simultaneity” which is at the very core of SR. All these modifiers of SR, I contend, have taken the first step toward true insight and have seen a real flaw/shortcoming in SR, but because of their strong ties to relativity, etc., they have not yet seen that a complete break from SR is needed.
As a related example, my NPA/CNPS colleague and friend, Prof. Franco Selleri of Italy, recognized that a viable physics theory needed absolute simultaneity and proposed “Weak Relativity”. However, Franco could not quite break the needed ties with relativity and while he did define a “universal simultaneity”, it was an arbitrary math construct devoid of the physics meaning of simultaneity.
At the NPA/CNPS, we’ve had many physicists, who’ve needed to build systems involving “relativistic” (i.e., high velocity) effects, come and speak to us. They’ve candidly, but confidentially, admitted that they don’t actually use SR, but have to figure out what works in the real, physical world. However, they avoid publishing that aspect for the sake of their funding and their careers. Incidentally, when graduate students come to work at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, the students need to be “untaught” about certain aspects of SR.
Related to the above, is GPS. When GPS was being designed and developed, the assumption was that SR was needed to account for the different states of motion of earthbound clocks versus satellite clocks. Since by trial on error it was discovered that velocity with respect to the ECI frame was needed and plugging that (absolute) velocity into what looked like SR’s time dilation equation gave the needed results, most GPS designers, who were ignorant of LAT, erroneously assumed they were using SR. So this support for SR is based on a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge about the difference between the SR model and the LAT model. As mentioned before, a few GPS designers (e.g., Ron Hatch (30+ GPS patents) and Ton van Flandern) have recognized that GPS actually uses (and MUST use) the LAT model rather than the SR model. So when someone’s faith in SR is based on GPS, then that faith is not that solid as it’s perched precariously on ignorance and misconception. (See the section on GPS in Part 4.)
Having read many SR textbooks over the decades, I’ve noticed that many who mention the Twin Paradox, don’t bother to explain why they contend there is no paradox but rather just contend that it’s a ridiculous to claim that it’s a “paradox”. For example one AEI professor, in his intro to General Relativity, writes, after some general comments about the Twin Paradox, “Unfortunately, the careless student (or the attentive student of a carless teacher) often comes away with the idea that SR does in fact lead to paradoxes. This is nonsense.” It’s interesting that he admits that many are not satisfied by physics academia’s arguments. So not having a good physics argument, he first tries to intimidate students raising questions about this topic. He then refers students to an appendix. In the appendix, he uses the twins’ different observations about what is simultaneous, according to SR, to compute the NPTD. Unfortunately for the Prof’s explanation, when a twin’s observation of what’s simultaneous changes, this does NOT cause a clock’s reading to jump forward or backward as is implied by the Prof’s “explanation” – unless, of course, the twin manually adjusts his clock to be “SR synchronized” with the other twin’s clock which has never been claimed to be part of a Twin Paradox scenario and further, manual adjustments are NOT included in computing accumulated proper time. So students/readers should not be intimidated by a Prof’s ridicule or by his seeming confidence/arrogance on this topic.
Recently, I entered into correspondence with a relativist professor who uses SR for EM phenomenon. Not knowing his focus, I made some of the points made in this series about SR’s flaws in kinematics. He wrote back saying that my articulating these flaws was going after “low lying fruit”, hence, basically conceding that SR’s kinematics was flawed, but he asserted that SR’s EM gave him great results.
The Albert Einstein Institute (AEI) in Germany has been named by the German government as the official authority on relativity and, by law, AEI is required to answer questions on relativity. However, there are some scientists in Germany who agree with what’s written in this series on SR and who have repeatedly asked the AEI for the “physics” meaning of SR’s time dilation equation and length contraction equation. This is a really basic and fundamental question so the answer should be readily articulated. However, for years the AEI has refused to answer these basic questions about SR. I contend that they don’t answer because they know from experience that however they answer, it leads to a flaw in SR.
So administratively, politically and publicly, there appears to be solid support for SR, but there are signs of concern about the physics viability of SR in many corners of physics academia.
Einstein’s Twin Paradox claim was that there would be a net proper time difference (NPTD) between two clocks due to SR’s time dilation which is a function of relative velocity. On the one hand, physics academia has for many decades not allowed publishing, in the journals that they control, papers contending that the Twin Paradox is a true paradox and problem for SR. On the other hand, in order to allegedly “save SR from the paradox”, physics academia journals have allowed publishing papers that claim well over a dozen different and contradictory causes for the NPTD – thus tacitly admitting that a large number in academia think there is a problem in claiming that SR’s time dilation causes the NPTD. Let me spell it out in detail. If one claims that the NPTD is cause by some effect,, even a so called “relativistic” effect other than SR time dilation, then one is claiming that the NPTD is NOT due to SR’s time dilation. Hence, one is NOT “solving” the Twin Paradox and “saving” SR, but rather confirming that the Twin Paradox is a true paradox/problem for SR. In fact, the basic reason for a relativist to look for a cause that’s an alternative to SR’s time dilation is that they believe the time-dilation-as-cause claim is untenable. This is a most potent point in and of itself. But as if that weren’t striking enough, even though these alternative causes for NPTD put forth by the physics academia to “save SR” are mutually exclusive so only one, at most, can be correct, physics academia has shown virtually NO interest in critiquing any of them as they erroneously hope that these alternative cause arguments will deflect attention away from the Twin Paradox problem or at least muddy the waters. Hence, physics academia’s motivation, whether conscious or not, is NOT to objectively analyze the Twin Paradox to find the correct physics, but rather to fend off attacks on SR as the attacks are presumed, a priori, to be false – see the section that follows for further insight into this phenomenon.
Physicists Are Human
The heading of this section is not a criticism even though many physicists would prefer to present a persona that resembles Spock of Star Trek. Anyway, it stands to reason that physicists are prone to the inherent foibles of humans that affect ALL aspects of human endeavor (e.g., business, fashion, entertainment).
Once a human has developed a strongly held belief, it is very hard to abandon that belief no matter how illogical or how it seems to clash with experience. This is true whether the belief came by indoctrination beginning in childhood or by long hours of personal study. Once the belief becomes strongly held, then a human tends to readily accept all input that supports that belief and conversely, when a human is confronted with input that attacks that belief, he tends to ignore it or rebut it in a knee jerk reaction using anything that comes to mind and sounds remotely plausible – whereas objective analysis is rare.
Further, once a human becomes part of a group and that group shares that strongly held belief, then that human feels a lot of explicit and implicit pressure to not betray the group’s belief!
In addition, there can be many personal concerns such as career, text book revenue, pay, ego, identity, one’s reputation and image, etc. that act as obstacles to loosening the hold of a strongly held, but invalid, belief.
Since SR is one of the key foundation blocks of academic physics, if it fails, all the rest of the edifice is in danger of falling and this exacerbates the above. Consider that time after time when new data has NOT supported currently accepted “spacetime” physics, the reaction has NOT been to question academic theory, but to try to use math to find a way to bridge the gap between theory and data. Think of the invention of dark matter and dark energy to do just that. So now we have 96+% of physics academia’s universe filled with “darkness” – this truly is the Dark Age of “spacetime” physics. In addition, in “spacetime” cosmology, we need to add “inflation” that starts and stops abruptly and in an unimaginably short time (10-37 of a second) causes space to increase by an unimaginably large factor (1078). (Personally, I prefer duct tape for such ad hoc repairs.)
Unfortunately for many, the default “thinking” on the issues above is to trust the “authority” figures of physics academia. However, the broad range of problems discussed above, plus Thomas Kuhn’s history of revolutions in physics, suggest that it’s best to do one’s own objective analysis.
I and other contributors to ScienceWoke will likely, in the future, expand on the various topics mentioned above.
Articles in the Series