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Why Einstein was wrong about relativity

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Oct 31, 2008, 9:29:42 AM10/31/08
Why Einstein was wrong about relativity

* 29 October 2008
* Mark Buchanan

IMAGINE you are on a bicycle, pedalling across the cosmos. A beam of
light - perhaps sent off by a distant collapsing star - zings past
you. How fast are you and the light approaching each other? You are
travelling at hardly any speed, so the answer will be more or less
exactly light's speed through the interstellar vacuum, around 300
million metres a second.

Now imagine you abandon pedal power for the day. Bowling along in your
spaceship at half light speed, you meet another light pulse head-on.
What is your speed of approach now? Surely it is just your speed plus
that of the light: in total, one and a half times light speed.

Wrong. Your speed of approach will be the speed of light, no more -
and that's true however fast you are travelling. Welcome to the weird
world of Einstein's special relativity, where as things move faster
they shrink, and where time gets so distorted that even talking about
events being simultaneous is pointless. That all follows, as Albert
Einstein showed, from the fact that light always travels at the same
speed, however you look at it.

Really? Mitchell Feigenbaum, a physicist at The Rockefeller University
in New York, begs to differ. He's the latest and most prominent in a
line of researchers insisting that Einstein's theory has nothing to do
with light - whatever history and the textbooks might say. "Not only
is it not necessary," he says, "but there's absolutely no room in the
theory for it."

What's more, Feigenbaum claims in a paper on the arXiv preprint server
that has yet to be peer-reviewed, if only the father of relativity,
Galileo Galilei, had known a little more modern mathematics back in
the 17th century, he could have got as far as Einstein did
( "Galileo's thoughts are almost 400
years old," he says. "But they're still extraordinarily potent.
They're enough on their own to give Einstein's relativity, without any
additional knowledge."

The claim has got other physicists thinking. Take Feigenbaum's
argument a step further, some say, and we might long ago have seen our
way not only to Einstein's relativity but also to the idea of an
expanding universe - even one whose expansion is accelerating -
without the intellectual upheavals that have led us to those
conclusions today.

The discussion centres on two assumptions that Einstein made when
formulating his special theory of relativity in 1905. The first is
uncontroversial: that the laws of physics should look the same to
anyone at rest or moving steadily. Say I am standing motionless and
you are moving past on a train travelling at a constant speed in a
straight line - in other words, at a constant velocity. To you on the
train, I am the one who seems to be moving. But it does not actually
matter who is "really" moving relative to whom: although perceived
velocities depend on one's point of view, the physical laws governing
motion stay the same.

This is the principle of relativity proposed by Galileo in A Dialogue
Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, his treatise of 1632 that got
him into hot water with the Catholic church for discussing
Copernicus's idea that Earth goes round the sun. Galileo writes of a
passenger inside a ship who cannot tell if it is moving or standing
still "so long as the motion is uniform and not fluctuating this way
and that". The analogy was aimed at those sceptics who believed that
Earth could not be moving because they could not feel it.

Galileo's relativity served well for almost 250 years. But when
Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell derived his theory of
electricity and magnetism in the late 19th century, it hit a snag.
Maxwell's equations make clear that light is a wave travelling at a
constant speed. But oddly, they do not mention from whose point of
view this speed is measured.

This was a problem if Maxwell's theory, like all good physical
theories, was to follow Galileo's rule and apply for everyone. If we
do not know who measures the speed of light in the equations, how can
we modify them to apply from other perspectives? Einstein's workaround
was that we don't have to. Faced with the success of Maxwell's theory,
he simply added a second assumption to Galileo's first: that, relative
to any observer, light always travels at the same speed.

This "second postulate" is the source of all Einstein's eccentric
physics of shrinking space and haywire clocks. And with a little
further thought, it leads to the equivalence of mass and energy
embodied in the iconic equation E = mc2. The argument is not about the
physics, which countless experiments have confirmed. It is about
whether we can reach the same conclusions without hoisting light onto
its highly irregular pedestal.

According to David Mermin, who has been teaching relativity at Cornell
University in Ithaca, New York, for 30 years, a consensus has emerged
that we can, although this shift has yet to filter through to a wider
audience. "All the textbooks teach relativity based on Einstein's
principles," he says. "And there's an extremely widespread
misunderstanding that relativity is somehow tied up with light."

Two years ago, Feigenbaum's puzzlement with relativity's logic led him
to Galileo's Dialogue. "The book is quite a knockout," he says. "When
I finished reading, I wondered, if you take what he says seriously,
what can you produce?" So he sat down and started calculating as
Galileo might have, but using today's more sophisticated mathematics.

He starts with a simple scenario. You are standing watching a friend,
Frank, moving past you on a train at 50 kilometres per hour towards
the east. Frank, on the other hand, has his eyes on Kate, whom he sees
receding from him at 50 km/h towards the north. Feigenbaum asks a
simple question: how do you see Kate moving?

It seems natural that Kate's velocity relative to you should in some
sense be the sum of Frank's velocity relative to you and Kate's
relative to Frank. The fact that Frank sees Kate both receding to the
north and keeping up with his eastbound motion implies that, from your
stationary point of view, her motion is towards the north-east.

But now swap Frank and Kate's motions. Frank is travelling at 50 km/h
northwards relative to you, and Kate at 50 km/h eastwards relative to
Frank. This should not affect how Kate is travelling relative to you -
you will still see her heading off towards the north-east.

Galileo would certainly have said so. Only with Einstein's
introduction of a space-time warped, as he thought, by a universal
speed of light did it become clear that the rules of adding motions
were not quite so simple as all that. But in fact, says Feigenbaum,
both Galileo and Einstein missed a surprising subtlety in the maths -
one that renders Einstein's second postulate superfluous.

It is this: if Frank's world is aligned with yours - if the north and
east of both you and Frank point in the same direction - and Kate's
world is similarly aligned with Frank's, you might think that Kate's
is aligned with yours. The problem is, mathematical logic alone does
not permit that conclusion. Strange as it may seem, it in fact allows
a distinct possibility that Kate's world could be rotated with respect
to yours - even if she is perfectly aligned with Frank and Frank is
perfectly aligned with you.

This means that, while still seeing Kate careering off towards the
north-east, you might also see her skewed slightly to the left or
right relative to her direction of motion (see diagram). The direction
of the rotation, and thus Kate's motion as seen by you, would depend
on what the relative motions of you and Frank and of Frank and Kate

The possibility of such rotations turns out to have far-reaching
consequences. Ignore them, and Galileo's relativity pops out. Allow
them, and the algebra works out very differently: the mangled space-
time of Einstein's relativity emerges, complete with a definite but
unspecified maximum speed that the sum of individual relative speeds
cannot exceed. "These rotations are hard to understand," Feigenbaum
says, "but they're the wellspring of physics."

Feigenbaum emphasises that he is not the first person to question
Einstein's second postulate or arrive at the idea of such bizarre
rotations. Even so, Mermin is impressed. "Mitch's way of deriving the
theory is quite complicated," he says, "but the rotations come up in a
very natural and beautiful way."

The result turns the historical logic of Einstein's relativity on its
head. Those contortions of space and time that Einstein derived from
the properties of light actually emerge from even more basic, purely
mathematical considerations. Light's special position in relativity is
a historical accident: it was just the first (and is still the most
obvious) phenomenon we have encountered that travels at the universal
maximum speed.

The idea that Einstein's relativity has nothing to do with light could
actually come in rather handy. For one thing, it rules out a nasty
shock if anyone were ever to prove that photons, the particles of
light, have mass. We know that the photon's mass is very small - less
than 10-49 grams. A photon with any mass at all would imply that our
understanding of electricity and magnetism is wrong, and that electric
charge might not be conserved. That would be problem enough, but a
massive photon would also spell deep trouble for the second postulate,
as a photon with mass would not necessarily always travel at the same
speed. Feigenbaum's work shows how, contrary to many physicists'
beliefs, this need not be a problem for relativity.

"Feigenbaum's ideas could be very helpful in correcting this
misconception," says physicist Sergio Cacciatori of the University of
Insubria in Como, Italy. He suggests that further thinking along
similar lines could reveal much more about the universe. Together with
his colleague Vittorio Gorini, and Alexander Kamenshchik of the Landau
Institute for Theoretical Physics in Moscow, Russia, he has explored
what would happen if you took Feigenbaum's conclusions about adding
motions and applied them to changes in position (
0807.3009). What if where you ended up after two consecutive
displacements depended on the order of their occurrence?

In the world around us, it is obviously a pretty good approximation to
reality that, if you take 20 paces forward and 10 to the left, you end
up in the same place as if you had taken 10 equally sized places to
the left and then 20 forward. On the vast scales of the cosmos,
however, the same assumption might be dangerously misleading. It
amounts to requiring the universe to have a flat, Euclidean geometry -
one like that in our immediate environment, in which parallel lines
never cross and the inside angles of triangles add up to 180 degrees.

Abandon that assumption, Cacciatori and his colleagues show, and
things look very different. The universe is not flat and Euclidean,
but curved in on itself, creating a geometry akin to that of the
surface of a sphere such as Earth - where the parallel lines of
longitude converge at the poles and the internal angles of triangles
add up to more than 180 degrees.

That discovery is significant because it feeds into a long-running
debate about the shape - and fate - of the universe. Back in 1916,
Einstein fused special relativity with Newton's ideas of gravitation
to create a universal theory of gravity, known as the general theory
of relativity. General relativity predicts that mass and energy warp
space and time, and that the distribution of mass and energy
determines the universe's geometry.
Predictable fate

When Einstein applied these ideas to calculate the dynamics of the
universe, the outcome was decidedly odd: the gravity of the universe
warps its fabric so much that it becomes unstable and collapses in on
itself. To avoid this dispiriting and apparently nonsensical
conclusion, Einstein added to his general relativistic brew a new
quantity, the "cosmological constant", to counteract gravity and
create a stable, static universe. This universe's geometry was curved
and closed in on itself - rather like the three-dimensional surface of
a four-dimensional sphere.

Einstein's constant was short-lived. In 1929, Edwin Hubble found
evidence that distant galaxies were receding from the Earth, implying
that the universe was expanding dynamically. Faced with this evidence
against a static universe, Einstein famously decried the constant as
his "greatest blunder".

Just recently, however, the cosmological constant has come back into
fashion. The reason is the evidence accumulated by astronomers over
the past decade - in the unexpected dimness of some extremely distant
supernovae, and in the cosmic microwave background, the still-
reverberating echo of the big bang - that the expansion of the
universe is accelerating. That acceleration seems to require just the
kind of anti-gravitational effect that motivated Einstein's constant
in the first place.

The irony, says Gorini, is that we could have seen all along that
something like the cosmological constant makes sense. Follow the
mathematics of relativity through to its logical conclusion, allowing
for displacements that add up in different ways, and you find that
space must have just the curvature that a cosmological constant helps
to produce. That has nothing to do with the distribution of mass, but
follows from mathematical logic alone.

So had we put our faith in mathematical reasoning, might we have been
able to predict the dynamics of the universe much sooner? Gorini
thinks so. He claims that the German mathematician Hermann Minkowski
came close to exploring these displacement effects in lectures on
relativity he delivered in 1908. "Had he done it," Gorini says,
"physicists would have known that the universe expands, and that its
expansion is accelerated, well before the development of general
relativity or even Hubble's observation of the recession of galaxies."

As it happens, in 1968, physicists Henri Bacry and Jean-Marc Levy-
LeBlond of the University of Nice in France predicted the existence of
a cosmological constant from first principles (Journal of Mathematical
Physics, vol 9, p 1605). Their work presages that of Feigenbaum and of
Gorini and colleagues, but remained unnoticed - largely because the
constant was out of fashion at the time.

Against that prevailing scientific wind, it would have been a bold
leap for those researchers to have predicted the dynamics of the
universe; for Galileo, centuries before, even more so. Einstein, the
ultimate physics revolutionary, probably would have afforded himself a
wry smile at the picture that is now emerging. The startling edifice
of the new physics he built remains undisturbed, even as its logical
foundations are being greatly strengthened. Meanwhile, the power of
mathematical reasoning in unlocking the secrets of the universe
continues to amaze: what physicist Eugene Wigner once called "the
unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" is one of the deepest
mysteries of them all.


Oct 31, 2008, 10:29:28 PM10/31/08

Nov 1, 2008, 5:56:26 PM11/1/08
On 1 Lis, 03:29, progea <> wrote:

By Aether Wave Theory the Lorentz symmetry is simple consequence of
fact, we are observing light wave spreading by using of light, whereas
in common life we are used to observe energy wave spreading by light
waves, i.e. a TWO waves are involved in observations. The exceptional
character of light is simply given by fact, it's the fastest
interaction, which can be used for observations (if we neglect the
gravitational waves).

It means, Feigenbaum's insight is both correct, both wrong at the same
moment. Lorentz invariance isn't really related just for light wave
spreading. But the exceptional role of light for relativity isn't so
unsubstantiated, because we can observe whole causual reality just by
light waves, not by sound or whatever else ones.

Jul 21, 2018, 7:43:07 AM7/21/18
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