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Empirical Status of Einstein's Relativity Theory
EMPIRICAL STATUS OF EINSTEIN RELATIVITY THEORY
It is a widely held view in the world of physics that the Special Theory of
Relativity (STR) and General Relativity are "proved" by experimental
evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, no theory is
"proved" once and for all. Experiment may agree with the predictions or
suppositions of a theory, but the theory is by no means held to be proved.
Its theoretical validity is only assumed so long as it has not been disproved
But every theory is subject to disproof. The case of Einstein relativity
theory is somewhat exceptional. It is held to be true, even in the absence of
unequivocal experimental support. In their work, Howard Hayden, University of
Connecticut, and Petr Beckmann, emeritus professor of electrical engineering
at University of Colorado, have examined the claims of experimental support
for the relativity theories. Their findings are summarized here. But first,
I would like to suggest that the easiest way to understand how Einstein
overthrew the principles that had inspired physics prior to the relativity
era is to read the original papers on the subject, in particular the 1905
text On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies, published in English in a Dover
collection entitled The Principle of Relativity.
In section four of that paper, a definite change of orientation is introduced.
Explaining the physical meaning of the transformations he has derived, he
speaks of how spheres, rigid bodies and clocks "APPEAR" to behave, how
they look when "VIEWED" from another system. No one could object to this,
since Einstein is clearly talking about appearances only, and makes no claims
about reality. Since appearances only are involved, the situation is perfectly
symmetrical: moving observers may make mutually symmetrical claims about the
condition of clocks without contradicting one another.
But at one point, appearance is suddenly confused with reality, and
asymmetrical, i.e real physical effects are claimed: "If at the points
A and B of K there are stationary clocks which, viewed in the stationary
system, are synchronous; and if the clock A is moved with the velocity v
along the line AB to B, then on its arrival at B the two clocks no longer
synchronize, but the clock moved from A to B lags behind the other...It is
at once apparent that this result still holds good if the clock moves from
A to B in any polygonal line, and also when the points A and B coincide.
If we assume that the result proved for a polygonal line is also valid for
a continuously curved line, we arrive at this result: If one of two
synchronous clocks at A is moved in a closed curve with constant velocity
until it returns to A,... then by the clock which has remained at rest the
traveled clock on its arrival at A will be ... slow."
Evidently, the asymmetrical case Einstein has introduced here is the
"twins" paradox, only his subjects are just synchronized clocks, not
identical biological twins. As long as he was speaking of appearances only,
the choice of rest frames was irrelevant: "It is clear that the same results
hold good of bodies at rest in the "stationary" system viewed from a system
in uniform motion." In other words, the effect is symmetrical, not dependent
upon the choice of moving or stationary frame. After the flip-flop,
he depicts the effect as asymmetrical, and he invents the "twin" clocks to
convince his reader that it is a physically real effect. To drive the point
home, he has a clock at the equator running slower than a clock at one of
the poles of the earth.
As we will see below, experiments with moving clocks are indeed asymmetrical,
and consequently cannot be referred to the special theory of relativity,
which, in its postulates, requires a symmetrical situation: the moving clock
can even run fast! The behavior of moving clocks thus has nothing to do with
STR, but must be understood as due to other causes.
[SPECIAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY
STR rests upon four postulates in all: two explicit and two implicit.
The explicit postulates are the classical postulate of relativity and the
postulate of constancy of light velocity. The implicit postulates are that
Lorentz electrodynamics remain valid at high observer-related velocities,
and that the motion of matter through a force field does not inherently
change its own force field, independently of any observer.
Of these four postulates, only the first enjoys any experimental support,
and it is of classical origin. Of particular interest is the postulate that
light moves with a constant velocity c in a stationary system of coordinates,
whether the light is emitted by a stationary or moving source. If this
postulate is taken to mean that the velocity of light moves through a medium,
such as an ether, much the same way that sound behaves in air, then it is of
no special consequence, since exactly this supposition is basic to classical
Experimental results which are adduced as proof of this postulate thus
agree perfectly well with classical ether theory (e.g. the Michelson Morley
and Trouton-Noble experiments). It is of interest to note that Michelson
interpreted his experiments as lending support to the entrained ether
hypothesis. He remained an opponent of STR until his death, as did
H.E. Lorentz, upon whose transformations STR relies, and Herbert Ives,
of the Ives-Stillwell experiment.
Two experiments are decisive. One is the Michelson-Gale experiment of 1925,
which unequivocally shows anisotropy of the speed of light consistent with
c - v for eastbound signals and c + v for westbound signals, v being the
earth's rotational velocity.
The other was performed by Brillet and Hall (1979) with lasers. The
laboratory referenced data are definitely anisotropic, yet in their
published results the authors manipulate the data by arbitrarily translating
laboratory angles to sidereal angles, which causes the anisotropy to vanish.
Consequently, the postulate of constant light velocity is as good as disproved.
It is presumed by many that the predictions of STR are also supported by
experiment. The predictions which can be verified fall into six classes:
Lorentz contraction, time dilation and velocity addition, each of which may
be referred to the rest frame or the moving frame. In only one case is it
possible to differentiate between a prediction of STR and classical ether
theory, and that is the case of time dilation in a moving frame.
This effect is required by the first postulate to be symmetrical. Only one
experiment has ever been capable of distinguishing a symmetrical from an
asymmetrical effect: the Hafele-Keating experiment of 1972 "...in which
atomic clocks were carried around the world on commercial aircraft.
What everybody knows is that the results 'supported' special relativity theory,
but what practically nobody knows is that the westbound clocks ran
faster than the laboratory clock. In order to explain it, [STR] invokes a
preferred reference frame, one which does not rotate with the earth:
moving successively faster, and with clocks successively slower are the
westbound clock (still moving east), the lab clock and the east-bound
clock." (Hayden 1990)
In other words, to save STR, it is necessary to add epicycles, or
effectively "cook" the data. The results are consistent with the expected
effects of the earth's gravitational field, and hence the problem is not
kinematical at all.
Experiments on muons at Mt. Washington by Frisch and Smith in 1963 and at
CERN by Bailey et al. are inconclusive, since the measured effect, namely
a change in the half-lives of fast-moving muons, is predicted by the
assumption that radiated frequencies or radioactive decay change when
the particles travel through a force field (i.e. the earth's gravitational
field) with a velocity comparable to c.
"To summarize: the experimental evidence on alleged time dilation overlooks
the crucial issue; is it time or the clock that is affected? It is a
special case of a more fundamental question: should physics seek to understand
objective reality or should it describe an observer's perceptions?"
Here Beckmann only echoes the words of Newton on the scientific quest for
the essence of phenomena beneath the appearances: "Nor do those less defile
the purity of mathematical and philosophical truths, who confound
real quantities with their relations and sensible measures."
It is hardly necessary to go into the putative proofs of GR, given that
support for its kinematical foundation, STR, is non-existent.
Suffice it to say that light-bending, the precession of Mercury's perihelion
and the Mossbauer effect can all be accounted for by theories rooted in
classical physics, with and without a hypothesis of quantum gravity. The
interesting aspect of this research is the possibility of explaining all
classical results on the basis of a "quantized" gravitational field.
Special mention must be made of the problem of Mercury's perihelion, for
it is indicative of the phenomenon of collective amnesia that modern physics
dogma has induced in practitioners of the profession. In his book, Beckmann
shows that a certain Paul Gerber, in 1898, derived the advance of the
perihelion from purely classical principles.
The question then remains: what is the significance of the Lorentz
To answer this question, we again appeal to the original text of 1905 by
Einstein. We read: "All problems in the optics of moving bodies can be
solved by the method here employed. What is essential is that the electric
and magnetic force of the light which is influenced by a moving body be
transformed into a system of coordinates at rest relatively to the body.
By this means all problems in the optics of moving bodies will be reduced
to a series of problems in the optics of stationary bodies."
Einstein states that his method is simply a technique for solving problems
in the optics of moving bodies, which consists in eliminating the
inconveniences introduced by moving bodies by reformulating the problem so
that it can be solved with standard methods. This is achieved by arbitrarily
normalizing the speed of light to c in all frames, which has the effect of
transforming the forces into a system of coordinates which is at rest
relative to a moving body.
An analogous situation exists in the field of aerodynamics, and it will be
instructive to compare the experiences in the two fields.
In the early decades of this century, the discipline of aerodynamics was
reaching maturity. By around 1920, the problem of supersonic flight was
being addressed, at least in theory, by engineers working in Germany.
At speeds approaching the velocity of sound, the compressibility of
air causes significant increases of drag and unstable flow in straight
airfoil designs. Standard methods of calculating the properties of foils
that would provide the right properties of lift broke down near the
speed of sound, so a method was sought for dealing with the problem
of compressibility. The resulting method consists in applying a factor,
known as the Prandtl-Glauert Transformation, to the chord of the wing.
This factor was originally derived by Prandtl in 1918 (apparently), and it
is defined as the root of
[1-(mainstream velocity/velocity of sound in mainstream)^2],
or root(1-M^2), M being the Mach number.
The factor is applied to a wing in order to calculate a flow pattern in a
compressible gas by assuming a wing of larger chord in an incompressible gas.
(Jones 1990, Hilton 1951)
The effect of the Prandtl-Glauert transformation is thus exactly the same
as the Lorentz factor. In the terminology of relativity, a wing travelling
near the speed of sound "sees" the air through which it travels "contracted"
due to its velocity. Since it was first introduced, the technique has been
refined further; the chief result of the refinement is that it
"circumvents the real problem and reduces the calculation of compressible
flow to that of incompressible flow." Perhaps special relativity kinematics,
where "all problems in the optics of moving bodies [are] reduced to a series
of problems in the optics of stationary bodies", could benefit from some of
the progress made in aerodynamic theory.
While Einstein relativists are convinced that the symmetric effects
(time dilation, length contraction) inherent in the Lorentz transformation
are proved by asymmetric effects due to non-kinematical causes, aerodynamics
engineers have apparently also been tempted to draw "relativistic"
conclusions from the Prandtl-Glauert transformation. One writer warns
his readers thus: "This concept of compressibility factors has proved so
powerful that we tend to think in these terms as though they expressed some
physical quality of these flows. Thus, rather too easily, we tend to regard
pressure distributions in compressible flow as scaled-up or stretched
versions of those in incompressible flow."
A similar admonition should perhaps be affixed to the Lorentz transformation:
"The concepts of time dilation and length contraction have proved so powerful
that we tend to think in these terms as though they expressed some physical
quality of space and time. In fact, they only serve to reduce problems in the
optics of moving bodies to a series of problems in the optics of stationary
Petr Beckmann, 1987. Einstein Plus One, Boulder, Colo.,
Howard C. Hayden, 1990. Experimentum crucis, in Galilean
Electrodynamics, Vol. 1, No. 1, Jan 1990.
Howard C. Hayden, 1991. Yes, moving clocks run slowly, but
is time dilated?, in Galilean Electrodynamics, Vol. 2, No.
4, July/August 1991.
Howard C. Hayden, 1992. Distinctions between Galilean and
Einsteinian physics, in Galilean Electrodynamics, Vol. 3,
No. 2, March/April 1992.
Robert T. Jones, Wing Theory, Princeton, 1990.
W. F. Hilton, High Speed Aerodynamics, NY, Longmans, 1951.
D. Kuechemann, The Aerodynamic Design of Aircraft, Oxford,
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