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Category Archives: Relativity

Relativity posts

Mean speed of light postulate

Einstein stated his second postulate as (see here):

light is propagated in vacant space, with a velocity c which is independent of the nature of motion of the emitting body.

Since the one-way speed of light cannot be measured, but only the round-trip (or two-way) speed, let us modify this postulate to state:

The two-way mean speed of light in vacant space is a constant, c, which is independent of the nature of motion of the emitting body.

This is the most that can be empirically verified. Then for convenience sake, let us adopt the following convention:

The final observed leg of the path of light in empty space takes no time.

Since the (harmonic) mean speed of light is c, the speeds of the other legs of light travel are at least c/2 such that the mean speed equals c. In this way, the Galilean transformation is preserved for the final leg. And interchanging length and duration leads to an alternate version of the Galilean transformation.

This accords with common ways of speaking. Even astronomers speak of where a star is now, rather than pedantically keep saying where it was so many years ago. Physical theory should be in accord with observation of the physical world as much as possible. This is an example of how amateur scientists can help re-integrate science and common life.

Half-duplex relativity

Galilean relativity requires the speed of light to be instantaneous (i.e., zero pace). Because the one-way speed of light is not known, it may be instantaneous as long as the mean speed of light is finite. Such a situation is possible if light is conceived as in half-duplex telecommunications: one direction at a time is observed or transmitted, but never both simultaneously.

Consider a light clock in this context:Saw-tooth light pathLet Δt be the time for one cycle of light at rest (top diagram). Let Δt’ be the time for one cycle of light traveling at relative velocity v (bottom diagram). The mean speed of light is c. Then

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Galileo’s reciprocity

From Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, translated by Stillman Drake (UC Press, 1967):

Salv. Now imagine yourself in a boat with your eyes fixed on point of the sail yard. Do you think that because the boat is moving along briskly, you will have to move your eyes in order to keep your vision always on that point of the sail yard and to follow its motion?

Simp. I am a sure that I should not need to make any change at all; not just as to my vision, but if I had aimed a musket I should never have to move it a hairsbreadth to keep it aimed, no matter how the boat moved.

Salv. And this comes about because the motion the ship confers upon the sail yard, it confers upon you and also upon your eyes, so that you need not move them a bit in order to gaze at the top of the sail yard, which consequently appears motionless to you. [And the rays of vision go from the eye to the sail yard just as if a cord were tied between the two ends of the boat. Now a hundred cords are tied at different fixed points, each of which keeps its place whether the ship moves or remains still.] p.249-250

Galileo is portraying motion as viewed by a human observer. The implication is that the observer in another ship would be observing the same kinds of things. Then two observers in motion with respect to one another who observe one another must face one another. That is, they are positioned opposite one another, effectively each turned 180º from the other.

This is the Galileo Reciprocity Principle, the convention that an observed frame has the opposite orientation as the frame from which it is observed, which ensures that corresponding velocities are equal. It is the opposite of the Einstein Reciprocity Principle, the convention that an observed frame has the same orientation as the frame from which it is observed.

Relativity of orientation

The Principle of Relativity states that the laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames of reference (IRF). Since a frame of reference includes an orientation, that is, a convention as to which rectilinear semi-axes are positive (and so which are negative), and since there is no preferred frame of reference, each frame can have its own orientation. Galilean relativity have what is called “body-fixed” orientations.

A frame of reference is called “body-fixed” if it is conceptually attached to a rigid body, such as a vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, or spacecraft. Body-fixed frames are inertial frames if the body to which the frame is affixed is in inertial motion. The body is usually referenced in anthropomorphic terms, such as its left, right, face, or back, although some craft have their own terms, notably, ships with port, starboard, fore, and aft.

Consider the following scenario of cars in five lanes, oriented so that their forward direction is positive, with their unsigned speeds shown relative to the two parked cars in the middle lane:Six cars in five lanesCompare the direction of cars B, C1, C2, and D according to the frames attached to the five cars:

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Velocity reciprocity clarified

This is a follow-on to posts here and here.

It is common to derive the Lorentz transformation assuming velocity reciprocity, which seems to say that if a body at rest in frame of reference is observed from a frame of reference S that travels with relative velocity +v, then a body at rest in frame of reference S will be observed from the frame of reference to be traveling with velocity –v. But that’s not the case.

Consider the typical scenario in which a person standing on the earth (embankment, station) with frame of reference S observes a person sitting in a railway car with frame of reference . Say they are both waving their right hands and their frame of reference follows a right-hand orientation: the positive direction is toward their right.

Person waves to train

The first illustration shows the scenario from behind the observer standing on the earth in frame S, who observes the passenger sitting in the train moving to their right with velocity +v. The scenario is typically presented from only this perspective, that of an observer at rest in frame A, even if the perspective of an observer at rest in frame is described.

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Galilean relativity defended

Galilean relativity is a relational theory of motion as a function of time, which leads to the Galilean transformation. Here is a defense of Galilean relativity from two postulates:

(1) The Galilean principle of relativity, which states that the laws of mechanics are invariant under a Galilean transformation.

(2) A convention that rectilinear coordinates for frames of reference follow the right-handed rule: the unit vectors i, j, and k are related as i × j = k.

The Galilean transformation for constant motion on the x axis is x´ = xvt,  and t´ = t. Postulate (2) means if the extended right-hand thumb points to the positive X axis and the extended right-hand first finger points to the positive Y axis, then the right-hand middle finger points orthogonally to the positive Z axis.

The standard configuration for derivations of the Lorentz transformation consists of two inertial frames of reference moving relative to each other at constant velocity, with Cartesian coordinates such that the x and x′ axes are collinear facing the same direction:

Axes with same orientation

In this case the velocity of S´ relative to S is +v and the velocity of S relative to S´ is –v. This is called the principle of velocity reciprocity.

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Two principles of velocity reciprocity

Velocity reciprocity in relativity theory is the relation between two observers, each associated with a frame of reference and moving at different, but constant, velocities. That is, an observer-frame S observes another observer-frame traveling with velocity +v relative to observer-frame S. A velocity reciprocity relation concerns the velocity of S that is observed by . Einstein’s principle of velocity reciprocity states that each velocity is the same magnitude (speed) but is in the opposite direction. That is, the velocity of S observed by  is –v.

Two frames with same orientation

Einstein’s principle of velocity reciprocity reads

We postulate that the relation between the coordinates of the two systems is linear. Then the inverse transformation is also linear and the complete non-preference of the one or the other system demands that the transformation shall be identical with the original one, except for a change of v to −v. Ref.

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What Galileo really demonstrated

Galileo Galilei’s inclined plane experiment is described in his work Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, which I quote from the Dover edition. He speaks (through his character Salviati) of “those sciences where mathematical demonstrations are applied to natural phenomena, as is seen in the case of perspective, astronomy, mechanics, music, and others where the principles, once established by well-chosen experiments, become the foundations of the entire superstructure.” (p.178) This is the ancient method of science that Galileo applied to experiments, establishing the foundation of modern science.

Galileo states his Theorem II, Proposition II as:

The spaces described [i.e., traced] by a body falling from rest with a uniformly accelerated motion are to each other as the squares of the time-intervals employed in traversing these distances. (p.174 or p.142 on the OLL edition)

But it has just been proved that so far as distances traversed are concerned it is precisely the same whether a body falls from rest with a uniform acceleration or whether it falls during an equal time-interval with a constant speed which is one-half the maximum speed attained during the accelerated motion.

Then he describes his experiment:

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Science and Hypothesis excerpts

What follows are excerpts from the book Science and Hypothesis by Henri Poincaré, translated (1905) from La Science et l’hypothèse (1902).

p.xxiii The latter [definitions or conventions] are to be met with especially in mathematics and in the sciences to which it is applied. From them, indeed, the sciences derive their rigour; such conventions are the result of the unrestricted activity of the mind, which in this domain recognises no obstacle. For here the mind may affirm because it lays down its own laws; but let us clearly understand that while these laws are imposed on our science, which otherwise could not exist, they are not imposed on Nature. Are they then arbitrary? No; for if they were, they would not be fertile. Experience leaves us our freedom of choice, but it guides us by helping us to discern the most convenient path to follow.

p.xxv Space is another framework which we impose on the world. Whence are the first principles of geometry derived? Are they imposed on us by logic? Lobatschewsky, by inventing non-Euclidean geometries, has shown that this is not the case. Is space revealed to us by our senses? No; for the space revealed to us by our senses is absolutely different from the space of geometry. Is geometry derived from experience? Careful discussion will give the answer—no! We therefore conclude that the principles of geometry are only conventions; but these conventions are not arbitrary, and if transported into another world (which I shall call the non-Euclidean world, and which I shall endeavour to describe), we shall find ourselves compelled to adopt more of them.

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From racing to relativity

There are three different contexts for 3D time with 1D space (stance), depending on whether stance is continuously increasing and, if so, whether there is a conversion factor between 3D space and 3D time:

(A) Stance is not continuously increasing. This is the situation of a race or sport in which game time has a definite beginning and ending. For example, in many sports the game lasts a specific time. In a race, the length of the course is set and the time for each contestant ends when they cross the finish line. The average pace of a contestant is their race time divided by the course length.

(B) Stance is continuously increasing and there is a general conversion factor between length and time. This is the situation of the special theory of relativity and some transportation settings in which the conversion pace is the minimum pace (and maximum speed).

In this case, there is an increasing stance whether or not a positive time interval is measured. Without a time interval increase the pace is at a minimum (or the speed is a maximum). As the amount of time measured increases, the pace increases (or the speed decreases). Remember that a small amount of time per unit distance is a fast motion, whereas a large amount of time per unit distance is a slow motion.

In this way, the pace increases indefinitely. A pace of infinity would be at rest. A pace of zero is the minimum pace, which in relativity is the speed of light. That is, the speed counts down from the speed of light. This has been misinterpreted as a transformation with superluminal speeds, but because speed decreases as pace increases, object speeds are subluminal.

The dual Lorentz transformation (see here) is

x'=\lambda (x - ur);\; y'=y;\; z'=z;\; r'=\lambda (r - c^2ur) \; \textup{with}\; \lambda = 1/{\sqrt{1-cu}}

with the understanding that c represents the inverse of the pace of light. The cu in λ is the pace of the object divided by the pace of light, with the stance increasing at the conversion rate. As the time of motion increases, the pace increases (and the speed decreases) from that of light toward the pace or speed of rest. So, the square root never becomes negative here.

(C) Stance is continuously increasing but there is no general conversion factor between length and time. This is the situation of general relativity and transportation in general. Conversion of length and time are local, not global, and the optimal route depends on whether length or time are optimized.