Friday 20 November 2009

Einstein, relativity and false scientific dogma (2)

(Post 2)

Now comes another challenge but it somehow seems to have slipped the usually careful net of censorship by being less challenging and more pliant to the current dogmas. An editor of Physics Letters A apparently promised Tom van Flandern that reviewers would not be allowed to reject his article simply because it conflicted with received wisdom.

Van Flandern begins his article by recollecting that, as a graduate student of celestial mechanics at Yale, it was accepted that all gravitational interactions must be taken as instantaneous. At the same time, students were also taught that Einstein's special relativity proved that nothing could propagate faster than light in a vacuum. There seemed to be a plain contradiction. He was determined later to get to the bottom of it and now he has, he thinks, done so.

If c is the natural maximum limit at which anything may travel in a vacuum in the Universe, a primary nostrum of SR, then gravity cannot propagate at any speed greater than that natural limit. Yet if gravity does not do so then there must be an appreciable delay in its interaction, just as light takes time to travel from a light source to a receiver.

Thomas Van Flandern, 1940-2009, an American astronomer specializing in celestial mechanics

If this is so, then by the time the gravitational pull of the Sun has reached the Earth, then the Earth itself will have moved on for a further 8.3 minutes (the time interval if gravity propagates at the speed of light, c). By then the Sun’s gravitational pull upon the Earth will not be in the same straight line as is the Earth’s gravitational pull upon the Sun. The effect of this would be to double the Earth’s distance from the Sun every 1200 years.

Clearly, however, this is not happening.

Given that the planetary system has a far greater degree of stability than this, it is clear that gravity must propagate at a much greater speed than that of light, c. Newton himself assumed that gravity acted instantaneously, or near-instantaneously, and this assumption continues to be accepted in practice by astrophysicists.

The data supports this view, moreover, since evidence exists demonstrating that the Earth accelerates toward a point 20 arc-seconds in front of the visible Sun i.e. toward the true, instantaneous direction of the Sun. Its light comes to us from one direction, but its gravitational pull comes from a slightly different direction. The only reasonable inference is that the propagation speeds for light and gravity differ markedly.

The implications for SR are, of course, fundamental.

Others have had occasion to challenge the foundations of SR. In 1987, Dr Petr Beckmann, who taught at the University of Colorado, published his book Einstein Plus Two, which gave explanations of relativity which preserve traditional ideas about time.

In his article “Re-thinking Relativity”, Tom Bethell questioned Van Flandern about the problems associated with challenging Einstein. Van Flandern, he reports, says that the problem is that the Einsteinian experts who have grown accustomed to “Minkowski diagrams and real relativistic thinking” find the alternative of universal time and space actually more puzzling than their own mathematical ingenuities.

Once relativists have been thoroughly trained, he says, it’s as difficult for them to rethink the subject in classical terms as it is for laymen to grasp time dilation and space contraction. For laymen, however, and for those physicists who have not specialized in relativity, which is to say the vast majority of physicists, there's no doubt that the traditional way is far simpler than the Einsteinian.

From whence came the inspiration to posit a new theory like SR?

The answer is that it arose as a kind of sophisticated ad hoc to explain the inconvenient results of the 1887 Michelson-Morley experiment, itself designed to measure the isotropy of space and see if the heliocentricity of the solar system could be proven experimentally.

James Clerk Maxwell with his electromagnetism experiments had demonstrated that light waves were electromagnetic like radio waves. The question was to determine the medium through which electromagnetic waves travelled since they could clearly travel in airless space. The substance through which they were said to travel was then named the “aether” and, said Maxwell, it must be uniform throughout all space.

James Clerk Maxwell, Scottish theoretical physicist and mathematician, 1831-1879

Michelson’s experiment sought to detect this aether by showing that, if the Earth orbits the Sun it must move through the aether and so cause a kind of “aether wind” in its tail. But there was no such wind to be observed. Worse than that, the interferometer device that Michelson was using and which ought to have shown a shift in the pattern of interference fringes on the light receptor when rotated through 90 degrees, did not do so.

“Fringe shifts” on the interferometer indicate changes of speed of light striking the equipment. This would show, and could be used to measure, the speed and direction of the Earth’s movement through aether and space. No fringe shifts were found.

This was particularly embarrassing. It seemed to show that the Earth was stationary, just as the water-filled telescope experiments of George Bidel Airey, the Astronomer-Royal, had shown. Given the Earth’s elliptical orbit round the Sun, light passing through a water-filled telescope ought to describe a larger ellipse than light passing through an ordinary scope, since the water would slow the passage of the light. It did not. The ellipses were identical.

George Bidel Airey, Astronomer Royal 1835-1881

The prospect of having to repudiate Copernicus and, more importantly, Galileo, and, worse still, having to apologise for their savage and repeated attacks upon St Robert Bellarmine and the Roman Inquisition, filled all red-blooded, materialistic, religiously sceptical and anti-Catholic scientists with utter horror. A solution was desperately needed. Indeed, an ad hoc solution would fit the bill at this stage, simply to avoid further embarrassment.

It duly arrived – as it always does. An obscure clerk in the Geneva Patent Office with a deep interest in astrophysics wrote his now globally famous paper Zur Elektrodynamik Bewegter Koerper.

Albert Einstein (for it was he) said there was no need of an aether, that there was no fringe shift because the speed of the light (in a vacuum) is the same for all observers, even for observers approaching or retreating from the light source. This was to turn Newtonian physics on its head because if the speed was the same, regardless of the motion of the observer, then light must slow down to meet the oncoming observer and speed up when chasing the observer who was retreating.

Worse, the ordinarily variable functions of time and distance which compose speed would have to dilate and contract accordingly and by just the right amount so that their division always gave the same result i.e. a constant speed for light.

This seemed to throw the obviously observed phenomena of everyday life entirely upon their heads. Ridicule was inevitable but for the simple explanation advanced by relativists that any appreciable degree of change would only be seen at very high speeds of the sort that only occurred in space or sub-atomically. Nevertheless, time and distance were no longer absolute but relative.

In fact, the way had already been prepared for these ideas. First came Fitzgerald, who had posited the idea of contraction in the direction of travel as an ad hoc to explain the Michelson result. Secondly, came Hendrik Antoon Lorentz who had first devised the idea of relative time and space which Einstein went on to perfect.

Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, Dutch physicist 1853-1928

It was not long before it was being said that SR had been proved experimentally. Atomic clocks are said to slow down at high speed and sub-atomic particles are said to live longer due, ostensibly, to time dilation. But was this the only explanation for the experiments?

Much papering over the cracks in SR began to take place and dissent was rudely suppressed and silenced in a way that would have shocked St Robert Bellarmine, the Grand Inquisitor bogeyman of modern scientific fable.

Cardinal St Robert Bellarmine SJ,
Grand Inquisitor and skilled philosopher, scientist and theologian, Jesuit and Doctor of the Church

Now the cracks are widening and many physicists are beginning to take a renewed interest in the idea of the aether. Instead of the aether being uniform and isotropic, some are now saying that it corresponds to the gravitational field that all large bodies carry with them. Thus, close to the surface of a planet, the field may be more dense but as you move into space it becomes less so.

So hypothesized Beckmann before he died.



Capreolus said...

Dear Tribunus,
Excellent and thought-provoking as always! In my ignorance, I was wondering if there are in fact any experimental proofs of the heliocentric theory, i.e. proofs that are not dubious in one way or another? I can't really remember now, but wasn't there some experiment measuring the Doppler Shift at different latitudes that was meant to demonstrate faster movement closer to the poles, thus implying the earth rotated? As I say, I cannot really remember the details (sorry!). I'm very interested, though, because I always use this material as a part of the introduction to my Instruction to converts. Yours, Capreolus.

Tribunus said...

Thanks Capreolus,

There are no "proofs" of the heliocentirc theory since it is not provable by definition there being no "backdrop" to compare the movement of the planets and stars.

Stellar parallax, the perihelion of mercury and/or the Doppler shift apply mutatis mutandis equally to a dynamic universe as to a dynamic earth.

There is a theory around that the Michelson-Morley experiment is to be explained by the Doppler shift rather than by Fitzgerald contraction and time dilation.

However, that theory relies upon an entrained aether (moving with the earth's orbit but not with its rotation) which thus rejects relativity theory which claims to abolish the idea of an aether.

So whether there is geostasis or not, relativity theory remains a theory in trouble.

But as for heliocetnrism it has never been proven and, arguably, cannot be proven and for the reason stated above.

Capreolus said...

Thanks for the answer, Tribune! Very interesting.

Another item I thought I'd run by you, though this time more a propos of GR: isn't it true that at the initial test of the advance of Mercury's perihelion, as predicted by GR, there was a (slight?) discrepancy between Einstein's prediction and the observed advance? I read that there was when I studied astrophysics, but I never found any reactions from physicists at the time or later explanations by the Einsteinians.

Tribunus said...

Yes, correct!

But if you are an Astrophysicist by training then I should really take my cue from you as I am only a mere amateur!

I wonder if there are now many people who still accept the bizarre postulates of GR.

SR is odd enough but GR always seemed to me, with its curved space and other bizarre concepts, to be dwelling in the realms of fantasy-land replete with illogicalities and self-rebutting silliness.

Capreolus said...

Thank you, but I'm the rankest of amateurs, a long way behind you in knowledge of these things. Regarding GR's sincere adherents: I suspect, as with many modern-day scientific "systems," there is a certain Averroistic disjunction in their thinking. There is one "truth" for whatever system is under disucssion (Relativity, Darwinian evolution, Quantum Physics, Higher Criticism, etc., etc.) and then the truth of the senses, first principles, accurate logic, and so forth. Otherwise (I ask myself) why would the proponents of said systems resort so frequently to "ad verecundiam" and "ad baculum"?