Web Pages: http://www.aber.ac.uk/~cat
January 17, 1996 (Started November 24, 1994)
Theoretical physics seems ready for fundamentally new ideas. This is in the nature of the subject: in experimental physics we can expect fairly steady progress, but when it comes to theory, it is necessary from time to time to reject current ideas that have got into sterile, non-productive states in order to make way for a fresh start. Now is the time to survey the whole field, bring in the latest experimental results, and also review all the possibly good ideas from the past that are in danger of being forgotten, having conflicted with the current "received wisdom". As part of this process, the current essay puts forward some reasons for replacing the "Lorentz Transformation" by concepts that Lorentz would have agreed with, had he had access to current information. Lorentz, by the way, was never happy about the use to which his transformation was put. He commented wryly that "Einstein simply postulates what we have deduced" . He would have been the first to admit that the whole idea of everything contracting when in motion was still at a speculative stage. Einstein, too, might well have agreed that it was time for a change. In later life he realised that the gravity and the magnetic field of the earth were related phenomena, which he tried in vain to link within his theory .
Current orthodox theory forbids any criticism of Einstein Relativity, denies the reality of the aether, denies with one hand that radiation is a purely wave phenomenon, whilst with the other saying that we no longer need to think of it as made of particles , represents the various different forces by different particles, and excommunicates anyone who dares suggest that light ever changes speed (despite the fact that this is precisely what Einstein's General Relativity predicts!). This is a straightjacket that bears little relationship with reality and is inhibiting progress.
I believe that the logical inconsistencies in the current theories means that it is time for a clean break. It seems obvious that we need to swing away from the entire existing mathematical framework in order to get back to a respect for logic. This means that we should hold principles such as causality (perhaps tempered with elements of chaos, but essentially deterministic) as sacrosanct. Our ideas of "common sense" are determined by observation of the real world. If we can find theories that do not offend our instincts, should they not automatically be considered superior to counterintuitive ones that "explain" the same phenomena? Of course there is much in existing theories that is good, but our new theory needs to be worked out intuitively before it is ready to be linked to heavy mathematics. If the theory is good, the mathematics will follow, if appropriate: I feel that the new rules are likely to be logical ones, suitable for steering computer simulations, but they may not be reducible to the analytical formulae physicists have come to expect.
Thus Special Relativity must be rejected because it leads to absurdities [4-6]. The law for combining velocities effectively treats light and forces differently from particles. It becomes logically impossible to describe the motion of a solid body ... General Relativity must be reduced to the status of a fascinating concept and possibly useful tool: it must ultimately be rejected because the idea of mass distorting space-time does not work on the small scale (Einstein never pretended that it did) and on the large scale it may not be exactly correct (it depends, for example, on Maxwell's Laws holding in exactly the same form at all scales) and it certainly, in practice, inhibits our ideas through its daunting complexity. The idea of forces being propagated via particles must be rejected because it does not help us understand how they work, whereas, I maintain, a wave theory based on an aether concept has considerably more chance. Moreover, such a theory would represent, in one sense, an enormous simplification, because, as Lorentz put it:
We can hardly admit that one and the same medium is capable of transmitting two or more actions by wholly different mechanisms, [so] all forces may be regarded as connected more or less intimately with those which we study in electromagnetism.
The way in which I and many others have been taught, Special Relativity was devised to reconcile the following:
We have been told that the theory was inspired by H A Lorentz' speculative hypothesis that everything contracted as it moved through the aether. His aether was fixed in the universe: matter consisted of changes of state of the aether, a change in one sense at the front of a particle being balanced by one in the opposite sense at the back.
Lorentz covers the subject very carefully in his "Theory of Electrons". He comes to the conclusion that he must reluctantly accept that the earth contracts (everything contracts) in its direction of motion. But he also says that if we could find a way around two problems with Stokes' theory, it would give a very neat solution, with none of the maths -- no "Lorentz" transformation.
This story of what Special Relativity is all about is quite different from that in, for example, Hermann Bondi's description . Bondi says that Einstein had not even heard of the Michelson-Morley experiments. The original paper was a purely theoretical deduction from the "fact" of the constant speed of light (in particular, its no-overtaking rule) and the existence of equivalent observers in inertial frames (Newton's idea, really). Be this as it may, there was much discussion during the first few decades of the century and its concepts developed, merging with those of General Relativity.
Stokes thought the aether was dragged along with the earth, with the amount of drag gradually tailing off into space. The velocity of the aether at the surface exactly matched that of the earth. Lorentz interpreted this as implying mathematically that the velocity should be definable in terms of an irrotational "deviating vector" field. But the existence of such a field was impossible. It meant that we had something like a fluid that flowed around the earth but with no sliding and no turbulence. Moreover, this fluid was incompressible. It had to be incompressible, it was thought, in order to transport transverse waves. Lorentz was a competent fluid dynamicist (he spent considerable time, incidentally, towards the end of his life, helping with the practical task of calculating parameters needed in the design of the Zuiderzee dike, using the latest wave theory with his own new approximations . He just could not see how Stokes could be right, as an incompressible fluid cannot behave like this.
Do we still think Lorentz' qualms were justified? I think not. First, we need to introduce a very easy but, so far as I know, previously unheard of idea.
The aether does not need to transport transverse waves! It only needs to transport longitudinal ones. Patterns in these include the transverse ones that are both produced and detected by "ponderable matter". This is the only picture, it seems to me, that is compatible with the idea that all radiation has much in common with man-made radio waves and with the fact that one can deduce mathematically the existence of magnetic and electric fields obeying Maxwell's equations simply by studying the pattern of waves generated by an oscillating electron . Whilst in free motion, therefore, we can forget the transverse nature of radiation (I could give more analogies to explain this if it is not obvious), so we can admit that our aether is identical to the vacuum, and is (or presumably would be, if it ever existed away from the EM influence of matter) infinitely compressible.
This is not to say that the passage of an E-M wave has no transverse influence on its surroundings. A reasonable conjecture would seem to be that it does physically distort the aether, and this can cause phenomena such as self-focussing of coherent light.
We now know that the earth's aether has a more-or-less discontinuous boundary with the aether of space: it is surrounded by various electromagnetic layers -- Van Allen belts or whatever. I think it would be reasonable to assume that the earth controls the "motion" of the aether (though Lorentz himself at one point says that it is meaningless to talk of motion in something as insubstantial as this) in the region enclosed by these belts. Somewhere within the belts themselves a slight compression can easily be imagined. One can also imagine that incoming light may interact here with charged particles. I'm not sure about this. Somehow, it has to calmly change gear. Intuitively, I see no problem. It may just change speed (with corresponding change of frequency) without even interacting with any actual particles. We do not need to imagine anything dramatic, as the velocity of the earth is only about a ten-thousandth of that of EM waves.
It would seem worth investigating how the assumption of a vacuum-type aether that is dragged by the earth simplifies physics. It eliminates the need for Lorentz-transformation as regards the earth's movement through space. The principle application of Lorentz transformations in practice, for so-called "relativistic particles" in cosmic radiation or particle accelerators, is another matter and deserves a separate essay. Just to present a few relevant facts: Lorentz' ideas on the need for the transformation on the scale of the electron were highly speculative. Is there any evidence of the reality of the contraction? I don't see that weird assumptions about how we might try and measure the contraction are relevant. I would postulate a local aether that provides a frame of reference in time and space and it is contraction relative to this that matters, regardless of whether or not we can observe it directly. I differ from Lorentz in that my aether does not flow through "ponderable matter", though it is sometimes difficult to see it as other than a mathematical abstraction that cannot be said to "move": what is the speed of nothing?
We need to get away from this taboo on saying that electromagnetic waves ever change speed. The fact is, it seems to me, that they travel at constant speed relative to the local aether, but, if this is moving relative to the origin, the speed relative to the origin will not be c. This need not give rise to any confusion (evidently it does not in practice: light manages to know what speed it should be doing and keep to its no-overtaking rule at all times). Think of a moving train. We find no problem with the fact that sound can hitch a ride and travel faster than sound relative to someone outside the train. Now, I would maintain that there is no experimental evidence to prove that light does not behave just the same, the only difference being that the aether wind, being made of vacuum, is undetectable. To press this analogy a little further: we tend to accept the statements about the behaviour of sound without proof. Have you thought about just how you could demonstrate "sound going faster than sound"? I think it would be quite easy if we allowed ourselves to use light signals, but if the rules of the game said that we could use only sound signals, we would have enormous practical difficulties. We have this observer standing on a platform. A train goes past very fast. Think of the wind, the turbulence! We want someone on the train standing at the back to make a noise into a pipe, say, that runs the length of the train. Someone near the front blows a whistle as soon as he hears the noise. The person on the platform hears this after the waves have travelled through all the turbulence and back for a distance comparable to the length of the train. He has somehow to judge whether the signal arrives early! Perhaps he would have more chance if the sound were reflected back down the tube and the whistle blown by the same man who made the sound? Maybe, but, we ask, what is the point? We simply feel that we know what happens and the experiment is superfluous! So it is totally unreasonable of us to expect to able to prove that light hitches a ride on the train -- unless we have access to a signalling system appreciably faster than light.
My theory would say that every single particle carries its own sphere of influence, in which it tends to dominate the compromise decision as to the definition of "at rest". Perhaps each particle has its own Van Allen Belt? At any rate, I see every particle as having this much in common with ourselves: it considers that it is the centre of the universe!
It seems always to have been assumed that the frame in which light travels at speed cis the same thing as the local inertial frame. But is it? Under my theory, the speed of E-M waves and their content can be quite unrelated. And I see gravity as just another E-M wave. Thus the laboratory can be considered at rest so far as light is concerned (unless we want to look at light within something that is moving relative to the laboratory: the relevant frame depends on what we are trying to do!), but it is crossed by gravity waves from the whole universe that have been transmitted through the earth's atmosphere and through the walls and roof and floor of the lab. It is evident that all material is translucent to these waves (though some may transmit better than others), and, of course, all matter emits them (though, again, I think this could depend, for instance, on the "quantum state" of the atom, and there is a distinct possibility that electrons may behave quite differently from protons, and each may behave quite differently when in an atom from when they are free). These waves from the rest of the universe ensure results such as the motion of Foucault's pendulum and the diurnal(?) variation of the direction of the earth's magnetic field. So the lab is not quite an inertial frame. We shall perhaps never be able to prove that it is a rest frame for E-M waves, but this would seem to be a very reasonable hypothesis.
What I am trying to say is simply that the reasons why the Lorentz transformation was invented are no longer held to be valid. Therefore, Lorentz' statement that
all this [the aberration of light, etc.] could be accounted for at a stroke and without any mathematical formula by Stokes's theory
should be accepted as sufficient reason to reject Special Relativity, replacing it by a theory involving what I think of as "nested aether regions". The definition of preferred frame depends on the scale on which you are working. On the every-day-life scale, the laboratory will do, but within a solid there may be one definition at the molecular scale and another for an individual electron!
To continue with "conclusion": the idea of General Relativity is superb, but in practice the mathematics floored even its author when he tried to reconcile it with the earth's magnetic field and with quantum-level events. We should not assume that new theories need to be fully compatible with it.
The new ideas presented on the "fact" that light propagates as a pattern carried by longitudinal waves, and that the rest frames for light and for gravity may not coincide, may be important.
Also important, I think, are two points of principle: firstly, I am asserting that a coherent, intuitive hypothesis that appears genuinely to explain the facts should be considered superior to a counterintuitive one, however elegant the mathematics that supports the latter; secondly, that new theories should not restrict themselves to predicting what can actually be observed.