chris peck wrote:
For a moment consider Mr. Einstein. Now he just assumed space/time was
relative. He had no evidence to suppose it was, Newton's stuff predicted
celestial orbits fine. Well, within a narrow margin of error, the kind of
margin all theories need, but his equations are as workable now as they
were then. We still use them.
So why did Einstein just assume that space/time was relative? Why did he
assume that Newton had made a mistake at such a fundemental level? What
reason did he have? In truth he didnt have any justifiable reason beyond:
'Why the heck not?' or in otherwords: Sophistry. Real sophism, as opposed
to the legal wrangling we all associate with it.
Are you talking about special relativity or general relativity? Special
relativity was based on the postulate that the laws of physics should work
the same in all inertial frames, including Maxwell's laws of
electromagnetism--that's all you need to derive special relativity.
Supporters of the "luminiferous ether" hypothesis assumed Maxwell's laws
would only work in a single preferred frame, the rest frame of the ether,
but attempts to find deviations from Maxwell's laws that would show our
velocity relative to the ether had failed, so there was some evidence to
support Einstein's postulate (and aside from Maxwell's laws, I think all
other Newtonian laws were already thought to work the same in all inertial
General relativity was also not based on a completely arbitrary guess--it
was partly based on the desire to come up with a theory of gravity that was
compatible with the principles of special relativity. Newtonian gravity
wasn't, because it was thought to work instantaneously, but in special
relativity different reference frames have different definitions of whether
two distant events happened at the "same time" or not, so an instantaneous
force would pick out a preferred frame.
Now, suppose Einstein was right. Suppose space/time actually is relative.
We dont /know/ that. We accept it on the basis of the accuracy of the
predictions of Albert's equations, but then where does that leave us with
regards to Newton? Thats the really buzzing question in my opinion.
It suggests that the accuracy of Newtonian equations do not depend on the
/truth/ of his assumptions. Newton got into a big row with Liebniz I think
about whether space had a frame of reference. Newton believed it did as we
know. Well, if we accept Einstein, the we have to accept that Newton was
wrong, AND that this didnt matter. Its this latter result that is a little
suprising. We are taught that the truth of a conclusion follows logically
from the truth of an arguments premises.
But was this philosophical view of Newton's actually used in the derivation
of his equations? Not much, as far as I know--I think he only held this view
because he wanted to explain why acceleration is nonrelative, and thus why
it was justified to distinguish between inertial reference frames and
non-inertial reference frames, and just formulate the laws of physics in
terms of how they look in inertial frames. It's still true in Einstein's
theory that, in the absence of gravity (flat spacetime), non-inertial
observers experience G-forces while inertial observers experience