IS SPECIAL RELATIVITY REAL?

[Editor's note: Throughout his article, Mr. Hannon has used boldface for emphasis. My machine doesn't do boldface, so I've used caps instead. I'm sorry it doesn't look as professional.]

In 1905 Albert Einstein published what is now called his Theory of Special Relativity. It was not entirely original, but it did include some new ideas. The central premise is that the laws of nature are the same for all observers, even if they are in constant, linear, relative motion. Einstein's sole physical postulate in this theory is that the velocity of propagation of light in a vacuum (C) is a constant.

The basic mathematics of the Special Theory is contained in four simple equations called the Lorentz Transformation (LT). HA Lorentz was a mathematician who had contributed much to the line of thinking which resulted in the Special Theory. The LT permits one observer to relate the dimensions of space and time in his own (to him) stationary locale to the dimensions of space and time he observes in another locale which he perceives to be in linear motion relative to him. The ability to perfectly make all measurements involved is assumed.

The relationships defined by the LT have little effect unless the two locales (also called inertial frames of reference or inertial coordinate systems; inertial means unaccelerated) are moving relative to each other at very high speed, that is, at a large fraction of the speed of light (which is 300 million meters per second). Such speeds are not met in our everyday experiences, but they are important in the microworld of electrons and atoms, and, to some extent, in the macroworld of stars, galaxies and quasars.

While the LT equations are simple, they lead to some puzzling, often paradoxical situations. While the original four equations deal only with the three dimensions of space (x, y and z) and the one dimension of time (t), they have been extended to include other parameters such as velocity/speed and mass. These extensions lead to other puzzles and paradoxes.

ACCORDING TO THE SPECIAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY AND THE LT:

1)  If you were moving at 90% of the speed of light relative to me, and you were carrying a rod exactly 1 meter long, aligned in the direction of our motion, it would appear to me to be only 44 cm long. If I also had a rod exactly I meter long, aligned in the direction of our motion, you would measure my rod to be only 44 cm long. (How can we make these measurements? That is assumed to be possible.) But as far as we are concerned, we see our own rods to be exactly 1 meter long regardless of our relative speed. If we were moving at 99.5% of the speed of light, we would see each other's rods as being but 10 cm long. If it were possible for us to move at the speed of light relative to each other, we would not be able to see each other's rods at all because their apparent lengths would be zero! We would observe the same order of change in each other's bodies. If you were moving so that your height were aligned with mine in the direction of our relative motion, at 90% of the speed of light we would see each other as being only 44% of our normal height; at 99.5%, 10% of normal; and at 100% of the speed of light we would both appear to have zero height! Note that this seeming change is measured only in the direction of our relative motion; our other dimensions are not affected. Neither of us would, of course, notice anything different about ourselves.

WE WOULD BE EXPERIENCING AN ILLUSION AS TO EACH OTHER'S RODS AND EACH OTHER'S HEIGHTS.

2)  If we both had perfect clocks, I would observe that as our relative speed is incrementally increased, yotir clock would slow down relative to mine. You would observe that my clock would slow down relative to yours. at 99.5% of the speed of light, we wotild see each other's clock to be changing its reading at 10% of the rate of our own clock. If we could move at 100% of the speed of light, we would observe each other's clocks to be complettely stopped. regardless of our relative speed, we would observe our own clocks to be ticking at their normal rate.

WE WOULD BE EXPERIENCING AN ILLUSION AS TO EACH OTHER'S CLOCKS.

3)  If we could measure each other's mass, I would measure yours to increase as our relative speed is incrementally increased. You would measure mine to increase as our relative speed is incrementally increased. If we could move at 100% of the speed of light, we would then observe each other's mass to be infinite. We would not be aware of any change in our own masses; moving about would require no more effort than normal.

WE WOULD BE EXPERIENCING AN ILLUSION AS TO EACH OTHER'S MASS.

(Note:  all measurements involved in paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 are asswned to be perfectly accurate and to be possible without the measuring instruments being moved from one frame of reference to the other. All measurements are made at times when the relative speed of the reference systems is constant.)

IS ANY OF THIS REAL?

It is often said that the experimental evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the Theory of Special Relativity, which is accepted as virtually established fact by most physicists. Actually there is NO experimental evidence, pro or con, based on measurements taken under conditions that are fully in accord with the premises of the LT. The LT does not deal with observations WITHIN an inertial frame of reference. Measurements made on the Earth do not qualify, as the Earth and its vicinity IS our local inertial frame of reference. Measurements made on the Earth are made WITHIN an inertial frame of reference. Measurements made on Earth satellites do not qualify, as their motion is not linear and is accelerated. Measurements made here on earth, and usually taken as confirmation of Special Relativity, are in need of another explanation.

The LT and Special Relativity are almost always used to assert that the changes we may observe in x, y, z, t, and m, (in an entirely separate and independent inertial frame of reference that is in constant, linear motion relative to us) are real. In fact, the LT only describes illusions in our perceptions of things WITHIN A SEPARATE FRAME OF REFERENCE arising from its apparent motion. No changes actually take place in any other inertial frame of reference because of its motion relative to us.

The LT does not prove or even imply that a material object can not travel at a speed equal to or greater than C, it does tell us that we will observe some peculiar illusions as to an object that is moving near, at, or above C, relative to us.