# Relativity without the aether: pseudoscience?

by Aether
Tags: aether, pseudoscience, relativity
Emeritus
PF Gold
P: 16,091
 Special relativity (SR) SR and Lorentz ether theory (LET) are empirically equivalent systems for interpreting local Lorentz symmetry. ... Still, a superstition persists in the minds of many that somehow "SR is true, and LET is false".
"True" and "false" aren't really (internally) applicable to science. What is true is that each of the postulates of SR are empirically verifiable, whereas the same cannot be said of LET.

 I think that both theories involve such an assumption: SR assumes that the one-way speed of light is isotropic,
No it doesn't.

To even begin to say something like "the one-way speed of light is isotropic", it requires one to specify a coordinate chart.

Coordinare charts are nonphysical choices.

You're thinking about the fact that, among all possible rectilinear coordinate charts we could use, SR chooses to define the orthogonal ones as the inertial reference frames.

This choice is exactly analogous to the fact that we generally like, when studying 3-space, for our x, y, and z axes to be perpendicular.

Special Relativity is generally done in these orthogonal, linear coordinate charts for exactly the same reason that coordinate geometry is generally done with perpendicular axes.

Another good reason to use the orthogonal, linear coordinate charts is that such things can be defined experimentally. (Of course, so can other types of coordinate charts)

Contrast to the choice of charts used by aether theories which invoke some principle of absolute simultaneity which cannot be experimentally determined.

(Since I'm talking about "orthogonal" in the above, that means I'm using some sort of "metric". Of course, I'm using the "metric" of Minowski 4-space, because that's the one that appears in all the physical laws)
PF Gold
P: 717
 Quote by JesseM When you say "yet", are you suggesting you see no reason why some future phenomenon might not respect local Lorentz-invariance?
Here's the first two lines from a paper from Kostelecky & Mewes for example: http://www.citebase.org/cgi-bin/cita...hep-ph/0111026 "Lorentz violation is a promising candidate signal for Planck-scale physics. For instance, it could arise in string theory and is a basic feature of noncommutative field theories...". So, when I say "yet" I simply mean that I am aware of many physicists who expect to find violations eventually.

 Quote by JesseM If so, you are underscoring point #6 from the sci.physics.relativity post by Tom Roberts I quoted in my last post:
I know that there are some good points in Tom Robert's articles, and I have read them in the past, but he's talking about a whole infinity of ether theories and I'm just talking about one; LET. So, kindly extract the point from the article that you think applies here.

He (and you by quoting it) seems to think that local Lorentz invariance is synonymous with SR to the exclusion of LET:

"Note that all phenomena discovered since 1905 do indeed exhibit the local Lorentz invariance of SR -- what is happenstance in ether theory was directly predicted by SR."
PF Gold
P: 717
 Quote by Hurkyl What is true is that each of the postulates of SR are empirically verifiable, whereas the same cannot be said of LET.
Let's get empirical then. Show me how the constancy of the one-way speed of light is empirically verifiable; the round-trip speed of light is constant in both theories.

 Quote by Hurkyl (Since I'm talking about "orthogonal" in the above, that means I'm using some sort of "metric". Of course, I'm using the "metric" of Minowski 4-space, because that's the one that appears in all the physical laws)
Precisely the same metric that is used by SR is also used by LET. The difference is that the speed of light is invariant while simultaneity is relative in the Lorentz transformation, but absolute simultaneity is maintained with a variable speed of light in LET transformation. Both are equally valid.
P: 8,470
 Quote by Aether Here's the first two lines from a paper from Kostelecky & Mewes for example: http://www.citebase.org/cgi-bin/cita...hep-ph/0111026 "Lorentz violation is a promising candidate signal for Planck-scale physics. For instance, it could arise in string theory and is a basic feature of noncommutative field theories...". So, when I say "yet" I simply mean that I am aware of many physicists who expect to find violations eventually.
Since I'm not well-versed in quantum gravity I can't say much about this, but I wonder if by "Lorentz violation" they actually mean a preferred reference frame as in aether theories, and if so I wonder how mainstream this point of view is. A quick google search turned up this paper which seems to say that noncommutative theories can be compatible with Lorentz symmetry.
 Quote by Aether I know that there are some good points in Tom Robert's articles, and I have read them in the past, but he's talking about a whole infinity of ether theories and I'm just talking about one; LET. So, kindly extract the point from the article that you think applies here.
The points in his article would apply to any theory that posits a special reference frame (for example, a theory that says there is only one frame where the speed of light is 'really' c in all directions) and yet does not make any predictions about the results of actual experiments which are different from those of SR (so all observers will measure the speed of light to be c in all directions, even if this is explained as a faulty measurement because their clocks are not ticking the 'correct' time and their rulers are not reading the 'correct' length). I don't know exactly what you mean by "LET", does it fit both these criteria?
 Quote by Aether He (and you by quoting it) seems to think that local Lorentz invariance is synonymous with SR to the exclusion of LET: "Note that all phenomena discovered since 1905 do indeed exhibit the local Lorentz invariance of SR -- what is happenstance in ether theory was directly predicted by SR."
That quote doesn't say that aether theories don't exhibit local Lorentz-invariance, it just says that it is an unexplained "happenstance" if they do. In aether theories you need a multitude of separate coincidences to explain why every new phenomena happens to exhibit lorentz-invariance, and you have no reason to predict that new phenomena will exhibit it, whereas SR makes a clear prediction that all phenomena must exhibit local lorentz-invariance, and gives a single conceptual explanation for why they all do.
Emeritus
PF Gold
P: 16,091
 Quote by Aether Let's get empirical then. Show me how the constancy of the one-way speed of light is empirically verifiable; the round-trip speed of light is constant in both theories.
Given the Lorentz metric, the one-way speed of light is a mathematical consequence of the Special Relativistic definition of an inertial reference frame.

You agree that the Lorentz metric is empirically verifiable, correct? Then so must the one-way speed of light in a coordinate chart that is one of Special Relativity's inertial reference frames.

(I erred slightly in my previous post -- I should have said orthonormal, rather than orthogonal)

Maybe this is a clue to the psychology of those who cling to aether theories? Do they believe that coordinate charts are physical things, rather than simply a choice we make when modelling a problem?
Emeritus
P: 7,634
 Quote by Hurkyl Given the Lorentz metric, the one-way speed of light is a mathematical consequence of the Special Relativistic definition of an inertial reference frame
I think this is a good observation.

Basically, using for simplicity units where c=1, the coordinate transformation

t1 = $t + \beta x$
x1 = x
y1 = y
z1 = z

transforms the Minkowski metric

ds^2 = dt^2 -dx^2 - dy^2 - dz^2

into a different metric

ds^2 = dt1^2 - 2 $\beta$ dx1 dt1 - (1 - $\beta^2$) dx1^2 - dy1^2 - dz1^2

$\beta$ plays the role of a velocity here and is equal to v/c, a number between zero and 1.

So the isotropy of the speed of light comes from using the Minkowski coordinate chart, by using a different coordinate chart one can work in the LET coordinates where the "coordinate speed" of light is not constant.

Both coordinate charts are flat in that they have a zero curvature tensor.

The convention that velocities are reported in a Minkowskian metric is very common and useful, for reasons regarding momentum that have been and are being discussed in another thread (no need to repeat them here).

The main "feature" of LET that I see is that people who are philosophically comitted to the Gallilean transform have a method that should theoretically enable them to work problems in relativity, in spite of their philosophical blinders.
P: 195
I've got a question for Aether.

 Quote by Aether LET assumes absolute simultaneity, but this hasn't been proven either (yet). Why would an impartial observer, not from our culture, prefer either one of these theories (today) over the other?
By "absolute simultaneity", do you mean that in LET two events which happen simultaneously in one reference frame happen simultaneously in all, or just that there is a prefered reference frame (the ether) and this reference frame is the one in which simultaneous events are called absolutely simultaneous?
P: 76
 Quote by Aether Let's get empirical then. Show me how the constancy of the one-way speed of light is empirically verifiable; the round-trip speed of light is constant in both theories.
The one-way speed of light is the same when computed by the Lorentz transformation or by absolute frame coordinates. Here's the experiment.

In an arbitrary frame of reference, start with two synchronized clocks side-by-side and slowly transport one of them to any convenient distance D. When the ultraslow clock transport is finished, send a light pulse from the stationary clock at local clock time t1. Let t2 be the time when the light arrives as measured by the slowly transported clock. Take the limit of ultraslow transport in the expression D/(t2-t1) for a perfect answer of c.

Are you asking to be tutored in relativity or do you disbelieve the mathematics?
PF Gold
P: 717
 Quote by εllipse By "absolute simultaneity", do you mean that in LET two events which happen simultaneously in one reference frame happen simultaneously in all, or just that there is a prefered reference frame (the ether) and this reference frame is the one in which simultaneous events are called absolutely simultaneous?
In LET two events which happen simultaneously in one reference frame happen simultaneously in all. The hypothetical preferred reference frame is a common synchronization reference.
PF Gold
P: 717
 Quote by Perspicacious The one-way speed of light is the same when computed by the Lorentz transformation or by absolute frame coordinates. Here's the experiment. In an arbitrary frame of reference, start with two synchronized clocks side-by-side and slowly transport one of them to any convenient distance D. When the ultraslow clock transport is finished, send a light pulse from the stationary clock at local clock time t1. Let t2 be the time when the light arrives as measured by the slowly transported clock. Take the limit of ultraslow transport in the expression D/(t2-t1) for a perfect answer of c. Are you asking to be tutored in relativity or do you disbelieve the mathematics?
I like your point about slow clock transport, and agree that it is equivalent to Einstein synchronization. However, in LET those clocks are re-synchronized according to $f(v,x)=-vx/c_0^2$.
PF Gold
P: 717
 Quote by JesseM The points in his article would apply to any theory that posits a special reference frame (for example, a theory that says there is only one frame where the speed of light is 'really' c in all directions) and yet does not make any predictions about the results of actual experiments which are different from those of SR (so all observers will measure the speed of light to be c in all directions, even if this is explained as a faulty measurement because their clocks are not ticking the 'correct' time and their rulers are not reading the 'correct' length).
I'm not sure what you mean by the statement in parenthesis.

 Quote by JesseM I don't know exactly what you mean by "LET", does it fit both these criteria?
I am using "LET" as a label the ether transformation equations from M&S-I (see my post #92 in the "consistency of the speed of light" thread for details); this may not be exactly what anyone else, particularly H.A. Lorentz, means by LET.

 Quote by JesseM That quote doesn't say that aether theories don't exhibit local Lorentz-invariance, it just says that it is an unexplained "happenstance" if they do. In aether theories you need a multitude of separate coincidences to explain why every new phenomena happens to exhibit lorentz-invariance, and you have no reason to predict that new phenomena will exhibit it, whereas SR makes a clear prediction that all phenomena must exhibit local lorentz-invariance, and gives a single conceptual explanation for why they all do.
Is this how you would explain the essential differences between the SR and LET transformation equations (from post #92 referenced above)? It seems like a very simple choice of synchronization convention to me when I compare those two sets of equations.
P: 76
 Quote by Aether I like your point about slow clock transport, and agree that it is equivalent to Einstein synchronization. However, in LET those clocks are re-synchronized according to $f(v,x)=-vx/c_0^2$.
If your only point is that every inertial observer in SR can choose absolute frame coordinates, then I have no objection to that. If you insist on the axiom that says that there is only one frame that can use absolute frame coordinates, then I object. I object to any axiom that has no useful consequences.

The freedom to reset clocks in the universe with arbitrary synchronizations is widely regarded as legitimate physics.

http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0409105
http://www.everythingimportant.org/relativity/
PF Gold
P: 717
 Quote by Hurkyl Given the Lorentz metric, the one-way speed of light is a mathematical consequence of the Special Relativistic definition of an inertial reference frame.
OK, it is a postulate, not determined by experiment. If that is what you mean by this, then I agree.

 Quote by Hurkyl You agree that the Lorentz metric is empirically verifiable, correct?
Essentially yes, up to the point that many physicists are still looking for violations.

 Quote by Hurkyl Then so must the one-way speed of light in a coordinate chart that is one of Special Relativity's inertial reference frames.
Empirically verifiable, Hurkyl? No, I don't see that yet. I can see that it's in the Lorentz transform $\Lambda_\nu^\mu$, not in the LET transform $T_\nu^\mu$, but what has that to do with the metric $\eta_{\mu \nu}$ per se?

 Quote by Hurkyl Maybe this is a clue to the psychology of those who cling to aether theories? Do they believe that coordinate charts are physical things, rather than simply a choice we make when modelling a problem?
And maybe this is a clue to the psychology of those who cling to SR as well? That was roughly my point in starting this thread.
PF Gold
P: 717
 Quote by Perspicacious If you insist on the axiom that says that there is only one frame that can use absolute frame coordinates, then I object. I object to any axiom that has no useful consequences. The freedom to reset clocks in the universe with arbitrary synchronizations is widely regarded as legitimate physics.
I don't insist on such an axiom, no. I am saying that such a postulate is not empirically different from the SR postulate that the speed of light is a constant in all inertial frames; that an impartial observer, not from our culture, would have no reason (today) to prefer one over the other; and that being able to see the world from both perspectives is better than choosing either one arbitrary extreme or the other. However, if someone here actually proves that SR is empirically right and LET is empirically wrong then that's that.
Emeritus
PF Gold
P: 16,091
 And maybe this is a clue to the psychology of those who cling to SR as well?
If you recall, I said very distinctly:

 To even begin to say something like "the one-way speed of light is isotropic", it requires one to specify a coordinate chart. Coordinare charts are nonphysical choices. You're thinking about the fact that, among all possible rectilinear coordinate charts we could use, SR chooses to define the orthogonal ones as the inertial reference frames.
(Though I've modified the emphasis)

 OK, it is a postulate, not determined by experiment.
No, it is not a postulate, it is a definition.

I repeat that a coordinate chart is not a physical object. One does not need to make postulates, one can write down a precise definition and say "in my theory, the words 'inertial reference frame' absolutely, positively, unequivocally means this:".

Now, one might ask the question if there is any such thing satisfying the definition, but let me remind you that even in a LET, you can take this definition to produce a coordinate chart in which the one-way speed of light is isotropic.

Let me say that again:

In a Lorenz Ether theory,
the Special Relativistic definition of "inertial reference frame"
yields a coordinate chart
in which the one-way speed of light is constant.

Of course, since this chart was chosen to satisfy the SR definition of "inertial reference frame" and not the LET definition of "inertial reference frame", there is no reason to expect this coordinate chart to be an LET inertial reference frame (and generally it will not be).

The point stands -- even in a LET, you can prove that SR-inertial reference frames have a constant one-way speed of light.

You focus too much on coordinates, as if they're a fundamental thing -- it's the geometry that matters.

Both theories let you work in whatever coordinates you like. The difference between SR and LET is that SR postulates nothing more than the geometry. Things like "inertial reference frame" are simply defined from the geometry.

Whereas a LET has to make an additional postulate about absolute simultaneity: it cannot be defined from the Minowski geometry alone.

Let me repeat this:

Both theories postulate Minowski geometry. However, SR makes no additional postulates, defining everything else from the geometry.

However, a LET requires at least one additional postulate about absolute simultaneity, since that cannot be defined from the geometry.

Actually, as I understand it, LETs do not postulate Minowski geometry -- they postulate some other background geometry, postulate some properties of an aether, and then derive the Minowski geometry, or alternatively, let the experimental verification of Minowski geometry constrain the properties of their aether.
PF Gold
P: 717
 Quote by Hurkyl You focus too much on coordinates, as if they're a fundamental thing -- it's the geometry that matters.
What is the geometrical difference between SR and LET? Or, do you operate in a coordinate independent geometry where there is no SR & LET per se? If so, how do I get there from here?
P: 76
 Quote by Aether I don't insist on such an axiom, no. I am saying that such a postulate is not empirically different from the SR postulate that the speed of light is a constant in all inertial frames;
I gave three links to derivations of SR that don't use the constancy of light postulate. Doesn't that prove that both axioms, including yours, are not required?

 Quote by Aether an impartial observer, not from our culture, would have no reason (today) to prefer one over the other;
Why aren't you holding out the option of rejecting both? Or do you enjoy wasting everyone's time?

 Quote by Aether and that being able to see the world from both perspectives is better than choosing either one arbitrary extreme or the other.
I reject both extremes. The axiom of a luminiferous aether fluid is a religious belief without scientific consequences.

 Quote by Aether However, if someone here actually proves that SR is empirically right and LET is empirically wrong then that's that.
As I've already illustrated with The Santa-Reindeer Postulate, LET is SR with an added, meaningless assumption with no observable consequences.
P: 8,470
 Quote by JesseM The points in his article would apply to any theory that posits a special reference frame (for example, a theory that says there is only one frame where the speed of light is 'really' c in all directions) and yet does not make any predictions about the results of actual experiments which are different from those of SR (so all observers will measure the speed of light to be c in all directions, even if this is explained as a faulty measurement because their clocks are not ticking the 'correct' time and their rulers are not reading the 'correct' length).
 Quote by Aether I'm not sure what you mean by the statement in parenthesis.
Well, think of it this way. Suppose we live in a universe governed by purely Newtonian laws, where light always moves at speed c with respect to the rest frame of the aether, and in other frames it is actually possible to measure your velocity relative to the aether by seeing how fast light moves in one direction vs. the other using ordinary rulers and clocks, just like in our actual universe we could measure our velocity relative to the atmosphere by measuring how fast sound waves move in one direction vs. the other. In this hypothetical universe we have two observers, A who is at rest with respect to the aether, and B who is moving at velocity v with respect to the aether. We give both of them a set of rulers and clocks which they use to define their own coordinate systems, but as a joke, observer B is given special gag rulers that are shorter than normal by a factor of $$\sqrt{1 - v^2/c^2}$$, and gag clocks whose ticks are longer than normal by a factor of $$1/\sqrt{1 - v^2/c^2}$$. What's more, we tell observer B that he is the one at rest with respect to the aether, so that he can synchronize his clocks using the assumption that light travels at the same speed in both directions relative to himself. The result will be that the coordinate systems of observer A and observer B will be related by the Lorentz transformation equation, no? And that both will measure light to move at c in all directions relative to themselves, using their own rulers and clocks? But isn't it true that in this universe, observer A's frame is the only one where light "really" moves at c in both directions, while B's measurement was faulty because his clocks are not ticking the "correct" time and their rulers are not reading the "correct" length?

Along the same lines, a believer in the Aether could believe that the real situation is pretty close to this, except that instead of having to give any observer rulers and clocks which we know to work incorrectly, it's just a property of the laws of nature that rulers moving at v relative to the aether will naturally shrink by $$\sqrt{1 - v^2/c^2}$$ and clocks moving at v relative to the aether will naturally have their ticks extended by $$1/\sqrt{1 - v^2/c^2}$$. If this was true there might be no empirical way to decide who was really at rest with respect to the aether and thus whose rulers and clocks were really measuring correctly, but one might believe there was some objective truth about this nonetheless (just like in some interpretations of QM, there is an objective truth about the simultaneous position and momentum of every particle even if there is no way to measure this empirically).
 Quote by JesseM I don't know exactly what you mean by "LET", does it fit both these criteria?
 Quote by Aether I am using "LET" as a label the ether transformation equations from M&S-I (see my post #92 in the "consistency of the speed of light" thread for details); this may not be exactly what anyone else, particularly H.A. Lorentz, means by LET.
OK, but as Hurkyl says, the choice of coordinate systems is just a convention, simply choosing a different coordinate system does not give you a different theory of physics. I had assumed that LET involved some hypothesis about there being a particular frame which is actually the rest frame of the aether, and that rulers moving relative to this frame shrink and clocks slow down, even if it cannot be determined experimentally which frame this is. Was I misunderstanding?
 Quote by JesseM That quote doesn't say that aether theories don't exhibit local Lorentz-invariance, it just says that it is an unexplained "happenstance" if they do. In aether theories you need a multitude of separate coincidences to explain why every new phenomena happens to exhibit lorentz-invariance, and you have no reason to predict that new phenomena will exhibit it, whereas SR makes a clear prediction that all phenomena must exhibit local lorentz-invariance, and gives a single conceptual explanation for why they all do.
 Quote by Aether Is this how you would explain the essential differences between the SR and LET transformation equations (from post #92 referenced above)? It seems like a very simple choice of synchronization convention to me when I compare those two sets of equations.
Again, simply choosing a different coordinate system does not give you a different theory; without some physical assumption about there being a particular frame that is "objectively" special in some way (because it is the rest frame of the aether, perhaps), this is just the theory of SR described in terms of a different choice of coordinates.

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