Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

An unusual view from Bridgman.

  1. Apr 7, 2010 #1
    While reading P.W.Bridgman's A Sophisticates Primer of Relativity I came acorss an unusual statement. The book deals in some detail with the very basics of SR and while it does approach some things from an unusual angle it is by no means controversial.

    In the extract below he is talking of various possible ways of measuring velocity. The full section is quite long but I think I have included enough to make the context clear. The bit I do not understand is the second paragraph of the extract.

    ----It cannot be emphasized too strongly that all these different velocities have something in common, they are all velocities relative to something. We may talk of the velocity of one member of a pair of particles with reference to the other member of the pair, or we may talk of the velocity of a car with respect to the road. Or if we define velocity as change of position in unit time, the change of position has to be with respect to some frame of reference in which position is determined. Velocity is a relative concept, and whenever the physicist allows himself to speak of velocity with an application of absoluteness, he is either forgetting something or is tacitly implying something he has not taken the trouble to make explicit. Sometimes, for example, the MM experiment is described as showing that absolute velocity does not exist. Of course it does not exist, because it is not that sort of thing by definition. What the physicist is actually saying here is that there is no evidence for the existence of the old fashioned ether, which if it existed could be taken as a universal frame with respect to which velocities could be measured.

    One of the most insidious, and because it is so insidious, one of the most vicious formulations of this point of view is: “Relativity theory says that if two frames of reference are moving with respect to each other, it is impossible to say which frame is ‘really’ moving”. The usual implication here is that nature is so constructed that it is impossible to make the decision. The impossibility is entirely man-made. This point of view is behind some of the intuitive difficulties exploited in some recent discussions of the paradox of the “space traveller”.

    Can anyone throw any light on his intended meaning?

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 7, 2010 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    It is too wordy to be succint. Only an English major should be interested in his meaning, since we can no longer ask him.
  4. Apr 7, 2010 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I think he's saying that inherent in the idea that "it is impossible to say which frame is 'really moving'" is that there is some truth about which is really moving but that we just can't figure out which one it is (akin to the idea that particles really do have definite position and momentum at all times and the uncertainty principle is just a limit on our ability to experimentally determine the value of these quantities). He seems to be saying that velocity is inherently a relative concept so it's not just that we can't determine the truth about which is really moving, but rather that the notion of "really moving" is inherently nonsensical, sort of like asking which of two objects "really" has a greater x-coordinate independent of our choice of coordinate system.
  5. Apr 7, 2010 #4
  6. Apr 7, 2010 #5
    Thanks hamster143, I had completely forgotten about my previous posts. Most interesting to reread the replys, most useful.

  7. Apr 8, 2010 #6
    You forgot you asked the same exact question six months ago?

    You must have a lot on your mind. :)

    Seriously though, sounds like something I'd do given the amount of sleep I've been getting with a new (our first) baby.
  8. Apr 8, 2010 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    What is a closed time-like curve?

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook