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How To Teach Special Relativity

  1. Mar 20, 2003 #1
    Originally posted by L Hoffman (lhoffman@U.Arizona.EDU)
    sci.physics.relativity Date: 2000/07/13

    What follows are some pertinent excerpts from an article by J.S. Bell. (Reference: Progress in Scientific Culture, Vol. 1, No. 2, Summer 1976)

    "I have long thought that if I had the opportunity to teach this subject, I would emphasize the continuity with earlier ideas. Usually it is the discontinuity which is stressed, the radical break with more primitive notions of space and time. Often the result is to destroy completely the confidence of the student in perfectly sound and useful concepts already acquired..."

    "It is my impression that those with a more classical education, knowing something of the reasoning of Larmor, Lorentz, and Poincare, as well as that of Einstein, have stronger and sounder instincts..."

    "The approach of Einstein differs from that of Lorentz in two major ways. There is a difference of philosophy, and a difference of style.

    "The difference of philosophy is this. Since it is experimentally impossible to say which of two uniformly moving systems is really at rest, Einstein declares the notions "really resting" and "really moving" as meaningless. For him only the relative motion of two or more uniformly moving objects is real. Lorentz, on the other hand, preferred the view that there is indeed a state of real rest, defined by the aether, even though the laws of physics conspire to prevent us identifying it experimentally. The facts of physics do not oblige us to accept one philosophy rather than the other. And we need not accept Lorentz's philosophy to accept a Lorentz pedagogy. Its special merit is to drive home the lesson that the laws of physics in any one reference frame account for all physical phenomena, including the observations of moving observers. And it is often simpler to work in a single frame, rather than to hurry after each moving object in turn.

    "The difference of style is that instead of inferring the experience of moving observers from known and conjectured laws of physics, Einstein starts from the hypothesis that the laws will look the same to all observers in uniform motion. This permits a very concise and elegant formulation of the theory, as often happens when one big assumption can be made to cover several less big ones. There is no intention here to make any reservation whatever about the power and precision of Einstein's approach. But in my opinion there is also something to be said for taking students along the road made by Fitzgerald, Larmor, Lorentz, and Poincare. The longer road sometimes gives more familiarity with the country."

    ________________
    My Answer:

    A perfect synthesis between the best ultramodern introduction to relativity and a parallel absolute interpretation is achieved in the following links:

    http://www.everythingimportant.org/relativity
    http://www.everythingimportant.org/relativity/simultaneity.htm

    Eugene Shubert
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 14, 2003 #2
    Concerning the first quote of Bell

    "….. I would emphasize the continuity with earlier ideas. Usually it is the discontinuity which is stressed, the radical break with more primitive notions of space and time. Often the result is to destroy completely the confidence of the student in perfectly sound and useful concepts already acquired..."

    I personally have discovered what I think is a tremendous way of using “useful concepts already acquired”.
    Specifically I use our already developed concept of relative space to shed light on the nature of relative time. I do this by discussing the nature of a universe that has relative time and absolute space. One learns and develops a feel for the nature of relative time by first studying the nature of this universe as compared to the nature of classical space which has relative space and absolute time.
    It has proven to me to be a very powerful way to develop an emotional sense of spacetime.

    If the idea intrigues you go to my website www.geocities.com/spacetimeexercises

    And please give me your feedback.
     
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