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Sciama's Machian Origin of Inertia

  1. Feb 1, 2012 #1

    I'm interested in what people think of Dennis Sciama's 1953 paper on the origin of inertia in which he shows how Mach's principle could work using a simple argument with Maxwell-type gravitational field equations:

    http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1953MNRAS.113...34S&data_type=PDF_HIGH&whole_paper=YES&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 2, 2012 #2
    I think the basis for his assumptions is 'beyond my paygrade'..
    but his 'advisors' are sure not 'hacks'

    you might find this discussion of interest:


    so it's not like Einstein ignored Mach.
  4. Feb 2, 2012 #3
    the philosophical argument that Einstein sort of understood from this (If I remember correctly) was that the local physical laws in a part of the universe may well be related to the inertial mass present, for it is clear that the fabric of space-time is fully controlled by it. investigations for this principle is very much out of reach by any means, for us. One can imagine though...
  5. Feb 2, 2012 #4


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    I haven't read the paper (don't have time to rigorously read through it, and I won't understand it unless I am fairly rigorous I think), but I can give a few "general considerations".

    1) The main problem regarding Mach's principle is its definition. There are as many definitions of Mach's principle as you can shake a stick at, ranging from mathematically precise statements which we can test (e.g. Brans Dicke theory's omega parameter), to pretty vague and "unfalsifiable".

    2) Einstein explicitly tried to "incorporate" Mach's principle into his theory. But I believe he merely took it in the context "matter tells space how to bend", "space tells matter how to move". In this context, certainly "Mach's principle" is obeyed. When the Lense-Thirring effect was first established, Einstein thought that this was a wonderful confirmation of Mach's principle. A spherical shell of mass, (e.g. the universe around us) which is rotating, will determine the standard of rest (or inertial frames) inside it, and thus the angular momentum vectors will tend to rotate along with the rotation of the spherical shell (also called frame dragging). This effect is entirely native in GR.
  6. Feb 2, 2012 #5


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    From a quick read, it appears to require an additional field, which Sciama calls a potential, which is specifically a rank 2 tensor.

    So it shows how one can construct a theory that achieves the property of being "Machian" by adding some extra fields / forces (Sciama's potential). This makes it similar, but more complex, than Branse-Dickie gravity, in which the extra potential is a scalar field rather than a rank 2 tensor field as it is here.

    The problem in general is finding any experimental justification for the existence of these extra forces, or potentials.

    I'd expect Sciama's theory to fit into testing via the PPN formalism http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Parameterized_post-Newtonian_formalism&oldid=441595158

    but I don't see any listing for it the alternate theories of gravitation section of the wiki, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Alternatives_to_general_relativity&oldid=472874071, which lists the PPN parameters predictions for a variety of theories.

    I"m not sure if this is because my assumption it should have PPN parameters is incorrect, or whether it's just not included.
  7. Feb 2, 2012 #6


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    At this point, I don't have time to comment on the substance of this idea, but merely add some references:

    1) by Wolgang Rindler: http://books.google.com/books?id=fK...K#v=onepage&q=sciama mach's principle&f=false

    2) http://arxiv.org/abs/physics/0609026

    3) http://arxiv.org/abs/0708.3518

    4) Finally, not closely related to Sciama's ideas, I note the best modern advocate of Machian ideas is Julian Barbour, and the following includes his demonstration that one formulation of Mach's principle is included in GR: http://arxiv.org/abs/1007.3368
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