Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union

By Loren R. Graham | Go to book overview

IV Relativity Theory

The special theory of relativity (STR), as elaborated by Einstein, flows from two postulates: (1) the principle of relativity, which asserts that physical processes occurring in a closed system are unaffected by non- accelerated motion of the system as a whole, and (2) the principle that the velocity of light is independent of the velocity of its source. The first postulate was accepted in classical mechanics long before Einstein, and is perhaps best illustrated by comparing physical phenomena, such as falling objects, in two different inertial systems (systems within which bodies unaffected by outside forces move at constant speed in straight lines). If a given inertial system is moving at a constant velocity in a straight line relative to another given system, then the laws of mechanics must have the same form in both systems. The common illustration of this relationship is the fact that to an observer in a train moving at a constant velocity, a falling object describes a path identical to the one he would see if he and the object were on the ground. To an observer alongside the moving train, however, the falling object in the train describes a parabola. In this case, a transformation from one reference system to another has been made, and in accordance with classical mechanics, the Galilean transformation equations would provide the means of plotting the equation of the parabola from data obtained from inside the railroad car.1

Einstein in his development of STR extended the principle of relativity to cover electromagnetic phenomena as well as mechanical ones. This extension necessitated the derivation of new transformation equa

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