Relativity in Our Time: From Physics to Human Relations

Relativity in Our Time: From Physics to Human Relations

Relativity in Our Time: From Physics to Human Relations

Relativity in Our Time: From Physics to Human Relations


"Relativity In our Time" is a book concerning the relevance of Einstein's theory to human relations in contemporary times. lt is physics and it is philosophy. lt is a discussion about one of the greatest of all pillars of 20th century thought and science. Based on a seminar course for a mixture of science and humanities students, the approach and narrative style leads the reader towards the frontier of thinking in this farreaching subject. Sachs deals with the whole spread of relativity, starting from the early history of Galileo and Faraday, he arrives at the foundation of the special theory. There is a logical transition to the general theory while the last part of the book covers the mind-testing realms of unified field theory, Mach's principle and cosmology. The book begins with atomistic, deterministic, classical physics and goes on towards a view of continuous fields of matter and a clearer view of spacetime. The reader is led into Einstein's extension of this theory towards a unified force field; consequently the authors address the issue of the validity of linear mathematics compared with the realism of a non- linear universe.; Such arguments today are leading towards a new paradigm in science - a study and description of nonlinear natural systems especially far from equilibrium systems; their energetics and dynamics. This book should be of value to postgraduates, undergraduates, secondary students and professionals in physics and philosophy and anyone with an interest in science subjects.


The initial impetus for the development of the theory of relativity in 20th century physics seems to have come when the curiosity of a 16-year old boy led him to ask a question about the nature of light. According to its most recent description, in the year 1895, light was known to propagate, maximally in a vacuum, at a speed of about thirty billion centimetres per second. Young Albert Einstein then wondered if it might be possible to see a light beam standing still, by travelling parallel to it at the same speed. To answer the question he had to determine the nature of the solution of Maxwell's equations for light, as described from a reference frame that moves parallel to a light beam at the speed of light. He anticipated that this analysis would then reveal the formal description of light at rest.

In contrast with his expectations-which he based on 'common sense'-Einstein discovered that, according to the form of Maxwell's equations (the most fundamental description of light known), if one insisted on maintaining the objectivity of these equations, then no frames of reference exist in which to describe light as propagating at any speed other than the magnitude of thirty billion centimetres per second! That is to say, even if he were travelling at this same speed parallel to a light beam, he should determine from his measurements that the light beam is moving away from him at thirty billion centimetres per second!

Of course, Einstein saw that he could avoid this seemingly nonsensical conclusion by assuming that the formal description of light in one frame of reference of space and time coordinates might be different from the way that light is described in different (relatively moving) frames of reference, as expressed from the first observer's view.

The following question then arose. Should the established 'common sense' notions be maintained, at the expense of altering a law of nature every time it is described (by a given observer) in a different frame of reference? Or rather, should the form of the law of nature be maintained in all possible frames of reference-even if this might be at the expense of violating

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