By P. W Bridgman

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We will return to this point in Chapters 6 and 7. In any case, there is only one way to decide which of these three options will get us out of our dilemma, and that is to see which of them gives results that agree with experiment. Here’s an example of how such a testing procedure might occur. Let’s look at the second option above and assume that Maxwell’s equations really do contain a hitherto unknown term making the speed of light dependent on the speed of the source. If there is such a term, then the light emitted by a source moving toward you will be traveling faster than the light emitted by the same source when it is moving away from you.

The ‘special’ arises because this principle is restricted to inertial frames of reference. Special relativity is a relatively simple theory and was the subject of Einstein’s famous 1905 paper. If we relax the requirement of non-accelerated motion we can make a statement like: The laws of nature are the same in all frames of reference, accelerated or not. This is called the Principle of General Relativity and gives rise to the general theory of relativity. This theory involves, as we shall see in Chapter 9, a much more difficult mathematical formulation, a statement that is attested to by the fact that it took a man of Einstein’s genius over a decade to work it out.

I call the working out of this vision the ‘Newtonian Project’. This orderly mechanical picture of the universe had profound effects in many areas outside of science as well. Its influence can be seen in music and literature, for example, and there are even scholars who argue that the men who created the constitution of the United States were deeply influenced by Newtonian ideas. In Chapter 6 we will also see that some aspects of the Newtonian world view were crucial in the development of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

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A sophisticate's primer of relativity by P. W Bridgman


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