Relativity, Time and Reality
Nordenson (Harald)
Source: Nordenson - Relativity, Time and Reality
Paper - Abstract

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Preface (Full Text)

  1. It is my long-time experience that when somebody allows himself to criticize, or even merely analyse the fundamental principles and definitions of the Theory of Relativity, he is inevitably told that he is unduly prejudiced and fettered by old traditions and conventional ideas, that he is a priori alien to these new revolutionary lines of thought and therefore more or less incompetent to deal with them.
  2. I am therefore anxious to emphasize that when about fifty-five years ago I was first brought into contact with the Theory of Relativity, I was fascinated by the idea that physical experiments could lead to results that made it necessary to abandon and remould some of our most fundamental concepts. I was incited to my further studies merely by an earnest desire to grasp the real significance of the new concepts.
  3. It is also my experience that anyone who ventures to criticize the Theory of Relativity will invariably meet the objection from the faithful ‘relativists' that the presentation of the Theory which is being scrutinized by the critic must be considered inadequate or too elementary, and that the Theory should be evaluated on the basis of some other book or paper which is alleged to be the accurate presentation of the fundamental ideas of the Theory. But if the reference to another paper is followed up by the critic, and he nevertheless feels justified in maintaining his criticism the result is as a rule a new reference to another paper and so on. Not infrequently the effect of the criticism is a declaration from the ‘relativist' that the deduction of the Theory is of secondary importance since the formulae of the Theory are supposed to have been corroborated by experiments.
  4. With regard to these attitudes I have found it necessary to carry my analysis through on a rather broad front. My aim being to state the content of Einstein's new concepts and the principles on which they are based, I have in the first place taken up Einstein's original papers and furthermore some of the more encyclopaedic presentations, as well as some of those dealing with the corroborations. Of the many voluble mathematical treatises I have only taken those into consideration, which touch upon the foundations of the Theory.
  5. I wish to emphasize that in this study of the relativity problems I have not been guided by any preconceived opinion, as to how the arising problems are to be solved. I have endeavoured to approach them without prejudice, except — if that is a prejudice — for a certain fascination as mentioned above at the idea of remoulding our fundamental concepts on the basis of experimental results.
  6. With this background I can allow myself to make an appeal:
    Dear Reader,
    Accord me the favour of dropping any prejudice on the subject of this book before reading it. Otherwise spare yourself the trouble of reading it.
    … Harald Nordenson, Stockholm, December 1968
Introduction (Full Text)
  1. Some sixty years have elapsed since Albert Einstein first presented his Theory of Relativity. During this time it has — with few exceptions — been generally accepted by the scientific world as one of the greatest conquests of the spirit of man in the field of science.
  2. But it is not only for our understanding of physical facts that the ideas of Einstein are presumed to have created a revolution in our thinking and to have done away with traditional ideas. With regard to our fundamental concepts of time and space the Theory is alleged to have thrown over our classical views and laid new foundations. Typical of this standpoint is the often-quoted proclamation by H. Minkowski in his lecture on ‘Space and Time' in September 1908.
      ‘From now on the independent concept of space and the independent concept of time shall vanish as shadows and only a kind of union of them will preserve independence.'
    The concepts of time and space being two of the principal foundations for our study and understanding of the physical world as well as for our reasoning in general, it might well be expected that such ‘revolutionary' ideas should have given rise to a very extensive literature on these matters. It has therefore seemed to me to be of interest to make a retrospective survey of what these ideas have brought forward over the years and to establish what the new concepts actually contain and what results they may have given us.
  3. A closer study reveals, however, how limited the literature on this special side of the subject is. With very few exceptions those who have taken up a discussion of the Theory of Relativity — and they are indeed numerous — have in principle accepted Einstein's fundamental statements and proclamations and have mostly confined themselves to discussing and emphasizing the numerous and certainly remarkable consequences to which his ideas are declared to have led. The foundation-stones of the Theory have received notably little attention.
  4. Since the most striking principle of the Theory is the negation of classical time and its replacement with a new concept, the leading theme of this book has been:
      What is the content of Einstein's new time concept, what has been discarded of the classical concept and how does the new time concept influence our picture of the physical world?
    This being the purpose of the book it becomes wholly of epistemological character and it is based only on the rules of logic.

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