To Frame My Frame… (Frame I – Newton) – 2.Genesis

December 6, 2005

Newton was a clever man.That is actually an understatement for the man who discovered the laws of dynamics and gravitation, dabbled his hands in optics and alchemy(!), co invented calculus and played a pivotal role in the birth of modern science ! But, above all he was clever.

And this clever man happened to believe in absolute space. According to him, there is an absolute space and there is an absolute time. All our rulers and clocks are just our way of measuring it.Good clocks are that which measure the absolute time accurately. Bad clocks are those which do not show this time. Good rulers are those which measure the absolute distances accurately. And bad rulers are those which do not show the correct distance. This is how we started understanding nature. And Newton is arguably among the best explorers that we humans ever produced and sent out to understand nature.

Almost everyone would agree to this way of stating how we usually look at the world. Well, not everyone, even from the start there were some philosophers who did not like this idea at all, but then philosophers complain about each and everything, don’t they ? Well, if we can live without giving a damn about “proof of our existence”, we can surely live with absolute space and time not giving a damn about the philosophical objections. Can’t we ?

Talking of Philosophy, I think philosophy in physics is like a spice to our food. You can eat food without it in principle, but it is less tasty that way. And what is the right amount of spice depends on your taste and habit.

So, It is good to have an idea of the philosophical problems. So what is the problem with absolute space and time ? Whereas this whole thing seems okay, there is one weird result that people noticed early on. That is what I would call the first great conspiracy of nature, and this result was a tiny flare from which the flame of General Relativity was born.

Well, and that mystery was basically this – consider someone who is moving with respect to this absolute space in absolute time with a uniform velocity (again defined through the absolute space and time). It seemed that nature provided NO way for him to know that he is moving with respect to the so called absolute space as the so called absolute time passed.

And even now, about 400 years after Galileo, the degree to which the nature has gone to hide this information from us is simply amazing. Nature will do anything, and when I say anything I mean anything to prevent you from knowing whether you are moving with a uniform velocity or whether you are at rest. After so many years, we have got so used to this conspiracy foiling our attempts that modern physics elevates it into one of its fundamental principles. Like the one ring of LOTR, The principle of relativity is the one rule born to rule all rules of nature !

Now, here is where the problems start. Once you stare at the mystery of this conspiracy for sometime, you might come to think – Physics is after all an observational science. And if you cannot detect the absolute space then probably it is simply not there. If Newton refused to talk about unseen angels moving the planets, why did he so willingly talk about the absolute space and absolute time ?

Well, you should never forget what I told you in the beginning – Whatever Newton was, he was not stupid…

(continued here)


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