Special Relativity, Light Consistency, and Time Dilation
Date: 07/30/2005 at 07:23:43 From: Kamil Subject: Special Relativity Is time dilation a result of light consistency or is light consistency a result of time dilation? Because I have accepted the second, and from it came a paradox that is stuck in my mind. Firstly, it says that light moves at the same speed in every DIRECTION for every observer because the observers have different notions of time. And that the time dilation is directly due to speed (not velocity since direction doesn't matter). So under these circumstances (if they are right) what would happen if I traveled north and chased a light beam heading north and at the same time saw a light beam heading south (towards me). The first postulate of relativity states that the light beams would move (in my perspective) at the same speed. And SR says that is because time has dilated for me. But if time dilation is the only factor that makes the light beam heading north go at 'c', then it clearly wouldn't make the light beam heading south heading 'c', contradicting the first postulate. I have tried to solve this problem by CAREFULLY using Microsoft Powerpoint and including all the postulates of SR in this gedanken (mind experiment). But it just strengthens my belief in the contradiction between time dilation and the first postulate of SR. Please help me Dr. Math! I desperately need your excellent words of wisdom!!
Date: 08/03/2005 at 21:45:25 From: Doctor Rick Subject: Re: Special Relativity Hi, Kamil. Your thoughtful questions deserve an answer, and I am sorry I haven't been able to provide one until now. I see that you raised some related issues in an earlier message: >Imagine a light beam moving to the left of a person and another light >beam moving from the left towards the person. Now what would happen >if the man started moving towards the left. Will the light beams >still move at c? > >According to special relativity, they will. But according to the >explanation of why, is that time flows at a slower rate when moving >at a faster speed. So if the time moves slower for the man, than >shouldn't the first mentioned light beam travel faster than the >second mentioned light beam? > >The reason why can also be seen in the time dilation equation, where >v squared is incorporated, this means that the direction of the >observer shouldn't matter, so the direction of the light beam doesn't >matter on the duration measured. > >My final thought is that if time flows slower in such a way that >light travels at the same speed, than that would only make a light >beam that travels in the same direction move at c. But not a >different direction. It isn't that the speed of light is constant because time is dilated; rather the reverse. Constancy of the speed of light is a much simpler concept than the time dilation formula, so it is better to see this as fundamental. It was experiments suggesting that the speed of light is constant (along with Maxwell's equations for propagation of light, which imply constancy of the speed of light) that gave the impetus for development of special relativity. The assumption that the speed of light is constant has many implications: not just time dilation, but also length contraction and relativity of simultaneity. If you were told that time dilation alone could account for constancy of the speed of light, that was an overly simplified explanation. You observed the distinction between a beam of light going in the same direction as the man versus the opposite direction. This observation shows me that the simultaneity issue is at the root of the explanation, since it depends on the direction of motion, while time dilation (as you have stressed) and length contraction do not. I'm curious how you did your "gedankenexperiments" and what you consider to be the postulates of special relativity. As I said, constancy of the speed of light in all reference frames is the central postulate. If you start from that postulate, there is nothing to prove. From that postulate are derived the Lorentz transformation equations, which are the only way I can think of to set up a computer simulation. Using them, it is easy to show that the speed of light is the same in the stationary ("laboratory") frame and in the man's ("rocket") frame. I'd like to know, therefore, what you did that indicates to you that there is a contradiction. Here is a very brief account of where the simple time-dilation explanation fails. To measure the speed of the two light beams in the rocket frame, we need to measure the position of each beam at two times. The difference in the positions divided by the difference in the times is the speed of the light beam. To simplify the calculation, let's say that instead of coming toward the man, they come from two flashlights carried by the man, one pointed forward and the other pointed backward. I'll pick the two times: t = 0, when the beams leave the flashlights (so that x=0 for both beams), and t = 1 second. In the laboratory frame, at time 1 second, the forward beam is then at x = 300,000,000 meters (I'll call that c meters); the backward beam is at x = -c meters; and the man himself is at v meters (assuming his velocity is v meters per second). So by the simplistic calculation, the forward beam is (c-v) meters ahead of the man, and the backward beam is (c+v) meters behind the man. The speeds of the beams relative to the man are thus (c-v)/1 meters/second and (c+v)/1 meters/second. If we adjust the time t=1 for time dilation, both speeds are changed in the same direction; but one is less than c and the other is greater than c, so they need to be changed in different directions in order for both to become c. The same happens if we adjust the distances (c+v) and (c-v) for length contraction: both speeds are adjusted in the same direction. These adjustments cannot cause the two light beams to travel at the same speed. This, I believe, is the argument you are making. However, we have made a major error in talking about "the time" when something happens. We've assumed that the two events (1: forward beam reaches x=c in the laboratory frame, and 2: backward beam reaches x=- c in the reference frame) happen at the same time in the man's (rocket) frame, as they do in the stationary (laboratory) frame. They don't! To the man, event (1) occurs first, before event (2). Since event (1) is closer to the man than event (2), this is all consistent with the two beams traveling at the same speed -- namely, c meters per second. The Lorentz transformation equations confirm this quantitatively. I hope you'll write back, tell me more precisely what you have done and on what postulates it was based, and discuss this matter further. It's a challenge to grasp the concepts of relativity; it is very easy to make assumptions that are invalid in relativity (such as the simultaneity of the two events in my discussion above) without even noticing the assumption, because we aren't accustomed to a (noticeably) relativistic world. - Doctor Rick, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
Date: 08/04/2005 at 02:29:28 From: Kamil Subject: Special Relativity Thank you Dr. Math, I have been vigorously searching for the answer, but yours was truly the best and clearest. I just wanted to know 2 more things: 1) Einstein's hypothetical clock (the one where Pythagoras' theorem was used to calculate Lorentz factor) is said to show the exact time dilation and not some kind of mechanical flaw. Does that mean that if I turned the clock around 30 or 60 or even 90 degrees, it would show the same result? 2) The Lorentz factor says that if you were to move at 0.5c time would dilate to 20% of the previous rate. But shouldn't it be half in order to make the light beam go at 'c'? I think this might have something to do with the matter that you answered in your reply, but I just want to be sure.
Date: 08/04/2005 at 16:16:00 From: Doctor Rick Subject: Re: Special Relativity Hi, Kamil. I probably haven't read the same things you have read, so I don't know what "hypothetical clock" you have read about, or how it was used to calculate the Lorentz factor. However, in general, the clocks considered in relativistic thought experiments are regarded as theoretically perfect recorders of the time at which an event occurs at the location of the clock. I don't understand what significance turning the clock may have in your mind, but I wouldn't think it would matter at all. Maybe you need to tell me more about what you read concerning this, so I can follow your thinking. >2) The Lorentz factor says that if you were to move at 0.5c time >would dilate to 20% of the previous rate. But shouldn't it be half >in order to make the light beam go at 'c'? The time dilation effect is this: Suppose a rocket is moving with velocity v relative to the laboratory frame. In the rocket frame two events occur at the same place but 1 second apart. Then in the laboratory frame, the time between the two events is 1/sqrt(1-(v/c)^2) If v = 0.5c, this works out to 1/sqrt(1 - 0.5^2) = 1/sqrt(1 - 1/4) = 1/sqrt(3/4) = sqrt(4/3) = 1.154 seconds That's about 15% longer than the 1 second measured in the rocket frame. I don't know what calculations you did to conclude that it should be 10% (if that is what you mean), but as I said before, time dilation alone does not account for the speed of light being constant. We must consider the Lorentz transformation equations, which are more general than time dilation, incorporating the other effects I mentioned. Have you seen the Lorentz transformation equations? - Doctor Rick, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
Date: 08/05/2005 at 02:27:12 From: Kamil Subject: Special Relativity Hello, I learned the Lorentz equation from Einstein's method where he created an imaginary clock which consisted of two mirrors facing each other, then light was released from one of the mirrors and the photon kept on reflecting from one mirror to the other. This clock was then sent to a velocity of 'v' perpendicular to the photon's direction. This created a right angled triangle from where the time dilation equation could be derived (also length and mass). The whole foundation of this was the fact that light consistency is caused by time dilation. And I was just wondering if the direction of motion was the same as the photon (turned 90 degrees) would it still record the same time dilation (because that clock is said to measure time perfectly). But please do tell me the Lorentz equations. If you say that time dilation is the factor that causes light consistency, then can you please explain what does?
Date: 08/05/2005 at 08:20:57 From: Doctor Rick Subject: Re: Special Relativity Hi, Kamil. The clock will measure time exactly the same if it is rotated. The clock was oriented in this particular direction only so that the computation could be done easily from the most basic principles, so that it could be used to derive the Lorentz transformation equations, or part of them. If the clock is oriented differently, we could confirm that it measures time the same way by applying the Lorentz transformation, but we can't do that until after the transformation has been derived. You're still thinking backward: light consistency is not *caused* by time dilation, it *causes* time dilation. What's special about this thought experiment is that time dilation is the *only* effect that light speed constancy has on the setup. The length dimensions perpendicular to the direction of motion are not contracted, therefore one leg of the right triangle is the same length in both reference frames. And the two events whose time difference we calculate are at the *same location* in the rocket frame, so that relativity of simultaneity does not enter the picture. The Lorentz transformation equations are as follows. Let the coordinates measured in the laboratory frame be (x,y,z,t) while the coordinates measured in the rocket frame are (x',y',z',t'). Set up the coordinate systems so that an event occurring at time 0 and location (0,0,0) in the laboratory frame is also measured at time 0 and location (0,0,0) in the rocket frame. Align the coordinate systems so that the rocket is moving in the positive x direction, and the x' axis is parallel to the x axis. Then x = (x' + (v/c)t')/sqrt(1-(v/c)^2) y = y' z = z' t = ((v/c)x' + t')/sqrt(1-(v/c)^2) These transformation equations can be used to analyze any problem in relativity by choosing the appropriate coordinates of an event. For instance, let the events be (0,0,0,0) and (0,0,0,t') in the rocket frame; that is, they both occur at the origin of space coordinates, and they are separated by t seconds. Then we find that the coordinates of the events in the laboratory frame are (0,0,0,0) and x = (v/c)t'/sqrt(1-(v/c)^2) y = 0 z = 0 t = t'/sqrt(1-(v/c)^2) The difference in time between the events as measured in the laboratory frame is increased by the factor 1/sqrt(1-(v/c)^2). That's time dilation. - Doctor Rick, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
Date: 08/06/2005 at 00:54:46 From: Kamil Subject: Thank you (Special Relativity) I thank you dearly for you have cleared my misconception of relativity. When I first learned about relativity I thought time dilation was a result of constancy of 'c' but then I changed my mind to the opposite since it would just seem as though time dilation was just an illusion. And that raises another question, in the so called 'twin paradox' (I know how it is not a paradox) would one twin really be younger than the other or would they just seem younger to each other when they are at different inertial frames? Because if you say that time dilation is due to the speed of light, than time dilation would only be an illusion so they would be the same age after they are brought back to the same frame (in some books it says that one will be younger when they are brought back to the same frame(1) while others say they will be the same biological age(2)). I think the reason why group (1) thinks the way they do is because they think time dilation comes first and light consistency comes second, whereas group (2) thinks that light consistency comes first. If time dilation is just an illusion, then why did relativity revolutionize physics when refraction hasn't revolutionized optics? I must say that is the only thing that still seems confusing to me. I know that some might say time dilation is not an illusion since there is no preferred inertial frame. So, is time dilation an illusion or not? And if it is, what's so special about it?
Date: 08/06/2005 at 10:45:29 From: Doctor Rick Subject: Re: Thank you (Special Relativity) Hi, Kamil. I'm glad to help you. Time dilation is not an illusion in that it is not just a matter of how we perceive things, but how they are physically. Often relativity is presented in terms of how one person "sees" things, but that is a misrepresentation. Better presentations of relativity talk in terms of physical (though idealized) clocks set up on a grid in space, each recording the time that an event occurs in its immediate vicinity. This has nothing to do with a person's perception. I haven't seen references in which an author believes that the twins of the "paradox" will be the same age when brought together, but I doubt that a difference is due to whether they put light constancy or time dilation first. Everyone I know puts light consistency first-- an application of Occam's Razor (look that up), if nothing else. I certainly do, and I believe that the twins will be different ages when they come together. The key to this conclusion is that in order for the twins to come together, they *cannot* both be in inertial reference frames the whole time. Take a look at the following page from the Dr. Math Archives; it is long and rambling, concerning many topics of special and general relativity, but about 2/3 of the way down I discuss the "clock paradox" which is your "twin paradox." I'm sure you'll find more things to be confused about as you continue to study, but keep going! Your curiosity will be rewarded. - Doctor Rick, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
Date: 01/01/2006 at 21:41:13 From: Kamil Subject: Special Relativity Thank you for your reply. Here is an article I read: Relativity of Simultaneity and Distance http://www.bun.kyoto-u.ac.jp/~suchii/Einstein/rel.TS.html Because the train is moving towards B, the observer in the train will see B occur first if the A and B were simultaneous in the laboratory frame (I understand why). But what if instead there was a flash bulb in the middle of the train? The light would reach A first, so what event does the person on the train see happen first? But if the light was to come from two different sources situated on A and B. Then B would happen first. So what does the observer on the train see happen first, A or B? The problem may be solved if we say that seeing something is when the light beam reaches us.
Date: 01/02/2006 at 10:15:40 From: Doctor Rick Subject: Re: Special Relativity Hi, Kamil. ... but we've already agreed that "seeing" (when a photon enters the observer's eye) is NOT what relativity of simultaneity is about. It's about when events (such as a flash bulb going off) occur, as deduced by an observer in a particular reference frame. The deduction may be based either on tracing back along a light beam, knowing the speed of light, or on checking a time-stamped video recording made at the location of the event, or by any other means. You are implicitly redefining "events A and B": now they are when the flash of light, initiated at the center of the train M, reaches each end of the train car. Yes, event A occurs first in the stationary reference frame, because the rear end of the train car is closer to M by the time the light flash reaches it. In the reference frame that is moving with the train, events A and B are simultaneous, because the light travels equal distances at equal speeds to reach the two ends of the car. Why is this a "problem" for you? If two events are simultaneous in the stationary reference frame, the one occurring farther forward occurs first in the moving frame. If two events are simultaneous in the moving frame, the one occurring farther forward occurs second in the stationary frame. These are consistent observations: always the event that is farther forward occurs sooner, in comparison to the event that is farther back, in the moving frame than in the stationary frame. - Doctor Rick, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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