Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Favoring an empiricist conception of science

A new paper, On the Lorentzian route to Relativity, discusses teaching the Special Relativity Theory (SRT):
Arriassecq and Greca state: Suggesting that Einstein used Michelson's experiment as starting point for developing the SRT, helps to create in students a distorted view of scientific activity, favoring in this way a completely empiricist conception of science. (Arriassecq and Greca, 2010)

They mention also that there is evidence confirming that the role of Michelson Morley experiment played in the genesis of SRT has been minor and indirect. Therefore we don't know to which experiments exactly Einstein refers by the phrase “unsuccessful attempts to discover any motion of the earth relatively to the light medium”.
Einstein scholars say similar things, but this is crazy. It is obviously wrong by just looking at the papers. Early relativity papers by FitzGerald, Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski all explicitly cited the Michelson–Morley experiment as forcing the surprising predictions of relativity.

Einstein's 1909 paper summarized the history of relativity as:
The Michelson and Morley interference experiment showed that, in a special case, second-order terms also cannot be detected, although they were expected from the standpoint of the aether-at-rest theory. To include this experiment in the theory, Lorentz and FitzGerald introduced the postulate that all objects, including the parts of Michelson and Morley's experimental set-up, changed their form in a certain way, if they moved relative to the aether. ...

Michelson's experiment suggests the axiom that all phenomena obey the same laws relative to the Earth's reference frame or, more generally, relative to any reference frame in unaccelerated motion. For brevity, let us call this postulate the relativity principle.
Einstein recognizes that the relativity postulates and principles were deduced as consequences of Michelson-Morley.

Einstein's first (1905) relativity paper is the exception, in that it uses Lorentz's theory as the starting point without explicitly mentioning Michelson. He postulates what Lorentz deduced from Michelson's experiments and Maxwells equations.

Now there are physicists who say that the best way to teach relativity is to explain how it follows from Michelson's experiments, but they are reluctant to do so because that favors an empiricist conception of science!

They should be happy. Relativity was developed from empirical science. The most influential paper on the subject was Minkowski's 1908 paper, and it began:
The conceptions about time and space, which I would like to develop before you today, have grown on experimental physical grounds. Herein lies their strength.
Those experimental physical grounds were Michelson's experiments and others, such as measurement of relativistic mass. No one would have believed relativity otherwise.

This paper illustrates how crediting Einstein is tightly coupled with denying empirical science. That is Einstein's biggest legacy. The Einstein worshipers would like to fool you into thinking that science is based on paradigm shifts from geniuses who rely on abstract theorizing instead of empirical science. It is an entirely false view of the history of science.

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