Relativity : the Special and General Theory eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 117 pages of information about Relativity .

Events which are simultaneous with reference to the embankment are not simultaneous with respect to the train, and vice versa (relativity of simultaneity).  Every reference-body (co-ordinate system) has its own particular time ; unless we are told the reference-body to which the statement of time refers, there is no meaning in a statement of the time of an event.

Now before the advent of the theory of relativity it had always tacitly been assumed in physics that the statement of time had an absolute significance, i.e. that it is independent of the state of motion of the body of reference.  But we have just seen that this assumption is incompatible with the most natural definition of simultaneity; if we discard this assumption, then the conflict between the law of the propagation of light in vacuo and the principle of relativity (developed in Section 7) disappears.

We were led to that conflict by the considerations of Section 6, which are now no longer tenable.  In that section we concluded that the man in the carriage, who traverses the distance w per second relative to the carriage, traverses the same distance also with respect to the embankment in each second of time.  But, according to the foregoing considerations, the time required by a particular occurrence with respect to the carriage must not be considered equal to the duration of the same occurrence as judged from the embankment (as reference-body).  Hence it cannot be contended that the man in walking travels the distance w relative to the railway line in a time which is equal to one second as judged from the embankment.

Moreover, the considerations of Section 6 are based on yet a second assumption, which, in the light of a strict consideration, appears to be arbitrary, although it was always tacitly made even before the introduction of the theory of relativity.


Let us consider two particular points on the train * travelling along the embankment with the velocity v, and inquire as to their distance apart.  We already know that it is necessary to have a body of reference for the measurement of a distance, with respect to which body the distance can be measured up.  It is the simplest plan to use the train itself as reference-body (co-ordinate system).  An observer in the train measures the interval by marking off his measuring-rod in a straight line (e.g. along the floor of the carriage) as many times as is necessary to take him from the one marked point to the other.  Then the number which tells us how often the rod has to be laid down is the required distance.

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Relativity : the Special and General Theory from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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