The Quantum Century
Eintein’s work at the beginning of the twentieth century represents a significant evolution in the field of physics. At the time of the turn of the century, most physicists believed that all aspects of physical reality could be accommodated for as expressions of Newton’s principals of classical mechanics, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism. The only apparent difficulties that remained to be explained away were the inability of physicists to detect the effects of the ether, and the problem of black body radiation. Einstein addressed both these problems, rather indirectly, in his 1905 publications. As we will see, Einstein’s theory was a major break away from the predicted path of conventional physicists, and at the same time, Einstein’s work was a natural extension of the physics of the late 1800’s.
Firstly, let us consider in what ways Einstein’s special theory of relativity represents a continuity with classical physics. For the most part, the foundation of Einstein’s theory is built upon the basic thematic postulates of Newtonian mechanics. One such basic assumption is that nature is inherently simple; thus, an effective theory should account for a wide range of phenomena by making only a few hypotheses. In this regard, Einstein’s theory is exemplary in that he only assumes two basic postulates; the constancy of the speed of light, and that the laws of physics are the same for two inertial reference frames. The latter of these two assumptions reflects another classic themata, that the laws governing the universe are uniform in all directions. In other words, similar effects must be assigned similar causes. Einstein also prescribed to the thematic hypothesis concerning the conservation of energy. In addition, Einstein’s work was obviously in accord with the atomic theory of matter.
It is interesting to note that, in principal, Einstein’s theory addresses the same problem that Newton was dealing with, namely the structure and properties of space and time. In regard to the development of physics toward the end of the nineteenth century, many aspects of Einstein’s theory were already common or in the process of being developed by other individuals at about the same time as Einstein. Initially, Einstein’s philosophy concerning science and nature was highly correlated with Mach’s view that it only makes sense to talk about things which can be experientially verified. This view is characterized as phenomenalistic positivism. Also, Einstein’s work closely paralleled many predictions that were made by Lorentz and his theory of electrodynamics.
In addition, the theory of relativity itself was nothing new to physicists. The classical conception of relativity applied to moving bodies and stated that the laws of physical phenomena should be the same whether for an observer fixed or for an observer carried along in a uniform movement or non-accelerating velocity. Poincare’s work incorporated what he called “the principal of relativity,” and simultaneously he raised considerable doubts concerning the legitimacy of such concepts as absolute time and absolute space. Although Einstein’s work appears similar to many contemporary interpretations of electrodynamics and relativity, his special theory of relativity incorporated an entirely novel approach which required a significant transformation in the current methods of scientific thought.
By the end of the nineteenth century many physicists felt that the field of physics had reached its ultimate completion; however, there were still significant inconsistencies between theory and observed facts. Several aspects of Maxwell’s theory lead to wrong predictions concerning the nature of radioactivity and electromagnetism. In general, these problems were concerned with fluctuations in the pressure of radiation. Another problem with Maxwell’s theory, according to Einstein, was that it presented certain asymmetries in the description of currents generated during relative motion between magnets and conductors. Many physicists, such as Lorentz and Poincare, felt that the basic structure of classical physics could be salvaged, despite these inconsistencies. Lorentz, for example, was able to modify the existing theory by adding eleven ad hoc hypothesis designed to make the theory fit the empirical data. These hypotheses included the assumption of a stationary ether as an absolute reference frame as well as the a priori formulation of a group of transformation equations. Also, Lorentz’s theory only applied to relatively small velocities compared to the speed of light.
Einstein’s work on the special theory of relativity was based on the reconsideration of fundamental thematic assumptions concerning space and time. His goal, it seems, was not to mend the classical theory by adding new hypothesis, but to shift the perspective upon which the classical theory was based. Specifically, Einstein’s thought experiments concerning the nature of light led him to understand that the concept of a frame of reference at rest was indeed relative. In addition, the concept concerning the simultaneity of events from the perspective of different inertial reference frames was also relative. Einstein’s revolutionary theory disposed of the classical concepts of absolute space and absolute time, which could not even be observed empirically. For example, the majority of physicists all believed in the ether even though it could never be detected experimentally. The absolute reference frame in Einstein’s theory is neither space nor time, but the constancy of the speed of light, which indeed could be experimentally verified. Herein represents the crucial point in which Einstein’s theory represents a radical break from previous theories concerning the phenomena and properties of physical reality.
His two postulates concerning the speed of light and the relative validity of all inertial reference frames greatly simplified many of the perplexing inconsistencies of the previous theories. For example, Einstein was able to derive the same equations used in the Lorentz transformations, whereas Lorentz had constructed them as a priori assumptions. Furthermore, the necessity of detecting an absolute reference frame such as the ether became superfluous. Many physicists, including Poincare, could not accept Einstein’s theory because they were so sure that the ether must exist.Another aspect of Einstein’s theory which diverges form the convention at the time concerns his relationship with Mach. Although Einstein was originally a student of Machian philosophy emphasizing phenomenalistic positivism, he began to place a higher priority on the development of a consistent and simple thematic conception of reality as opposed to the results of specific experiments. Intuitively, Einstein was able to venture into a higher order of reality by conceptually navigating beyond the domain of the contingent plane of experimental observations.
As has been demonstrated, Einstein’s theory was simultaneously a radical break from classical physics and a natural continuation of the developments in physical science. Einstein’s theory of relativity was in many ways an expansion of the classical notions of relativity; that is, classical relativity pertains to moving bodies whereas Einstein extended the same principal to include electromagnetic fields of radiation.
The classical conception of the relationship between physical reality and space is analogous to the relationship of billiard balls to a pool table. The behavior of physical reality was described as the interactions of the billiard balls. The table itself was seen as completely separate from what occurred on it. In this way, classical physics viewed space as nothing more than an arena where the interactions of physical objects took place.
With the advent of Einstein’s theory of relativity, new relationships were taken into account. Specifically, it was observed that physical reality was inseparable from the spatial structure. In relativistic physics, material reality was still described as separately existent objects interacting like billiard balls. However, the connection was made between the structure of the billiard balls and the structure of the pool table on which the game was played. Ultimately, time and space, which were previously considered independent of each other, were now seen to be relative or related to each other through the underlying spatial structure of space-time.
It is my opinion that Einstein’s most significant contribution to physics is the demonstration that physical reality as we know it is a manifestation of energy and vibration, the dynamics of which are rooted in the conception of a hyperdimensional continuum. Indeed, Einstein’s work provided the basis for the introduction of hyperspatial geometries in physics, which could be used to model and conceptualize the nature of a four-dimensional space-time continuum. It is amazing to me that nearly one hundred years after Einstein’s first three publications, the majority of perspectives throughout the collective reality of humanity still consider space to be three dimensional and also assume the existence of a linear and mechanistic flow of time.
I am also of the opinion that many significant breakthroughs will occur in the field of physics within the next five to ten years. It seems highly probable that the theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics can be unified within the context of forthcoming developments concerning hyperdimensional complex dynamical systems. This unification of physics was perhaps Einstein’s ultimate vision, in that he understood the seemingly separate aspects of reality which we experience through our senses are actually all extensions of the same one thing.