In commenting on the absolute velocity of the speed of light, which is at the basis of Einstein’s relativity, Eddington notes that we need to understand the claim “nothing can go faster than the speed of light” in a particular way. If we build a laser cannon and shine it to Neptune, then spin the cannon around in a circle at even a moderate speed, the tip of the light beam will be moving much faster than the speed of light relative to us. Eddington says that the theory only deals with speeds that are capable of being signals. Einstein himself makes a point that dovetails with this in his discussion of simultaneity in Relativity, when he specifies the peculiar character of physical definitions (that they have to show us how to verify something in a particular case), and then tells the reader “not to read any further until they are firmly convinced of the point.” This is to say we must define the things we study in terms of signals that can be verified and detected in a particular case. This mode of defining runs across all sciences from physics to statistics and poll gathering to chemistry to sociology to psychology. The whole nature of modern science – with all its power and limitations – rests on seeing this peculiar mode of defining.
The mode of defining in contemporary physical science
June 22, 2011 at 8:29 am (Uncategorized)