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The Enigma Of The Universe : Fitzgerald Contractions

Published: 17.01.2015
Updated: 02.07.2015

One of the important implications of the theory of relativity in the field of physics is the contractions in space and time- dimensions which are popularly known as Fitzgerald Contractions. Their mathematical values can be found by the Lorentz equation. According to this theory of contractions, when a system moves, there occurs a contraction in the space-and- time-dimensions. In other words, the length of the moving body contracts in the direction of the motion and a clock placed in such a system moves slowly. Such contraction in the length of the moving body is generally spoken of as the contraction in space. Now, if we consider it to be the contraction of the real space, it would not be correct. For, this contraction is the result of the change in the state of the material substance, and not that of the non-material entity like space in which the material body exists.

The contraction in time-dimension is a bit more difficult to comprehend. Let us take a simple illustration: Imagine that a star is 40 light-years away from the earth. Now, if a rocket moves with the speed of 240,000 kilometers/second, how much time would it take to reach from the earth to the star? The theory of relativity gives two answers to this question:-

(1) For the observer on the earth, the rocket will take

to reach the star (300000 km./sec. is the velocity of light.)

(2) For the passenger who is travelling in the rocket there will be a contraction in the time-dimension according to the laws of Fitzgerald Contraction. This contraction will be in the ratio of 10: 6 i.e. for the passenger in the rocket, it will take:

This illustration explains the contraction in time-dimension. But, there is still confusion in the philosophical aspect of this contraction. The question arises whether the natural processes of man (one of which is his age) are affected by this contraction, that is to say, whether the natural processes of man will take place according to the contraction in time created by his motion?

The scientists are probably not unanimous regarding its answer. Prof. Margenau, for example, states: "That the length of rigid bodies is different when it is measured by an observer moving relative to these bodies from what it is when measured by an observer at rest with respect to them. Similarly, clocks have their tempo changed when read by moving observers. These are empirical facts which are not subject to metaphysical interpretation; they are true and real in every ordinary sense of these words."[1] Contrary to this, the famous physicist Sir Arthur Eddington in answer to the above question writes: "In the early days of the theory of relativity one of the most frequent questions asked by my correspondents was, "Is the Fitzgerald Contraction real or apparent? Is it really true that a rapidly moving rod becomes shortened in the direction of its motion? The answer which I have given in the Nature of the Physical World (pp. 32-34) is too long to quote here; but having pointed out with an example that we often draw a distinction between things which are "true" and things which are "really true", I explained that on the same principles the contraction of the moving rod would be described as true but not really true."[2]

This statement of the renowned scientist makes it clear that the contraction in space and time are not real from the point of view of absolute truth. Our common sense also forbids us to believe that the age of man travelling in rocket will increase with his velocity. Thus, we can say that the absolute units of space and time have real existence, and that they are not affected by the external phenomena of motion, etc.. If this had not been the case, how the velocity of light, would remain absolutely constant? For velocity is measured in space-units per time-units.

The above contractions, when considered in the light of Jain metaphysics, seem to be only material changes, for only material changes can be relative and the ultimate units of space and time are absolute.


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Title: The Enigma Of The Universe Publisher: JVB University Ladnun English Edition: 2010 HN4U Online Edition: 2014

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