Relativity is one of the most well–known, well–researched theories in modern science. It forms the foundation of modern physics, which is built upon two theories: relativity and quantum mechanics.
Relativity did not magically appear as an overnight success. It needed to be evaluated, vetted, and prove its usefulness in making predictions or explaining our observations. In fact, scientists did exactly that: they researched and evaluated how well Einstein’s theory performed. It should come as no surprise that it worked better than anything we had previously developed! It was a huge improvement over classical mechanics, which was unable to effectively explain experiments associated with the electromagnetic force. In other words, scientists felt that Einstein’s work was useful and did not contain any big math mistakes. Once a theory is accepted and adopted by the scientific community as valid, it is difficult to change that belief. In fact, many modern–day scientists feel that relativity is beyond reproach; that if no one has found anything wrong with it in more than a century, that no one ever will. This brief historical summary helps to explain why relativity is so widely supported and defended.
Despite the evidence and an overwhelming bias in favor of relativity’s validity, science requires that we remain open to the possibility – however remote – that the theory is wrong. This possibility raises an interesting question: If relativity is wrong, what arguments will best convince the scientific community at–large? Fortunately, scientists have answered this question. They have told us what arguments they are willing to entertain and which they aren’t interested in hearing.
Professional Debate in a Biased Environment
Today, most scientists believe that relativity is internally consistent; meaning that they do not believe it contains any meaningful mistakes that would render it invalid. Others go so far as to say that Einstein’s theory has been proven. So it should come as no surprise that many scientists feel that relativity will never be discredited. This bias is best illustrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, a well–known and respected scientist who was asked in a 2012 interview if he thought relativity would ever be discredited. His response was: “Ha! It will never be discredited because it works.“
There is a danger in Tyson’s position, because his statement is partially true and partially false. Tyson is correct when he says that relativity works. We have enough historical information to show where relativity is useful and clearly outperforms classical mechanics. Any challenge that asserts relativity will always produce wrong answers must be rejected, because such a challenge fails to acknowledge the historical success of the theory.
However, Tyson’s mistake is in making an absolute proclamation that relativity will never be discredited. This simply is not true and such a proclamation is a belief, not a scientific fact. Unfortunately, Tyson is not alone. In a 2015 article entitled “Why Einstein Will Never Be Wrong,” Brian Koberlein writes:
“But even if someone succeeds in creating a theory better than Einstein’s (and someone almost certainly will), Einstein’s theory will still be as valid as it ever was. Einstein won’t have been proven wrong, we’ll simply understand the limits of his theory.” (emphasis added)
Koberlein’s mistake is the same as Tyson’s. Both state a future prediction as if it were a statement of fact. As scientists, we must guard against stating opinions or beliefs as if there were unchangeable facts. Fortunately Koberlein leaves the door open to an improved theory. He believes that we will discover a theory that outperforms relativity; a point he reiterates when he says:
“The other way to trump Einstein would be to develop a theory that clearly shows how Einstein’s theory is an approximation of your new theory.”
This belief that relativity will never be disproved means that revealing a mistake in Einstein’s derivation will alone be insufficient to convince scientists like Tyson and Koberlein that relativity is invalid. They will need more: They need to see an alternative theory that performs better, one where relativity is an approximation of that theory. It is important to recognize that a theory intended to replace relativity does not need to be built upon relativity or even assume that relativity is valid, despite the prevailing bias. What is important is to show that relativity produces results that approximate the new theory. The criteria is purely mathematical.
Scientists agree with a third way to discredit a theory: Relativity is invalidated if we produce an experiment whose result contradict the predictions of the theory. However when the theory to be replaced is often an approximation of another theory, you must look for very unique and specific experiments where relativity and its replacement make distinctly different predictions.
The Three Requirements
While changing the belief that a theory is valid is difficult, it is not impossible. As discussed above, scientist have defined the rules through which any challenge against relativity can be evaluated. A theory can be replaced if any one of the following three conditions are met:
- Show that relativity contains a significant and incurable mathematical mistake
- Show that relativity is an approximation of the new theory
- Show an experimental result that contradicts relativity
Generally, if any one of these conditions is met then the theory fails. However, satisfying one requirement alone will be insufficient to overcome the bias discussed above. In fact, experience has shown that any criticism against relativity that does not address all three requirements will be dismissed by the scientific community at–large. So, a successful challenge against relativity requires that all three requirements are met, because to do any less will fail to overcome the bias in favor of Einstein’s theory.
Human nature is such that satisfying all three requirements will still be insufficient to convince the most ardent defenders of Einstein’s work. As a defense, they will seek to introduce new criteria that has little to do with the merit or validity of the arguments. Their defenses fall into three main categories:
- Refusal To Consider
Misdirection occurs when a defender refuses to discuss the argument and instead attempts to change the discussion to some characteristic that is immaterial to the analysis. Rather than discuss the analysis, those who employ misdirection attack the qualifications of the challenger or the quality of the communication channel through which the message is delivered. A misdirection statement might be: “You didn’t published in a quality journal” or “You don’t have a PhD in physics.” While the answers to these questions might be interesting, they do not change the results of the analysis or adversely affects one’s ability to independently access, review, and evaluate the material.
Denial occurs when the defender refused to acknowledge the results or implications of the analysis. A common denialist’s statement might be: “The spherical wave proof may have failed, but relativity is still right.” This is tantamount to saying that he or she is simply going to ignore the analysis. Denial is not scientific. A better statement is: The spherical wave proof may have failed, but relativity often provides useful results. This statement is not only correct, but it also requires an explanation. The need to explain why relativity often performs well is why satisfying Koberlein’s approximation requirement (above) is important.
Refusal To Consider occurs when the defender refuses to evaluate the analysis until every theoretical derivation or experiment performed in support of relativity is reevaluated to his or her satisfaction. This is a specific case of denial, because it fails to recognize that equations and experiments can be analyzed in ways that can be generalized and applied to other derivations and experiments. Another example of refusal to consider is to pretend to lack the skills and knowledge to evaluate the argument. Both forms of refusal are simply an attempt to defer evaluating the material in order for the defender to maintain his or her belief system. Establishing insurmountable barriers or refusing to consider the material for the sole purpose of preventing the reexamining of one’s deeply held beliefs is not scientific.
Misdirection, denial, and refusal to consider are not actual requirements and will not be addressed in this series.
In this five–part series, we will examine each requirement that individually and collectively invalidate relativity. We begin by reexamining the failed spherical wave proof. We then discuss how relativity is an approximation of Modern Mechanics. Finally, we will revisit the Michelson–Morley experiment to reveal how this experiment – which is long–held to support relativity theory – does not. The series concludes by discussing the implications of a world without relativity.
Much of this work will be familiar to readers of my papers or DISRUPTIVE. However for those new to my work, I hope that this series will quickly and succinctly reveal why relativity theory is wrong.
Steven B. Bryant is a futurist, researcher, and author who investigates the innovative application and strategic implications of science and technology on society and business. He is the author of DISRUPTIVE: Rewriting the rules of physics, which is a thought–provoking book that shows where relativity fails and introduces Modern Mechanics, a unified model of motion that fundamentally changes how we view modern physics. DISRUPTIVE is available at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and other booksellers!
Images courtesy of Pixabay.com
Photo of Neil deGrasse Tyson ©2013 AMNH, Photo by Roderick Mickens
Photo of Steven B. Bryant ©2015 Steven B. Bryant, Photo by Amy Slutak