Some Thoughts on Relativity

As I mention in my “about” page, when I was in middle school I thought I disproved Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, but almost immediately forgot the thought process. That has created a nagging doubt in my head every time I have used his theory ever since, and I have always been annoyed at not knowing whether I was right or not. However, I just went back over his theory in my current Physics course, and something about the way this guy worded it reignited the thought process I had back in middle school, and I now know what I thought was wrong with the General Theory of Relativity.

The problem I have with the theory is actually found in its very foundation. Einstein said that Newton’s laws of motion could basically be restated by saying that “In the absence of external forces, objects travel the straightest possible path in spacetime.” To explain the “force” of gravity in a way consistent with this statement (because, due to the “principle of equivalence” and some weird reasoning that doesn’t quite make logical sense to me, Einstein thought that gravity wasn’t actually a force), Einstein said that “Mass and energy cause spacetime to curve.” Science teachers love to use the illustration of a mass in a pillow or bed sheet, with a marble rolled alongside. They point to the fact that the marble rolls and hits the mass making the depression, and say “See? Mass bends spacetime!” However, the only reason the marble ends up reaching the bottom of this depression is that there is external gravity! Thus, this illustration begs the question by using gravity to explain gravity. In order for this illustration to actually work properly, it must be in a gravity free environment.

So take this setup out to deep space. Replace the bed sheet and mass with, say, a piece of sheet metal that is warped in the middle in the same way that the mass warps the bed sheet, and replace the marble with, say, a magnetic ball, so that it stays attached to the sheet metal the entire time. Now run the experiment in your head, ignoring friction (because there would be no friction in the theory we are trying to illustrate, and you can successfully neutralize friction in a simulated experiment). First, imagine this with the ball moving very quickly: the ball rolls along, and encounters the simulated gravity well. What does it do? It enters the gravity well along its original path, and then leaves the gravity well, still traveling along the same path. Remember, there is no friction, and no external force pulling the object into the well. The only factors to consider are the ball’s velocity and the metal’s warping. There is absolutely nothing to provide a centripetal force to change the direction of the ball. Viewed from above, the ball curves towards the center of the well when it enters, but immediately begins curving back out, and ends up in the same path it was traveling on before. Now, imagine if the ball is stationary, but inside the simulated gravity well. What happens? Nothing! The ball just sits there.

Now compare this to the situation it is supposed to be illustrating. In a real gravity well, if something is moving very fast, its path will bend in response to the gravity well, but it will not be caught in it. This is consistent with the illustration: if the ball is rolling very quickly, it will curve inside the simulated gravity well, but it will leave the gravity well and continue. However, in a real gravity well, the object will have changed direction when it leaves the gravity well, and in the illustration, the final path of the object is exactly the same as the original path. Now think of an object just sitting in the air above the earth. It begins accelerating towards the earth. In the illustration, the ball just sits there, because there is no outside force acting on it.

Thus, no amount of spacetime warping can permanently change the direction of an object, so Einstein was WRONG!

That is as far as I got in middle school, but this time I was able to take it a little further and develop an amendment to his theory that would solve the theoretical problem without actually changing any of the math: instead of saying, “Mass and energy cause spacetime to curve,” I say that “Spacetime flows towards mass and energy.” Now, this statement still needs some work: for example, we now know that mass and energy are the same thing–a vibration in spacetime (see my Matter and Matter Follow-up posts), so we need to come up with a way to make this statement in a way that is consistent with those ideas, but I am fairly certain that this is how it works on the macroscopic scale.

Let’s go back to the original illustration. You have a bed sheet on the floor, and a device in the middle that sucks the threads towards it. When you roll your marble across the sheet, it will begin to curve towards the device. If it is moving quickly, it will escape the “gravity well,” and emerge traveling in a different direction. If it is moving slowly, it will begin orbiting the device, and if it is moving even more slowly, it will eventually hit the device and rest against it. Finally, if you lay the marble at rest a little away from the device, when you release the marble it will begin accelerating towards the device. This is exactly how we see gravity work in the real world!

Now, I also have idea about Special Relativity: not a correction, but a new way of thinking about things that could make Special Relativity  much easier to understand. However, it will involve a lot of math and other homework–by far the most labor and thought intensive idea I have had so far–so it may be a while before I can post it. Despite this, I am really excited about it, and wanted to give a little teaser now to piggyback on the General Relativity post: Basically, I am working on a new mathematical definition of motion that will take Special Relativity into account–essentially redefining motion as distance warped over time warped, instead of distance passed over time passed. Now, this is basically what Einstein was going for when he developed his General Theory of Relativity, so I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if he already did this and it just ended up using more complicated math than they want to teach non-physics majors, so I might come up dry or find I am simply reinventing the wheel, but I have stated my goal.

Now, I have had this idea for an amendment to Relativity for a while, but it was based on some other ramifications, such as the possible existence of antigravity (gravity that pushes instead of pulls), antimatter, white holes, etc., but this base has allowed me to flesh it out some more. I will try to write on the other ramifications of this amendment in my next post.

Finally, I have the image at the top linked to the page I found it on. I have not read it, but I want to read it as soon as I have the time. It appears to be a well thought out argument for another problem with Relativity, so I linked to it in case you guys were interested.

Any thoughts? I hope I explained this clearly enough, but knowing how abstract this whole concept is, I wouldn’t be surprised if I simply left your minds even more twisted than before. I know my mind went for quite a few loops while figuring this out. I would love to answer any questions you have in the comments. Also, I might be wrong about all this, and simply be misunderstanding Einstein’s theory, but I am fairly confident in my analysis, and I would love to be challenged so I can refine or recant my idea.