By P. W Bridgman
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Extra resources for A sophisticate's primer of relativity
The key thing to appreciate is that for a physicist, equations express relationships between “things” and they are a way to make precise statements about the real world. FIGURE 1 Maxwell’s equations are mathematically rather more complicated, but in essence they do exactly the same kind of job. They can, for example, tell you in which direction a compass needle will be deflected if you send a pulse of electric current through a wire without having to look at the compass. The wonderful thing about equations, however, is that they can also reveal deep connections between quantities that are not immediately apparent from the results of experiments, and in doing so can lead to a much deeper and more profound understanding of nature.
But if we are to follow Maxwell’s equations to the letter, then no matter how fast we run, the beam still recedes away from us at a speed of 299,792,458 meters per second. If it did not, the speed of light would be different for the person running compared to the person holding the flashlight, contradicting Michelson and Morley’s experimental results and our assertion that the speed of light is a constant of nature, always the same number, irrespective of the motion of the source or the observer.
We do not assume any prior scientific knowledge and we avoid mathematics as much as possible. Nevertheless, we do aim to offer the reader a genuine explanation (and not merely a description) of the science. In that regard especially, we hope to offer something new. In the latter parts of the book, we will see how E = mc2 underpins our understanding of the workings of the universe. Why do stars shine? Why is nuclear power so much more efficient than coal or oil? What is mass? This question will lead us into the world of modern particle physics, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, and the hunt for the Higgs particle that may lead to an explanation for the very origin of mass.