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page 6 of 41



along the rails with a constant velocity v, and that a man traverses
the length of the carriage in the direction of travel with a velocity
w. How quickly or, in other words, with what velocity W does the man
advance relative to the embankment during the process ? The only
possible answer seems to result from the following consideration: If
the man were to stand still for a second, he would advance relative to
the embankment through a distance v equal numerically to the velocity
of the carriage. As a consequence of his walking, however, he
traverses an additional distance w relative to the carriage, and hence
also relative to the embankment, in this second, the distance w being
numerically equal to the velocity with which he is walking. Thus in
total be covers the distance W=v+w relative to the embankment in the
second considered. We shall see later that this result, which
expresses the theorem of the addition of velocities employed in
classical mechanics, cannot be maintained ; in other words, the law
that we have just written down does not hold in reality. For the time
being, however, we shall assume its correctness.



THE APPARENT INCOMPATIBILITY OF THE
LAW OF PROPAGATION OF LIGHT WITH THE
PRINCIPLE OF RELATIVITY


There is hardly a simpler law in physics than that according to which
light is propagated in empty space. Every child at school knows, or
believes he knows, that this propagation takes place in straight lines
with a velocity c= 300,000 km./sec. At all events we know with great
exactness that this velocity is the same for all colours, because if
this were not the case, the minimum of emission would not be observed
simultaneously for different colours during the eclipse of a fixed
star by its dark neighbour. By means of similar considerations based
on observa- tions of double stars, the Dutch astronomer De Sitter was
also able to show that the velocity of propagation of light cannot
depend on the velocity of motion of the body emitting the light. The
assumption that this velocity of propagation is dependent on the
direction "in space" is in itself improbable.

In short, let us assume that the simple law of the constancy of the
velocity of light c (in vacuum) is justifiably believed by the child
at school. Who would imagine that this simple law has plunged the
conscientiously thoughtful physicist into the greatest intellectual
difficulties? Let us consider how these difficulties arise.

Of course we must refer the process of the propagation of light (and
indeed every other process) to a rigid reference-body (co-ordinate
system). As such a system let us again choose our embankment. We shall
imagine the air above it to have been removed. If a ray of light be
sent along the embankment, we see from the above that the tip of the
ray will be transmitted with the velocity c relative to the
embankment. Now let us suppose that our railway carriage is again
travelling along the railway lines with the velocity v, and that its
direction is the same as that of the ray of light, but its velocity of
course much less. Let us inquire about the velocity of propagation of
the ray of light relative to the carriage. It is obvious that we can
here apply the consideration of the previous section, since the ray of
light plays the part of the man walking along relatively to the
carriage. The velocity w of the man relative to the embankment is here
replaced by the velocity of light relative to the embankment. w is the
required velocity of light with respect to the carriage, and we have

                               w = c-v.

The velocity of propagation ot a ray of light relative to the carriage
thus comes cut smaller than c.

But this result comes into conflict with the principle of relativity
set forth in Section V. For, like every other general law of
nature, the law of the transmission of light in vacuo [in vacuum]
must, according to the principle of relativity, be the same for the
railway carriage as reference-body as when the rails are the body of
reference. But, from our above consideration, this would appear to be
impossible. If every ray of light is propagated relative to the
embankment with the velocity c, then for this reason it would appear
that another law of propagation of light must necessarily hold with
respect to the carriage -- a result contradictory to the principle of
relativity.

In view of this dilemma there appears to be nothing else for it than
to abandon either the principle of relativity or the simple law of the
propagation of light in vacuo. Those of you who have carefully
followed the preceding discussion are almost sure to expect that we
should retain the principle of relativity, which appeals so
convincingly to the intellect because it is so natural and simple. The
law of the propagation of light in vacuo would then have to be
replaced by a more complicated law conformable to the principle of
relativity. The development of theoretical physics shows, however,
that we cannot pursue this course. The epoch-making theoretical
investigations of H. A. Lorentz on the electrodynamical and optical
phenomena connected with moving bodies show that experience in this
domain leads conclusively to a theory of electromagnetic phenomena, of
which the law of the constancy of the velocity of light in vacuo is a
necessary consequence. Prominent theoretical physicists were theref
ore more inclined to reject the principle of relativity, in spite of
the fact that no empirical data had been found which were
contradictory to this principle.

At this juncture the theory of relativity entered the arena. As a
result of an analysis of the physical conceptions of time and space,
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