ON THE RELATIVITY OF THE CONCEPTION OF DISTANCE

Let us consider two particular points on the train * travelling
along the embankment with the velocity v, and inquire as to their
distance apart. We already know that it is necessary to have a body of
reference for the measurement of a distance, with respect to which
body the distance can be measured up. It is the simplest plan to use
the train itself as reference-body (co-ordinate system). An observer
in the train measures the interval by marking off his measuring-rod in
a straight line (e.g. along the floor of the carriage) as many times
as is necessary to take him from the one marked point to the other.
Then the number which tells us how often the rod has to be laid down
is the required distance.

It is a different matter when the distance has to be judged from the
railway line. Here the following method suggests itself. If we call
A^1 and B^1 the two points on the train whose distance apart is
required, then both of these points are moving with the velocity v
along the embankment. In the first place we require to determine the
points A and B of the embankment which are just being passed by the
two points A^1 and B^1 at a particular time t -- judged from the
embankment. These points A and B of the embankment can be determined
by applying the definition of time given in Section 8. The distance
between these points A and B is then measured by repeated application
of thee measuring-rod along the embankment.

A priori it is by no means certain that this last measurement will
supply us with the same result as the first. Thus the length of the
train as measured from the embankment may be different from that
obtained by measuring in the train itself. This circumstance leads us
to a second objection which must be raised against the apparently
obvious consideration of Section 6. Namely, if the man in the
carriage covers the distance w in a unit of time -- measured from the
train, -- then this distance -- as measured from the embankment -- is
not necessarily also equal to w.

Notes

*) e.g. the middle of the first and of the hundredth carriage.

THE LORENTZ TRANSFORMATION

The results of the last three sections show that the apparent
incompatibility of the law of propagation of light with the principle
of relativity (Section 7) has been derived by means of a
consideration which borrowed two unjustifiable hypotheses from
classical mechanics; these are as follows:

(1) The time-interval (time) between two events is independent of the
condition of motion of the body of reference.

(2) The space-interval (distance) between two points of a rigid body
is independent of the condition of motion of the body of reference.

If we drop these hypotheses, then the dilemma of Section 7
disappears, because the theorem of the addition of velocities derived
in Section 6 becomes invalid. The possibility presents itself that
the law of the propagation of light in vacuo may be compatible with
the principle of relativity, and the question arises: How have we to
modify the considerations of Section 6 in order to remove the
apparent disagreement between these two fundamental results of
experience? This question leads to a general one. In the discussion of
Section 6 we have to do with places and times relative both to the
train and to the embankment. How are we to find the place and time of
an event in relation to the train, when we know the place and time of
the event with respect to the railway embankment ? Is there a
thinkable answer to this question of such a nature that the law of
transmission of light in vacuo does not contradict the principle of
relativity ? In other words : Can we conceive of a relation between
place and time of the individual events relative to both
reference-bodies, such that every ray of light possesses the velocity
of transmission c relative to the embankment and relative to the train
? This question leads to a quite definite positive answer, and to a
perfectly definite transformation law for the space-time magnitudes of
an event when changing over from one body of reference to another.

Before we deal with this, we shall introduce the following incidental
consideration. Up to the present we have only considered events taking
place along the embankment, which had mathematically to assume the
function of a straight line. In the manner indicated in Section 2
we can imagine this reference-body supplemented laterally and in a
vertical direction by means of a framework of rods, so that an event
which takes place anywhere can be localised with reference to this
framework. Fig. 2 Similarly, we can imagine the train travelling with
the velocity v to be continued across the whole of space, so that
every event, no matter how far off it may be, could also be localised
with respect to the second framework. Without committing any
fundamental error, we can disregard the fact that in reality these
frameworks would continually interfere with each other, owing to the
impenetrability of solid bodies. In every such framework we imagine
three surfaces perpendicular to each other marked out, and designated
as " co-ordinate planes " (" co-ordinate system "). A co-ordinate
system K then corresponds to the embankment, and a co-ordinate system
K' to the train. An event, wherever it may have taken place, would be
fixed in space with respect to K by the three perpendiculars x, y, z
on the co-ordinate planes, and with regard to time by a time value t.
Relative to K1, the same event would be fixed in respect of space and
time by corresponding values x1, y1, z1, t1, which of course are not
identical with x, y, z, t. It has already been set forth in detail how
these magnitudes are to be regarded as results of physical
measurements.

Obviously our problem can be exactly formulated in the following
manner. What are the values x1, y1, z1, t1, of an event with respect
to K1, when the magnitudes x, y, z, t, of the same event with respect
to K are given ? The relations must be so chosen that the law of the
transmission of light in vacuo is satisfied for one and the same ray
of light (and of course for every ray) with respect to K and K1. For
the relative orientation in space of the co-ordinate systems indicated
in the diagram ([7]Fig. 2), this problem is solved by means of the
equations :

eq. 1: file eq01.gif

y1 = y
z1 = z

eq. 2: file eq02.gif

This system of equations is known as the " Lorentz transformation." *

If in place of the law of transmission of light we had taken as our
basis the tacit assumptions of the older mechanics as to the absolute
character of times and lengths, then instead of the above we should
have obtained the following equations:

x1 = x - vt
y1 = y
z1 = z
t1 = t

This system of equations is often termed the " Galilei
transformation." The Galilei transformation can be obtained from the
Lorentz transformation by substituting an infinitely large value for
the velocity of light c in the latter transformation.

Aided by the following illustration, we can readily see that, in
accordance with the Lorentz transformation, the law of the
transmission of light in vacuo is satisfied both for the
reference-body K and for the reference-body K1. A light-signal is sent
along the positive x-axis, and this light-stimulus advances in
accordance with the equation

x = ct,

i.e. with the velocity c. According to the equations of the Lorentz
transformation, this simple relation between x and t involves a
relation between x1 and t1. In point of fact, if we substitute for x
the value ct in the first and fourth equations of the Lorentz
transformation, we obtain:

eq. 3: file eq03.gif

eq. 4: file eq04.gif

from which, by division, the expression

x1 = ct1

immediately follows. If referred to the system K1, the propagation of
light takes place according to this equation. We thus see that the
velocity of transmission relative to the reference-body K1 is also
equal to c. The same result is obtained for rays of light advancing in
any other direction whatsoever. Of cause this is not surprising, since
the equations of the Lorentz transformation were derived conformably
to this point of view.

Notes

*) A simple derivation of the Lorentz transformation is given in
Appendix I.

THE BEHAVIOUR OF MEASURING-RODS AND CLOCKS IN MOTION

Place a metre-rod in the x1-axis of K1 in such a manner that one end
(the beginning) coincides with the point x1=0 whilst the other end
(the end of the rod) coincides with the point x1=I. What is the length
of the metre-rod relatively to the system K? In order to learn this,
we need only ask where the beginning of the rod and the end of the rod
lie with respect to K at a particular time t of the system K. By means
of the first equation of the Lorentz transformation the values of
these two points at the time t = 0 can be shown to be

eq. 05a: file eq05a.gif

eq. 05b: file eq05b.gif