September 21, 2011

Rethinking Relativity

Print More

On Friday September 2, Prof. Randy Wayne, plant biology, argued Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity to be an unrealistic physics model.

The lecture, owing the first half of its title to mathematician Stanisław Ulam, “Ask not what physics can do for biology, ask what biology can do for physics: A Plant Cell Biologist’s Perspective on Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity” began without an introduction—though University professor William Crepet, plant biology chair, offered one.  Wayne assured him, “They’ll know me by the end of the lecture.”

In a 50 minute series of 186 slides on science, art, history, philosophy, and politics, Wayne argued his case against the Einsteinian paradigm.

Einstein’s model, Wayne explained, treats elementary particles such as the electron and photon as mathematical points.  This, to Wayne, is the problematic assumption.  As he continued to explain, “The smallest point you can imagine is still bigger than a mathematical point;” and further, that such dimensionless points have no (proven) basis in reality.

Wayne suggests instead that photons have extension or, spatial presence with diameters approximating their wavelengths.  This idea, Wayne argues, has several consequences—one of which explains why nothing can ever exceed the speed of light in a vacuum, c.

Whereas relativists may argue that, as a charged particle approaches the speed of light, the relativity of time will prevent that particle from traveling any faster, Wayne, on the other hand, contends that light itself prevents such particles from breaking the barrier.

In Wayne’s model photons exert “a velocity-dependent viscous force on moving charged particles.”  In other words, the friction of the medium of light is what prevents faster-than-light travel.  His model thus provides an alternative to Einstein’s relativistic time dilation.

Wayne’s proposed counteractive force works in much the same way as any friction we are familiar with from our everyday experience: golfers putting on the green compensate their shots by it, ketchup is difficult to pour because of it, and ballerinas (as Wayne demonstrated) use it to pirouette.

Wayne was inspired to the idea by the viscous medium of cytoplasm within plant cells, which also exhibits friction.   His credo is, “Friction is not a fiction.”Wayne explained that light is a fact of life: as long as the temperature of a place remains above absolute zero (which, according to German physical chemist Walther Nernst, is everywhere), that place will contain light—even if it’s not the visible kind we’re used to.  Photons and their energy are everywhere–and so is their friction.By now Wayne is used to having his ideas rejected.

He prompted his audience, “Google my name and crank, crackpot, or blowhard and you’ll get a response.”  As such, the major themes of his lecture were the power of independent thought and the right to question authority.

Despite the considerable friction his own alternative theory has encountered, Wayne has managed in the past year to publish three papers in peer-reviewed journals describing his alternative to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.  Currently he is working to reproduce a famous experiment, i.e. the Fizeau experiment, the results of which have been often cited in confirmation of Einstein’s theory.  Astonishingly, he claims his theory is two-and-a-half times more accurate in predicting that experiment’s outcome than Einstein’s own.

Original Author: Bob Hackett