∆ Relativity - On The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies paper.

Many experts draw many serious conclusions from the paper, typically stating "Relativity prove time and space are merged into space-time", but few seem to check if or where the paper actually proves, or cites a proof of the existence of "time", as anything other than a useful idea.

But in my opinion, although the paper shows how and why a moving oscillator will be running slower than expected, this does not prove the papers blind assumption that this relates to , and proves the existence or need for an extra dimension of a thing called "time" to exist.
 You can see the whole paper, and check for yourself (with no need for maths) it's proof, or not, of "time" in "section 1 the definition of simultaneity",  here...

"On The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies"

The small hand of a watch points a '7' and a train arrives at a station. These two things prove that objects can exist, move, and be compared... But without some other evidence, they don't prove there is also a 'future' and a 'past' and a thing called time that passes between these 'places'.
09 Special Relativity.‘On the electrodynamics of moving bodies’

Back to >> ∆ Timeless v.Time distinctions (Rhetoric and Semantics).

( also see > Does Relativity prove the past and future exist?

and > ∆ Einstein's Relativity. A breakdown of the first 9 sections of Relativity, Routledge edition).

A full understanding of just what Einstein’s first paper on relativity actually does prove, and does not prove is critical to anyone wanting to understand ‘time’ – or in my opinion the probable non-existence of time.

"A Brief History of Timelessness", whether it's essence turns out to be basically right or wrong, is all about being very logical and meticulous in its analysis.

re this, at this point, you the reader may think everything that could be said about Relativity has been said, and there is no way an outsider can add anything meaningful to the discussion.  You may also think you have a reasonable, or very good understanding of Relativity at some level. So, concerning logic, at this point you should be clear as to whether you have first hand experience and familiarity of the paper "On The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" , or whether you have only in fact read other peoples accounts and conclusions drawn from it - i.e. you are accepting second hand interpretations.

If you are not familiar with the paper, then this analysis should be useful to you, and if you are familiar with the paper, think you have a good understanding of it, and assume "On The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" in some way confirms the existence of time, (as in 'passing' and having a 'direction', being a dimension etc), then you should have a clear reason for assuming section 1 'kinematics' shows times existence, as opposed to just describing an example of motion, ( a hand rotating on a dial ) and calling it "time". 

if you are familiar with OEMB, and have not considered the above, then this section may be very important to you, becasue a superficial understanding of any part of such an important paper, blushing over 'inconvenient details' is not logical or scientific, and makes all subsequent conclusions drawn from the paper as unreliable as our smallest misunderstanding of it's core.

It is very important to have a good understanding of this paper becasue the vast majority of informed, or professional opinion, seems to stem from, and be based on this first paper and the work following it. Therefore any oversights or incorrect assumptions held in this first paper may carry through subsequent work unchecked if not noticed at this early stage.

Critically, it seems that may people assume Einstein's first paper proves that time exists.

If it can be shown that 'Electrodynamics' does not prove the existence of time, then anyone previously assuming it does has two basic options

1-      They can ignore the significance of the matter, and continue to build on the idea that time exists ‘anyway’, Or,

2 - They can consider that logically all work based on the idea that ‘special relativity’ proves time should be reconsidered in a different light, unless the existence of time IS proven elsewhere.

The problem here is that unless certain key points, that Einstein did not prove, are proven elsewhere, then any statement about ‘time’ that is based on Einstein's relativity can be seen as possibly unfounded.

This is because in special relativity (or ‘on the electro dynamics of moving bodies’ Einstein's first 1905 relativity paper)  Einstein assumes, but does not prove the existence of time. Specifically, at the start of the paper he refers to time, and the importance of being clear as to what we mean by time, but he does not then give a valid definition of time or a proof of time’s existence.

In section 1 of "Electrodynamics" "section 1 the definition of simultaneity" the translated words are...                                                                                                             

If we wish to describe the motion of a material point, we give the values of its co-ordinates as functions of the time.

(my underlining)

So it is suggested that we describe the motion of a "material point" as a function of "the time". But the problem is the small hand of a "watch" is just a material point attached to a motor.

So all the paper in fact suggests is
we describe the motion of a material point, as the values of its co-ordinates as functions of another material point (a moving pointer).

Just motion, or motion and 'time'? - An analysis of section 1 of ‘On the electro-dynamics of moving bodies’.

So it is agreed that ‘a mathematical description of this kind has no physical meaning unless we are quite clear as to what we understand by “time.”’ - and unless we can actually prove the 'physical' existence of time, because without this proof all discussions about 'time' are just actually about a useful mental tool, and not a real physically existing thing. – But Einstein’s explanation of ‘time’ does not do this, as follows... 

If we wish to describe the motion of a material point, we give the values of its co-ordinates as functions of the time.

We have to take into account that all our judgments in which time plays a part are always judgments of simultaneous events.

If, for instance, I say, “That train arrives here at 7 o'clock,” I mean something like this:

“The pointing of the small hand of my watch to 7 and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events.”

The first problem here is the term ‘simultaneous’. The word ‘simultaneous’ implies that time exists, and that some events can happen at the same time, and thus that some events can happen at different times, and thus that ‘different times’ ‘exist’.

These seem legitimate assumptions, but the ‘proof’ or definition continues...

‘If, for instance, I say, “That train arrives here at 7 o'clock,” I mean something like this: “The pointing of the small hand of my watch to 7 and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events.”.

In describing “the pointing of the small hand of my watch”, Einstein is describing a ‘motorised hand rotating about a numbered dial’. He is then showing how he can compare the position of this object, the hand, to the position of another object, the train.But, there is an implication that the position of the first object has something to do with another thing called 'time'.

The problem being the paper suggests it is

Einstein also suggests that the ‘hand’ pointing to the mark ‘7’ and the train arriving (at a station) may be ‘simultaneous’ events , and that this relates to the idea of time, and shows time to be in some way a ‘real’ thing, not just a useful notion.

However, 'all' Einstein has shown here is that motorised hands can rotate around numbered dials (if their motor is supplied with energy) and that ‘motorised’ trains can move, or stop along tracks, (if they also have energy available to them).

In pointing this out, Einstein is also suggesting or implying that extra to this energy and motion... there is a thing called ‘time’ which ‘exists’ and ‘passes’ in some way.

However, very specifically, it seems that his work...

-Does not prove there is a thing called 'time'

-Does not prove that this 'rotating hand' relates to, or shows the existence of a thing called 'time'

-Does not prove that there is a ‘past'

-Does not prove there is ‘a future’

-Does not prove time passes between these places

-Does not prove time passes, or that 'Time' passes 'in one direction'

-So, he does not prove that 'Time', and specifically ‘other' 'times’ - exist.

-And, also does not prove that the idea of 'non-simultaneous events' can make sense.

(i.e. everything is obviously always 'somewhere' doing 'some thing'. Whether we think 'other times' exist, or if we think 'other times' do not exist - we must be doing this 'now', which only proves 'now' exists, and matter can be in formations in our minds.  And even if we think we may think these things 'some other time'... we are always either doing that, or not doing that, now :^)

No matter how familiar we are with the above ideas (or their opposite), 'a lot of people being familiar with an idea' is not the same as a scientific proof of an idea. No matter how many people, and how established they are, as Feynman says "If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong", (or in this case, if you don't have an experiment to prove the past and/or future etc exist, you may be on very shaky ground).

All of the above are just 'assumed' to be the case, probably by the author and readers. Which, given the many and varied conclusions drawn from this paper, and the literally countless subsequent works drawn from it, by many other people, is probably not acceptable.

In seeing this list the reader may have an impulse to immediately dismiss it as ‘irrelevantly pedantic’ etc – however, I advise you look at the list, and consider what actually is being casually being assumed, with what is actually proven, and also observe one's own urge to rush past or ignore such details. (And whether following this urge will really lead to a scientifically valid conclusion).

If we focus on the fact that Einstein does not prove the existence of ‘the past’ or the existence of ‘the future’, and neither does he show that ‘ a thing called time exists and flows as things move’ we can see that he probably ‘assumed’ that all these things naturally, or obviously existed, and assumed that the ‘motorised hand on the numbered dial’ was in some way related to them.

What does 'simultaneous' mean, if anything?

One key error here is the use of the word 'simultaneous'.

While it may seem obvious to us that some events happen 'simultaneously' and others do not. But this can be seen as an oversimplification, or invalid ‘categorisation’ of what we observe. Specifically, if an object is moving in an obvious or interesting way, then we ‘say’ it is ‘doing something’, but if an object is ‘at rest’ we consider it 'not to be doing anything'. This is clearly ridiculous because both things, and of course 'every thing' in the universe, are actually always doing something, whether you and I notice or care, or decide to call it an action or event, or not.

In the case of the watch hand, and the train, both are always doing something. The train may be moving or stopped, just as the watch hand may be moving or stopped. The train may be in any location in relation to the tracks (or any other object) , and likewise the ‘watch’ hand may be stopped or moving relative to the ‘watch face’, or any other object in the universe.

All things are always doing something – with the 'idea' of time in place, and overlaid onto what we observe, the words 'simultaneous' or 'non-simultaneous' seem to have meaning, and the very concepts seem to prove that time, and identical, or different 'times' must exist.

However, looking at the world timelessly – i.e. considering ‘what if thing JUST exist and move’ (whatever that may imply if it is true) – we find that everything is always doing something now – i.e. that nothing is ever not doing anything now - and , simplistic as it sounds, we never actually observe a thing called time, or 'different' times.

We do observe one constantly changing environment - and we may describe this out of habit or social convention, as a 'collection or sequence of different times' - but this is all just semantics unless we can actually , directly prove that something like 'the' past actually really 'exists'.

Because if we cannot prove that something like 'the' past exists, then no matter how much we insist 'the idea of the past' makes sense, it is still true that if things just constantly existed and moved and changed 'now' (so to speak) this would also describe all that we observe - but without also suggesting, or proving the existence of an extra, and 'mysterious' and 'invisible' thing called 'time'.

In a sense then,if things just constantly existed and moved and change 'now', all 'events' are ‘simultaneous’ but we can also say there is nothing other than 'now' and thus nothing other than 'simultaneity' – so the term becomes redundant.

What Special Relativity actually does prove.

What Einstein is leading up to – and proves – in his discussion of ‘time’ and ‘simultaneity’ is the deduction through relativity – that ‘moving clocks run slow’, expressed as 'Time Dilation'. The problem with this statement arises if we assume the word 'clock' relates to something other than a machine that just and only proves that energy can be used to move a 'hand' at a steady rate ('now').

What Einstein means by 'Time dilation' is that if we have two similar machines (clocks) with aligned hands, but some distance apart – physically moving one clock to the other clocks location will result in the 'rotating hands' becoming mis-aligned. But this is expressed as ‘’they will show different times’. While it is an agreed and proven fact, that such machines will lose alignment in their displays (be they mechanical or digital etc), what is not proven or agreed is that’ motorised hands on numbered dials prove the existence or flow of  a thing called time.

Thus ‘all’ this behaviour proves is that moving things ‘in this case machines’, ‘run slow’ – and not that there is a past and there is a future and a thing called time that flows between them, and which flows between them more slowly for moving objects. It is also not proven that time exists, and is needed for things to move, and can be slowed, and as such will slow object within it if it is slowed.

This relates critically to the concept of time existing, and as such existing as a 'fourth dimension'. Fundamentally if there is no past and no future, then there are not 2 ‘locations’ between which a thing called ‘time’ can be said to  flow, or ‘span’. And thus time cannot be said to exist or be an extra dimension.

H.G.Wells, and the 'fourth dimension'.

It is worth noting here that the idea of time being seen in some way as a (fourth) 'dimension' did not actually originate from Einstein or other scientists, but from the famous novella writer H.G.Wells in 1895, 10 years before Einstein released 'Special Relativity'.

"It was Einstein, as every schoolchild knows, who first described time as "the fourth dimension" -- and every schoolchild is wrong. It was actually Wells who wrote, in The Time Machine, that

"there is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space, except that our consciousness moves along it"."

(As I found out by reading John Gribben's excellent work,.See >> Time travel for beginners )

Similarly the concept of seeing space and time as being intermingled mathematically originated not directly from Einstein but from other mathematicians and scientists, such as Hermann Minkowski, and Hendrik Lorentz, re-analysing Einstein's work.

Hermann Minkowski, and space time.

When Hermann Minkowski famously said...

"The views of space and time which I wish to lay before you have sprung from the soil of experimental physics, and therein lies their strength. They are radical. Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality." (My Underlining)


He gave birth to the concept of 'Space-time'. It was in the beginning part of his address delivered at the 80th Assembly of German Natural Scientists and Physicians (September 21, 1908).

As such this quote was said as Minkowski had clearly taken on-board Einstein’s first paper on relativity (‘Electrodynamics...’ 1905), and thus seems to have initially assumed this paper in some way proved the existence of ‘Time’ to some degree. While it can only actually be seen that the paper ‘proves’ matter and motion exist – and then explains relativistic effects in terms of a thing called time existing.

The ‘Michelson–Morley experiment’

Amongst the “experimental physics,” Minkowski refers to here will be the ‘Michelson–Morley experiment’ ...as performed in 1887 by Albert Michelson and Edward Morley... Its results are generally considered to be the first strong evidence against the theory of a luminiferous aether and in favour of special relativity.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelson%E2%80%93Morley_experiment - 1881_and_1887_experiments)

However, it can be seen that the Michelson–Morley experiment, can almost certainly be said to show that the speed of light is indeed constant, independent of the speed of the observer, or the speed of the source of light, and thus that this observation supports the essence of relativistic effects.

But, the Michelson–Morley experiment does not in any way prove that there is a ‘past, or that there is ‘a future’, or that there is a thing called ‘time’ which passes between the past and future, ‘whos’ existence is necessary for things to be able to exist and move in the universe!

So,Minkowski's statement was based on his understanding of Einstein’s 1905 paper (as discussed here), and as such the same logic applies to Minkowski's statement, as to Einstein relativity, which is that,

IF time exists then then Minkowski is correct that only 'a kind of union of space and time exist'.

But just saying this this doesn’t prove that time exists, and Minkowski did not prove elsewhere that the past,the future, or time exist.

An invalid chain of evidence and assumptions.

So we have a tricky situation, where Einstein writes relativity as if time exists, then Minkowski interprets Michelson–Morley, as IF Einstein has proven time exists, and thus as if Michelson–Morley’s work confirms this.

This situation gets even worse and more ‘incestuous’ because as Einstein developed his work on 'General Relativity' he incorporated Minkowski's concept of Space-Time.

Thus the idea the the 'existence of time' had been proven, and that Special Relativity, General Relativity, Physical experiments (Michelson–Morley etc), and outside independent work (Minkowski, Lorentz, Fitzgerald etc) had all concurred and confirmed the assumption appears  to be correct. While in fact it involves a lot of invalid feedback and assumptions, which hide the fact that no where in the 'chain of logic, reason, observation or experiment' does anyone actually prove the existence of or need for 'time' or any of its components or functions. (I.e. of some thing extra to energy, matter, warped space,and motion 'just' existing 'only' now).

(see >> 'just' existing'

The source of the misunderstanding, Einstein’s own assumptions relating to time.

Einstein may have casually, or automatically ‘assumed’ that his examples of motion (the train, and the motorised hand) related to some kind of a proof of an extra thing called time because he may have looked at 2 main apparent sources of ‘other evidence’. Specifically,

1-      the changing and accumulating contents of his own internal mind,( and the changes of his own body)

2-      the changing and evolving external word around him 

While these collections of evidence may seem to prove the existence or flow, and direction of ‘time’, in fact, apart or together, they can be shown to ONLY prove that matter exists, moves and changes ‘now’ ( to use a redundant term ).

(See >> ∆ Common assumed, but invalid, 'proofs' of Time.)

Einstein's, and our own, minds, when functioning as they should, do show an accumulating collection of memories, knowledge, and understanding, in a ‘forwards’ progression. Even as they deteriorate we can be said to progressively ‘lose’ information. So this seems to suggest the existence and progression or one way flow and direction of ‘time’. However, if we ask the critical question...

'What if things can JUST exist and change?'

We find that all our minds ever directly prove to us is that matter can ‘move and change’. And that this movement, change, and interaction can result in accumulations of matter, or matter in-formation. And that this movement and change can result in the dis-integration of collections of matter, or matter in-formation.

What our minds do NOT prove is ‘that there is a future’ or that there is ‘a past’ or that there is a thing called time which flows between these place and which must also exist for things to be able to move and change.

Similarly if we look at the world around us, we can see formations of matter accumulating, or integrating  and dispersing and disintegrating, and this may SEEM to also show a flow and direction of a thing called time. But at no point does the matter around us actually prove anything other than that matter can exist, and move, and change and accumulate, and organise, disintegrate and disperse.

IF we force the notion or 'framework' of time onto what we see, then we will see that this works, and makes sense. But it is critical to see that just applying this framework or idea of time, and seeing that it works, is not actually the same as having a physical, experimental proof that time exists as more than just a useful idea. Specifically, seeing that the idea works is not the same as actually proving the ‘existence of the past or future, or time, or any other supposedly existing component of time, in any actual way at all. 

(Similarly, seeing that the idea of 'the Euro' works, and enables hundreds of millions of people to cooperate and do business, is not the same as proving that 'Euros' really exist in the universe, and that as such they are not just a useful idea, but were 'discovered' by mankind.

What about the Big Bang etc?

It may well be that all the matter in the universe started off appearing from nothing in an infinitesimally small point, and it may well be that all of this matter is exploding outwards in an unstoppable one way explosion ending in a complete ‘cold death’. And all of this action may have a clear one way direction to it – but none of that would prove that ‘there is a past’ or that ‘there is a future’ or that there is a thing called time which exists and flow between them.

(See > ∆ Entropy, Is just Entropy.)

At this point the reader may want to fall back on the idea that ‘we all know time doesn’t exist in this sense, ‘time is JUST the word we use to describe al the motion and change around us.  If this is the case it is critical to see that this is NOT what Einstein and all the other experts on time and specifically ‘space time’ are saying at all. The current view, and Einstein’s view in relativity, upon which most current expert views are based ,  is that

  • time exists
  • time flows
  • time has a direction
  • time may be merged with space
  • space-time can be slowed, stretched or warped or folded back on itself
  • space time may be travelled forwards – according to special relativity
  • space time may be travelled backward – according to general relativity

and so on (see video links to the generally held professional position)

(See also >> ∆ Timeless v.Time distinctions (Rhetoric and Semantics).)

The reader should also note that it is invalid to imply in the same breath that ‘time really has all of the above features, but it does not really have any of them, and it is mysterious’.

Note also that In his papers Einstein does not say words to the effect of  ‘time does not exist, only motion does, but although it will be extremely confusing and unnecessary, lets talk about time as if it exists, and pretend it can be merged with space’. So the idea that Einstein clearly saw and could prove that 'time is just a useful idea' is not confirmed.Though it is clear he suspect the distinctions of time to be 'persistent illusions'.

(SEE >> ∆ Einsteins 'Distinctions'.)

Back to >> ∆ Timeless v.Time distinctions (Rhetoric and Semantics).

In conclusion,  Einstein may have thought he was describing and discussing time. But if his assumption that ‘time’ exists was based on watching a motorised hand on a numbered dial, or considering his own changing mind and body, or considering the moving and changing state of the world around him (all things that only prove matter can exist and move etc) then this, and other assumptions about time, by other authors based on relativity may need to be seriously reconsidered.

( PLEASE note, this section needs to be proof read and rewritten in places, I have written the whole piece several times – this version is included for completeness as the site is being constructed. M.M.

Notes – RW  ABOVE- IF Einstein assumed his reference to a motorised hand was a valid proof that there is a past and a future and a thing called time which flows between them was based on the assumption that his own internal memories or the state of the world around him also suggested time exists...then ...

Specifically he choose to compare the position of the ‘hand’ to some of the markings on the dial behind it, and he chooses to compare the position of the train with the position of the station at which the train arrives.  In each case he could have ...)

further note on  "On The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies"

Definition of Simultaneity, paragraph 4

here the paper says...

"It might appear possible to overcome all the difficulties attending the definition of “time” by substituting “the position of the small hand of my watch” for “time.” And in fact such a definition is satisfactory when we are concerned with defining a time exclusively for the place where the watch is located; but it is no longer satisfactory when we have to connect in time series of events occurring at different places, or—what comes to the same thing—to evaluate the times of events occurring at places remote from the watch".

The problem is this is written with the assumption that a thing called time exists and passes as matter in the universe exists and is doing something somewhere - but it is essential to realize that whether this assumption is wrong or right no reason or evidence is given to support this in electrodynamics , and thus no subsequent idea built on electrodynamics (eg 4d block time) is valid unless it cites some other evidence to support eh idea a thing called time actually exists, and is not just conjecture.