Relativity and the Problem of Space (Part 12)

Disturbed space


NOTE: Einstein’s statements are in italics. My understanding follows in bold.

The Concept of Space in the General Theory of Relativity

“This theory arose primarily from the endeavour to understand the equality of inertial and gravitational mass. We start out from an inertial system S1, whose space is, from the physical point of view, empty. In other words, there exists in the part of space contemplated neither matter (in the usual sense) nor a field (in the sense of the special theory of relativity). With reference to S1 let there be a second system of reference S2 in uniform acceleration. Then S2 is thus not an inertial system. With respect to S2 every test mass would move with an acceleration, which is independent of its physical and chemical nature. Relative to S2, therefore, there exists a state which, at least to a first approximation, cannot be distinguished from a gravitational field. The following concept is thus compatible with the observable facts: S2 is also equivalent to an “inertial system”; but with respect to S2 a (homogeneous) gravitational field is present (about the origin of which one does not worry in this connection). Thus when the gravitational field is included in the framework of the consideration, the inertial system loses its objective significance, assuming that this “principle of equivalence” can be extended to any relative motion whatsoever of the systems of reference. If it is possible to base a consistent theory on these fundamental ideas, it will satisfy of itself the fact of the equality of inertial and gravitational mass, which is strongly confirmed empirically.

“Considered four-dimensionally, a non-linear transformation of the four co-ordinates corresponds to the transition from S1 to S2. The question now arises: What kind of non-linear transformations are to be permitted, or, how is the Lorentz transformation to be generalised? In order to answer this question, the following consideration is decisive.

“We ascribe to the inertial system of the earlier theory this property: Differences in co-ordinates are measured by stationary “rigid” measuring rods, and differences in time by clocks at rest. The first assumption is supplemented by another, namely, that for the relative laying out and fitting together of measuring rods at rest, the theorems on “lengths” in Euclidean geometry hold.From the results of the special theory of relativity it is then concluded, by elementary considerations, that this direct physical interpretation of the co-ordinates is lost for systems of reference (S2) accelerated relatively to inertial systems (S1). But if this is the case, the co-ordinates now express only the order or rank of the “contiguity” and hence also the dimensional grade of the space, but do not express any of its metrical properties. We are thus led to extend the transformations to arbitrary continuous transformations.  This implies the general principle of relativity: Natural laws must be covariant with respect to arbitrary continuous transformations of the co-ordinates. This requirement (combined with that of the greatest possible logical simplicity of the laws) limits the natural laws concerned incomparably more strongly than the special principle of relativity.

“This train of ideas is based essentially on the field as an independent concept. For the conditions prevailing with respect to S2 are interpreted as a gravitational field, without the question of the existence of masses which produce this field being raised. By virtue of this train of ideas it can also be grasped why the laws of the pure gravitational field are more directly linked with the idea of general relativity than the laws for fields of a general kind (when, for instance, an electromagnetic field is present). We have, namely, good ground for the assumption that the “field-free” Minkowski-space represents a special case possible in natural law, in fact, the simplest conceivable special case. With respect to its metrical character, such a space is characterised by the fact that dx1² + dx2² + dx3² is the square of the spatial separation, measured with a unit gauge, of two infinitesimally neighbouring points of a three-dimensional “space-like” cross section (Pythagorean theorem), whereas dx4 is the temporal separation, measured with a suitable time gauge, of two events with common (x1, x2,x3). All this simply means that an objective metrical significance is attached to the quantity

ds² = dx1² + dx2² + dx3² – dx4²    (1)

as is readily shown with the aid of the Lorentz transformations. Mathematically, this fact corresponds to the condition that ds² is invariant with respect to Lorentz transformations.

“If now, in the sense of the general principle of relativity, this space (cf. eq. (1) ) is subjected to an arbitrary continuous transformation of the co-ordinates, then the objectively significant quantity ds is expressed in the new system of co-ordinates by the relation

ds² = gik dxi dxk     (1a)

which has to be summed up over the indices i and k for all combinations 11, 12, . . . up to 44 . The terms gik now are not constants, but functions of the co-ordinates, which are determined by the arbitrarily chosen transformation. Nevertheless, the terms gik are not arbitrary functions of the new co-ordinates, but just functions of such a kind that the form (1a) can be transformed back again into the form (1) by a continuous transformation of the four co-ordinates. In order that this may be possible, the functions gik must satisfy certain general covariant equations of condition, which were derived by B. Riemann more than half a century before the formulation of the general theory of relativity (“Riemann condition”). According to the principle of equivalence, (1a) describes in general covariant form a gravitational field of a special kind, when the functions gik satisfy the Riemann condition.

“It follows that the law for the pure gravitational field of a general kind must be satisfied when the Riemann condition is satisfied; but it must be weaker or less restricting than the Riemann condition. In this way the field law of pure gravitation is practically completely determined, a result which will not be justified in greater detail here.

“We are now in a position to see how far the transition to the general theory of relativity modifies the concept of space. In accordance with classical mechanics and according to the special theory of relativity, space (space-time) has an existence independent of matter or field. In order to be able to describe at all that which fills up space and is dependent on the co-ordinates, space-time or the inertial system with its metrical properties must be thought of at once as existing, for otherwise the description of “that which fills up space” would have no meaning.  On the basis of the general theory of relativity, on the other hand, space as opposed to “what fills space”, which is dependent on the co-ordinates, has no separate existence. Thus a pure gravitational field might have been described in terms of the gik (as functions of the co-ordinates), by solution of the gravitational equations. If we imagine the gravitational field, i.e. the functions gik, to be removed, there does not remain a space of the type (1), but absolutely nothing, and also no “topological space”. For the functions gik describe not only the field, but at the same time also the topological and metrical structural properties of the manifold. A space of the type (1), judged from the standpoint of the general theory of relativity, is not a space without field, but a special case of the gik field, for which – for the co-ordinate system used, which in itself has no objective significance – the functions gik have values that do not depend on the co-ordinates. There is no such thing as an empty space, i.e. a space without field. Space-time does not claim existence on its own, but only as a structural quality of the field.

“Thus Descartes was not so far from the truth when he believed he must exclude the existence of an empty space. The notion indeed appears absurd, as long as physical reality is seen exclusively in ponderable bodies. It requires the idea of the field as the representative of reality, in combination with the general principle of relativity, to show the true kernel of Descartes’ idea; there exists no space ’empty of field’.” ~ Albert Einstein


According to classical mechanics “space” and “what fills the space” has existence independent of each other, and we think of them as existing simultaneously. On the basis of the general theory of relativity, on the other hand, space as opposed to “what fills space”, has no separate existence.

In this generalization, we maintain continuity of transformation between “space” and “what fills the space”, and we adjust the natural laws to accommodate this.

We start with a more general idea of “space-time” as an independent concept. We then impose on it a condition of continuity using “Riemann condition” as we accelerate the system. This brings about a gravitational field that fills the space. If we then imagine the gravitational field to be removed, there does not remain a space either. There seem to be no such thing as an empty space, i.e. a space without field.

The Disturbance Theory looks at “empty space” as theoretical “undisturbed space”. As it is disturbed it starts to get “filled” with disturbance. The undisturbed space simply provides a framework for the disturbed space.

The disturbance has frequency. This frequency varies over a large spectrum but the ratio of wavelength to period is always a constant “c”. This establishes continuity among inertial systems. When the frequency is increasing or decreasing, the continuity of the gradient change further ensures continuity among inertial systems.

Region of disturbed space having a constant frequency appears as having a constant velocity or uniform motion. Region of disturbed space with changing frequency appears as having acceleration, deceleration or a gravitational field.

The imposition of continuity means that no matter how sharp some boundaries or interfaces may appear there is still no abrupt break at atomic dimensions. This changes the way we look at Quantum Mechanics.

Medium gradient of changing frequency produces the electronic region of an atom. Very high gradient of changing frequency produces the nuclear mass. So gravity and mass go together.

Previous: Relativity and the Problem of Space (Part 11)
Next:  Relativity and the Problem of Space (Part 13)


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  • vinaire  On November 23, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    “Speed of Light” is a misnomer because in case of light there is no material point traveling with respect to another material point. There is only disturbance like the ripple on the surface of the pond. In case of light, however, the “surface” is part of the “ripple”.

    In my view, the correct interpretation of speed of light being constant is: the ratio of wavelength to period of disturbance is constant. This shows that time is not absolute but it is an aspect of space (the background). This is the special theory of relativity.

  • vinaire  On November 23, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    I am suggesting that space-energy-matter maintain continuity. Within the atom the electron cloud maintains continuity with the nucleus.

  • vinaire  On November 23, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    Please note that the theoretical “undisturbed space” is currently thought of as Higgs field. There is no discontinuity between atom and space surrounding it. There is no discontinuity at the space-matter interface.

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