Eddington 1927: The Law of Motion


This paper presents Chapter VI (section 4) from the book THE NATURE OF THE PHYSICAL WORLD by A. S. EDDINGTON. The contents of this book are based on the lectures that Eddington delivered at the University of Edinburgh in January to March 1927.

The paragraphs of original material are accompanied by brief comments in color, based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below links to the original materials.


The Law of Motion

I must now ask you to let your mind revert to the time of your first introduction to mechanics before your natural glimmerings of the truth were sedulously uprooted by your teacher. You were taught the First Law of Motion— “Every body continues in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, except in so far as it may be compelled to change that state by impressed forces.”

Probably you had previously supposed that motion was something which would exhaust itself; a bicycle stops of its own accord if you do not impress force to keep it going. The teacher rightly pointed out the resisting forces which tend to stop the bicycle; and he probably quoted the example of a stone skimming over ice to show that when these interfering forces are reduced the motion lasts much longer. But even ice offers some frictional resistance. Why did not the teacher do the thing thoroughly and abolish resisting forces altogether, as he might easily have done by projecting the stone into empty space? Unfortunately in that case its motion is not uniform and rectilinear; the stone describes a parabola. If you raised that objection you would be told that the projectile was compelled to change its state of uniform motion by an invisible force called gravitation. How do we know that this invisible force exists? Why! because if the force did not exist the projectile would move uniformly in a straight line.

The teacher is not playing fair. He is determined to have his uniform motion in a straight line, and if we point out to him bodies which do not follow his rule he blandly invents a new force to account for the deviation. We can improve on his enunciation of the First Law of Motion. What he really meant was— “Every body continues in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, except in so far as it doesn’t.”

Material frictions and reactions are visible and absolute interferences which can change the motion of a body. I have nothing to say against them. The molecular battering can be recognised by anyone who looks deeply into the phenomenon no matter what his frame of reference. But when there is no such indication of disturbance the whole procedure becomes arbitrary. On no particular grounds the motion is divided into two parts, one of which is attributed to a passive tendency of the body called inertia and the other to an interfering field of force. The suggestion that the body really wanted to go straight but some mysterious agent made it go crooked is picturesque but unscientific. It makes two properties out of one; and then we wonder why they are always proportional to one another—why the gravitational force on different bodies is proportional to their inertia or mass. The dissection becomes untenable when we admit that all frames of reference are on the same footing. The projectile which describes a parabola relative to an observer on the earth’s surface describes a straight line relative to the man in the lift. Our teacher will not easily persuade the man in the lift who sees the apple remaining where he released it, that the apple really would of its own initiative rush upwards were it not that an invisible tug exactly counteracts this tendency. (The reader will verify that this is the doctrine the teacher would have to inculcate if he went as a missionary to the men in the lift.)

Einstein’s Law of Motion does not recognise this dissection. There are certain curves which can be defined on a curved surface without reference to any frame or system of partitions, viz. the geodesies or shortest routes from one point to another. The geodesies of our curved space-time supply the natural tracks which particles pursue if they are undisturbed.

From “continuum of substance” perspective, the substance of the universe is continuous throughout. Therefore, the curvature of space can best be visualized as the twisting of substance. This twisting can best be visualized as changing quantization of field-substance, and changing inertia (inertial density) of material-substance. This was addressed mathematically by Einstein.

Error arises only when the differential of inertia and/or quantization becomes significant. Newtonian mechanics does not account for the differential of inertia, which the theory of relativity does.

We observe a planet wandering round the sun in an elliptic orbit. A little consideration will show that if we add a fourth dimension (time), the continual moving on in the time-dimension draws out the ellipse into a helix. Why does the planet take this spiral track instead of going straight? It is because it is following the shortest track; and in the distorted geometry of the curved region round the sun the spiral track is shorter than any other between the same points. You see the great change in our view. The Newtonian scheme says that the planet tends to move in a straight line, but the sun’s gravity pulls it away. Einstein says that the planet tends to take the shortest route and does take it.

That is the general idea, but for the sake of accuracy I must make one rather trivial correction. The planet takes the longest route.

You may remember that points along the track of any material body (necessarily moving with a speed less than the velocity of light) are in the absolute past or future of one another; they are not absolutely ”elsewhere”. Hence the length of the track in four dimensions is made up of time-like relations and must be measured in time-units. It is in fact the number of seconds recorded by a clock carried on a body which describes the track. (It may be objected that you cannot make a clock follow an arbitrary curved path without disturbing it by impressed forces (e.g. molecular hammering). But this difficulty is precisely analogous to the difficulty of measuring the length of a curve with a rectilinear scale, and is surmounted in the same way. The usual theory of “rectification of curves” applies to these time-tracks as well as to space-curves.) This may be different from the time re-corded by a clock which has taken some other route between the same terminal points. On p. 39 we considered two individuals whose tracks had the same terminal points; one of them remained at home on the earth and the other travelled at high speed to a distant part of the universe and back. The first recorded a lapse of 70 years, the second of one year. Notice that it is the man who follows the undisturbed track of the earth who records or lives the longest time. The man whose track was violently dislocated when he reached the limit of his journey and started to come back again lived only one year. There is no limit to this reduction; as the speed of the traveller approaches the speed of light the time recorded diminishes to zero. There is no unique shortest track; but the longest track is unique. If instead of pursuing its actual orbit the earth made a wide sweep which required it to travel with the velocity of light, the earth could get from 1 January 1927 to 1 January 1928 in no time, i.e. no time as recorded by an observer or clock travelling with it, though it would be reckoned as a year according to “Astronomer Royal’s time”. The earth does not do this, because it is a rule of the Trade Union of matter that the longest possible time must be taken over every job.

As commented in the previous section, there is an absolute scale of inertia. Therefore, absolute inertia for stars and planets may be determined. The velocity of a body is determined by its inertia. As the inertia increases the velocity decreases and vice versa. Therefore, corresponding to inertia, the natural velocities of bodies may also be determined in absolute terms. Such bodies can never attain the speed of light because of their inertia.

Thus in calculating astronomical orbits and in similar problems two laws are involved. We must first calculate the curved form of space-time by using Einstein’s law of gravitation, viz. that the ten principal curvatures are zero. We next calculate how the planet moves through the curved region by using Einstein’s law of motion, viz. the law of the longest track. Thus far the procedure is analogous to calculations made with Newton’s law of gravitation and Newton’s law of motion. But there is a remarkable addendum which applies only to Einstein’s laws. Einstein’s law of motion can be deduced from his law of gravitation. The prediction of the track of a planet although divided into two stages for convenience rests on a single law.

I should like to show you in a general way how it is possible for a law controlling the curvature of empty space to determine the tracks of particles without being supplemented by any other conditions. Two “particles” in the four-dimensional world are shown in Fig. 5, namely yourself and myself. We are not empty space so there is no limit to the kind of curvature entering into our composition; in fact our unusual sort of curvature is what distinguishes us from empty space. We are, so to speak, ridges in the four-dimensional world where it is gathered into a pucker. The pure mathematician in his unflattering language would describe us as “singularities”. These two non-empty ridges are joined by empty space, which must be free from those kinds of curvature described by the ten principal coefficients. Now it is common experience that if we introduce local puckers into the material of a garment, the remainder has a certain obstinacy and will not lie as smoothly as we might wish. You will realise the possibility that, given two ridges as in Fig. 5, it may be impossible to join them by an intervening valley without the illegal kind of curvature. That turns out to be the case. Two perfectly straight ridges alone in the world cannot be properly joined by empty space and therefore they cannot occur alone. But if they bend a little towards one another the connecting region can lie smoothly and satisfy the law of curvature. If they bend too much the illegal puckering reappears. The law of gravitation is a fastidious tailor who will not tolerate wrinkles (except of a limited approved type) in the main area of the garment; so that the seams are required to take courses which will not cause wrinkles. You and I have to submit to this and so our tracks curve towards each other. An onlooker will make the comment that here is an illustration of the law that two massive bodies attract each other.

The curvature is actually defined in terms of the gradient of inertia and/or quantization. As these gradients try to smooth each other out to attain greater equilibrium, the force of gravity is generated.

We thus arrive at another but equivalent conception of how the earth’s spiral track through the four-dimensional world is arrived at. It is due to the necessity of arranging two ridges (the solar track and the earth’s track) so as not to involve a wrong kind of curvature in the empty part of the world. The sun as the more pronounced ridge takes a nearly straight track; but the earth as a minor ridge on the declivities of the solar ridge has to twist about considerably.

Suppose the earth were to defy the tailor and take a straight track. That would make a horrid wrinkle in the garment; and since the wrinkle is inconsistent with the laws of empty space, something must be there—where the wrinkle runs. This “something” need not be matter in the restricted sense. The things which can occupy space so that it is not empty in the sense intended in Einstein’s law, are mass (or its equivalent energy) momentum and stress (pressure or tension). In this case the wrinkle might correspond to stress. That is reasonable enough. If left alone the earth must pursue its proper curved orbit; but if some kind of stress or pressure were inserted between the sun and earth, it might well take another course. In fact if we were to observe one of the planets rushing off in a straight track, Newtonians and Einsteinians alike would infer that there existed a stress causing this behaviour. It is true that causation has apparently been turned topsy-turvy; according to our theory the stress seems to be caused by the planet taking the wrong track, whereas we usually suppose that the planet takes the wrong track because it is acted on by the stress. But that is a harmless accident common enough in primary physics. The discrimination between cause and effect depends on time’s arrow and can only be settled by reference to entropy. We need not pay much attention to suggestions of causation arising in discussions of primary laws which, as likely as not, are contemplating the world upside down.

The earth’s inertia is less than the inertia of the sun. Therefore, earth’s natural speed is greater than the natural speed of the sun.  This difference in speeds combined with the gravitational attraction between the earth and the sun results in earth revolving around the sun.

Although we are here only at the beginning of Einstein’s general theory I must not proceed further into this very technical subject. The rest of this chapter will be devoted to elucidation of more elementary points.


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