Dueling Physics Guys

On 8-17-96, I came across a great thread on alt.folklore.science / sci.physics

The thread was called "Just a Second" and had a lot to do with absolute time. As I was reading this, I couldn't help but visualize a Pro-Wrestling style match.

Here is the chronicle of the actual thread.

What follows is my take.


And now for the main event in tonight's physics grudge match...
Challenger Ken Seto vs. Champion Nathan Fenenga Yospe

Nathan Fenenga Yospe      - yospe@hawaii.edu        - University of Hawaii Dept of Physics
Ken  "Pretzel Boy" Seto   - kenseto@erinet.com      - Credentials Unknown

With appearances by:
Graham Robinson           - robinsgj@dcs.gla.ac.uk  - University of Glasgow
"Mysterious" Murky B      - mark@monark.ftech.co.uk - ???
Steve "Left Field" Turner - st37@cornell.edu        - Cornell University
John Francis              - johnf@thuridion.com     - Dept of Geological Sciences, CSU??

And - here we go!

Ken:
Now here is now everywhere. Every successive now here is every sucessive now everywhere. In other words, the rate of flow of earth time is the same in all inertial frames.

That's a bold move right off the bat - he's not making any friends with that time perspective.

Graham:
Ken, how can I put this lightly, without worrying you or upsetting you unduly.
BOLLOCKS!
I refer you for proof to Mr Einstein, a rather clever Jewish chap.

Ooh. Graham invoking the name of Einstein there. I'm sure that's a physics man all of our home viewers are familiar with...

Ken:
What is your problem? Is the logic too deep for you?

Ken is taunting Graham's logical skills - I think that's going to be a technique Ken is going to work on all evening...

AND Nathan F. Yospe from the University of Hawaii Dept of Physics jumps into the ring to defend Graham! This is looking to be a great match!

Nathan:
Um...what logic? Graham is quite correct. Dr. Einstein made it quite clear and explicit. Time is dependent on whether you are undergoing frame shift... in other words, accelerating. It is only "now" exactly where you are, and in each point moving at the exact same speed, in the exact same direction as you (read not moving, for you non generalizing types) Now, the earth is not moving in exactly the same direction, all the time. More to the point, the people halfway around the world from you are not in the same relative frame, quite. If the Earth were rotating at such a speed that the surface was approaching c, you would notice, believe you me. (Approaching c relative to a point 90 degrees offset around the axis of rotation, in a particular direction, meaning forward). Be careful when you site "logic" on this NG, Ken. There are a lot of physics people here. Generally, we are quite good at logic, you see. And we mean the real thing, not word games, the way certain types often do.

Approaching c would send you reeling, and I believe Ken may be reeling from that last dissertation...

No! Ken looks unscathed!

Ken:
Don't include youself among the physicists who are logical. Your logic is non-existing.

Yet another logic slam!

Nathan:
As one fellow logical physicist type (and Pratchatt fan) likes to say when confronted by such well constructed arguments as that, "Prove it, pretzel boy!!" Next time, substantiate your wild accusations, please.

Nathan is coming back hard - It doesn't look like Ken can defend his position.

Ken:
I stand by what I said before. Time is an invention of man. It is an abstractive construction and as such it is not tie to any physical object.

Well, it _sounds_ like a defense...

Nathan:
blah, blah, words thrown together without regard for the concepts they symbolize, on and on without any substantial logic, just a bunch of rhetoric...

Nathan does not accept Ken's psychobabble! It doesn't look like anyone's buying Ken's 'abstractive construction'.

Ken:
Therefore, time in this sense is absolute and the rate of flow of time is the same everywhere. OTOH, to measure time you need a cyclical event of a physical system it is this time that appear to be flexible because of the inertial motion of the physical system can effect the cyclical event. If you visualize that a universal clock runs at the same rate in all inertial frames then the measured time and the absolute time would be the same and in that case there is no need for the fexible time concept.

Steve "Left Field" Turner looks pissed off at the flexible time concept, and he's letting Ken know...

Steve:
Its probably too late for me to join the fray, but let me give my two cents worth.

I think I see what you are saying about the universal clock, and in a limited sense I agree with you. Let me explain. From my perspective, I can establish the notion of "now" for my own location and all other locations. The fact that light takes time to travel from place to place is a minor inconvenience, in that I can't really say that something happened at all until I get the news, and by then the "now" during which it happened has gone by. But I needn't let that worry me, I can simply back-date the news an amount equal to the distance it traveled divided by the speed of light. The distance, of course, will be subject to some dispute, but for my own purposes, I can establish it easily by bouncing a light ray off it and measuring the transit time (using my own clock).

If I can convince everybody to use my clock and my interpretation of distances, I will have succeeded in establishing a universal time. If everybody uses it to measure times for all purposes, the the absolute time and *now* that we desire will have been achieved. There will be some problems with this system, though. Suppose I send someone to another planet to get some stuff for me, and during this trip he will travel at a reasonable fraction of the speed of light. Then as you pointed out, this motion will affect his physical processes. Suppose my envoy wants to get some sleep, and knows that 7 hours will do the trick. I can construct a portable clock for him which will read the "universal" time by using one of the "flawed" clocks which relies on some periodic physical process, and correcting it according to how fast it is moving, and how far away it is from its original location. My envoy will have a very difficult time using this clock, because it will speed up and slow down in an annoying fasion depending on how fast he decides to go.

So, he cannot use it to correctly gauge how long to sleep, or how long to cook an egg, or when his laundry will be done. He can't even tell how much longer the trip will take without doing some calculations. In fact this clock will not be useful to him in any way, because if he is an independent spirit and decides to take a look at *my* clock at home base (using a large telescope) and correct for the time delay in the same way he is accustomed to seeing me do it, he will be shocked to discover that his clock and the home base clock disagree! This discrepancy will resolve itself as he approaches closer and closer to the home base, but nonetheless they will disagree.

Now one might say that it is a bit selfish of me to define the universal time according to my own point of view, and indeed, it seems to somewhat diminish the aesthetic appeal of the whole idea. It would be much better if we were all just *given* one of these portable absolute clocks, without any mention of where it came from. Absolute time should be like this after all.

Unfortunately, the problems with these clocks will persist! they will appear (to us) to run at different rates, and they will be of no use in scheduling meetings or officiating the all-universe olympic games. The variations in the rate of passage of 'universal time' will make them practically useless! Unless, or course, you and everybody you know are in very nearly the same frame of reference. If you never travel very fast with repect to anybody that you might talk to, then the subject of these variations would never come up, because they would be too small to notice. In fact, 'couterfeit' universal clocks could infiltrate the community, ones which are not actually corrected, but rely simply on some periodic process, for example a swinging pendulum.

These counterfeit clocks could easily be mistaken for clocks which read absolute time. The difference would not be discovered until someone or something accelerated to a speed large enough for it to be noticed.

In essence, this is exactly what has happened in our community here on earth. We mistook our clocks for absolute clocks, and when it was found out that they are not, there was alot of commmotion and disbelief and in the end we will slowly get used to it.

Wow, there's an amazing move! I don't where Steve came from, or even what the hell he was talking about.
John Francis is now entering the ring and it looks as though Ken isn't getting any help. John isn't too happy about flexible time either...

John:
The last time I saw arguments as far-fetched as these the topic was the luminiferous ether.
They wanted absolute motion; you want absolute time. In neither case can the existence or non-existence be demonstrated ***by any experiment whatsoever***. Given that, I would side with Occam and suggest that there is no such thing. You can continue to believe in them if it makes you feel better, but berating those who don't happen to share your own viewpoint is not a defensible activity.

Nathan:
You might have noticed in my previous post that I _DID_ present a situation that would allow the experimental proof (or disproof) of absolute time, namely an anular singularity, or "wormhole", which might or might not respect the "time" of either side of the discontinuity in spacetime. (Disproof because a singularity popping you out two centuries ago in the same location would demonstrate time as a gradiential phenomenon. Look it up.) Nevertheless, all experimental evidence at the moment suggests that time is relative, and has no absolute nature.

OH MY! Nathan is now going after John! That's a break for Ken, it seems as though John isn't going to recognize anular singularity, and Nathan's going to sink him with his trademark "Wormhole Maneuver".

John:
Personally I happen to believe that time (and space, for that matter) *only* exists in the presence of physical objects such as the universe.

Nathan:
Now _THAT_ sounds quite reasonable, as an assumption. In fact, it might even be provable. More to the point, they have to be difined in terms of physical objects, such as the universe, so.....

John has switched sides just in time - I really think Nathan could've taken John down if he wanted to... Ken is certainly on the run - it's now 3 on 1.

Ken:
Your problem is that you associate time as a property of a material system--it is not. If you think for a moment, you will see that only motion is a property of any material system. With that in mind, a material system cannot influence the rate of passage of time. Conversly , the passage of time have no influence on a material system. OTOH, motion is quantifyable by time and that's why we are able to use flexible time to explain absolute motion (Einstein's approach) . The problem with this approach is that absolute motion is the mother of all the processes in the universe and when we eliminate it from consideration we end up with theories that are not compatible with each other (QM and Relativity).

That sounds plausible to _this_ commentator. I do believe he's got a point there. It'll be tough for Nathan to defend against that!

Nathan:
Hold on. All I associated with the material system was ACCELERATION. Now, think for a second. Why is acceleration a part of a material system? Think hard. You can do it. Come on, Ken, you seem to think that you are smart. Incidentally, motion is NOT a part of a material system, Ken. Hmm. Batting zero, aren't you? Why is motion not a part of a material system? Well, lets say you were in the middle of nowhere. How fast would you be moving? Hmmm. Yes, I suppose you would know, wouldn't you? Some innate property of motion, perhaps? Hmmm. Yes, I guess that would make you a god. Because there is no way to determine that motion, without reference points. Because that motion does not exist.

OH MY! Nathan is now taunting Ken - the difference between acceleration and motion being cited here. And, when dealing with time in a material system, that's a big difference - let me tell you.

Ken:
You are just like a little kid--can't wait to jump on somebody. As I said before your logic is non-existing. Motion is a part of a material system when there is a medium occupying space.

Ken is somehow able to look past the acceleration problem. I think Ken may score here.

Murky B:
Are you familiar with the Michelson Morely exp? Muon lifetime measurement experiments?
Any theory which you come up with by "common sense" must give agree with the observed behaviour of nature (see above) and come up with additional predictions. In what observational way does your theory differ from SR and GR? Can a test be devised to differentiate between your theory and relativity? This is the only way to conduct science, if your theory doesn't have any observable consequences then it's metaphysics - and should be treated as such.

The "Mysterious" Murky B mentions the Muon measurements of Michelson Morely. Maybe the match will be maneuvered to the 'Metaphysical Mosh Pit'. I'm sure Ken would be none too happy about that!

Ken:
Special Relativity is equivalent---in all its predictions, if not in its metaphysics---to a "rigid ether" theory. In a rigid ether theory, there *is* a notion of an absolute rest frame, and (1) clocks moving with respect to this absolute rest frame slow down, and (2) extended objects moving with respect to this absolute rest frame are contracted in the direction of motion. The equivalence of all inertial frames in this theory is not a postulate, but a derived consequence; the length contractions and time dilations "conspire" to make the absolute rest frame undetectable, so that any inertial frame can equally well consider itself to be at rest.

The situation is similar in General Relativity. Rather than assuming that space is curved, one can instead assume that space is flat, but there are universal forces acting on all sources of energy and momentum. Just as the "absolute rest frame" of the ether theory is undetectable, the "flat space" of this theory is undetectable, and this theory ends up being equivalent to General Relativity.

Ken just may have rescued this whole match from the metaphysical tone it was aquiring. A brilliant save!

Nathan:
Acceleration, on the other hand... well, have you ever seen a person on a spinning ride, their face flattened out? Acceleration is a very real property. In fact, it also has the distinct advantage of being measureable anywhere. You see, there is another property of acceleration. It provides its own reference points. Convenient, wouldn't you say? So, in the middle of nowhere, how can you tell you are accelerating? Well, you had to accelerate some other stuff the other way, so you check your motion _relative_ to that.

Again Nathan pounds home the acceleration-motion argument! Ken's going to have to accept that argument...

Ken:
I am impress[ed] with your knowledge of acceleration. But I don't get the connection.

This is the first weakness we've seen in Ken this whole match. He's actually admitted he "didn't get" something. There's a big opening for Nathan...

Nathan:
Now, Ken, I'd like you to shut your fool mouth. I know you didn't know any better, but you see, you made me irritated, and when I get irritated, I sound like a priss. I don't like sounding like a priss, and I can't imagine you like sounding ignorant, so for the sake of all concerned, stop mouthing off and go read some Einstein.

Nathan looks mad! Even though Ken has proven little, he's really got Nathan flustered.

Ken:
Feeling a little insecure? Only insecure people talk irrational[ly] like you [do].

Ken is offering nothing of substance here - he may be trying to taunt Nathan _even more_ in hopes of getting him to make a mistake.

Nathan:
Its actually quite easy reading, you will find, compared to, say, Newton. Oh, and work it out for yourself, afterwards. It should make more sense. Incidentally, if you want to make a case for universal time, I advise using wormholes as your method. Tachyons, even theoretical as they are, still obey relative time. On the other hand, wormholes don't even have to stay in the same universe, much less the same time and place. I guess anular singularities are not as usefull as all that after all.

It looks like our champ isn't going down that easily - a crushing blow with some beautiful sarcasm thrown in there.

Ken:
Why would I want to take your advise? I am already light years ahead of you.

Ken has declared himself winner (as is par for _his_ course) - but I think the judges' voting will tell a different story...

Final Score -
Ken "Pretzel Boy" Seto -  8
Nathan Fenenga Yospe   - 14
Nathan Remains Champion of the WPWA! (World Physics Wrestling Association)

Epilogue

Date: 	Wed, 8 Apr 1998 22:57:04 -1000
From: Nathan F Yospe 
X-Sender: yospe@uhunix1
To: kevin@incompetech.com
Subject: Just saw the play-by-play
MIME-Version: 1.0

Interesting. Very interesting. Brings back memories, it does.

-- 

Nathan F. Yospe - Aimed High, Crashed Hard, In the Hanger, Back Flying Soon
Jr Software Engineer, Textron Systems Division (On loan to Rocketdyne Tech)
(Temporarily on Hold) Student, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Physics Dept.
yospe#hawaii.edu nyospe#premier.mhpcc.af.mil http://www2.hawaii.edu/~yospe/