Physics for beginners/12-special relativity

This figure from A card game for Bell's theorem and its loopholes shows how special relativity suggests that not even a rumor can travel faster than the speed of light. It shows Alice and Bob slightly more than one light-year apart. The dotted world lines for each is vertical, indicating that they remain at rest for over a year.

The slopes of world lines of the train's front and rear are roughly 3 years per light-year, corresponding to about 1/3 the speed of light. Both train images are a bit confusing because it is difficult to represent a moving train on a space-time diagram: A moving train can be defined by the location of each end at any given instant in time. This requires the concept of simultaneity, which is perceived differently in another reference frame. The horizontal image of the train at the bottom represents to location of each car on the train on the first day of January, as time and simultaneity are perceived by Alice and Bob.

To complicate matters, the horizontal train image is not what they would actually see due to the finite transit time required for light to reach their eyes. It helps to imagine a distant observer situated on a perpendicular to some point on the train. The transit time for light to reach this distant observer will be nearly the same for every car on the train. Many years later, this distant observer will see the horizontal train as depicted at the bottom of the figure. It will be instructive to return to the perspective of this distant observer after the paradox has been constructed.

The slanted image of the train depicts the location of each car on the day that the (moving) passengers perceive the front to be adjacent to Alice, at the same time that the train's rear is perceived to be adjacent to Bob. It should be noted that Alice and Bob do not perceive these two events as simultaneous. The figure shows that the rear passes Bob several months before the front passes Alice (in the partners' reference frame.)

Now we establish that the passengers perceive the front of the train to reach Alice at the same time that the rear reaches Bob. The light-emitting-diode (LED) shown at the bottom of the figure emits two pulses from the center of the train in January. It is irrelevant whether the LED is stationary or moving because all observers will see the pulses travelling in opposite directions at the speed of light (±1 ly/yr.) Note how the backward moving pulses reaches the rear of the train in May, five months before the other pulse reaches the train's front in October. But, the passengers see two light pulses created at the center of the train, directed at each end of the train, and will therefore perceive the two pulses as striking simultaneously.

To create the causality paradox, we require two "magic-phones" capable of sending messages with nearly infinite speed. Unicorn icons use arrows to depict the information's direction of travel: magic phone #1 transmits from Alice to Bob, while #2 transmits from Bob to Alice. Magic phone #1 is situated on the moving train. When Alice shows her message through the front window as the train passes her in October, a passenger inside relays the message via magic phone #1 to the train's rear, where Bob can see it through a window. Bob immediately relays the message back to Alice via the land-based magic phone #2 in May, five months before she sent it.

Our distant observer will likely take a skeptical view of all this. The slope of the slanted train's image indicates that the distant observer will see magic phone #1 sending information from Bob to Alice, opposite to what the passengers perceive. The distant observer will first see the message inside the rear of the train (when it was adjacent to Bob in May). That message will immediately begin to travel towards of Alice, faster than the speed of light, but slow enough so that Alice will not receive the it until October. Meanwhile, Bob sends the same message via land-based phone #2 to Alice, who receives it in May. Alice waits for almost five months, until she prepares to send the same message, showing it through the front window just before the message also arrives at the front via the train-based magic phone #1. It would appear to the distant observer that the events depicted in the figure had been artificially staged.

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Each subpage is devoted to a chapter of Matthew Raspanti's original work. Click the image of the pdf file shown to the right to read the chapter.