An adjustment to Special Relativity

Let me start saying Albert Einstein was a man truly unique. Who else in the world could ever arrive to the conclusion that time must be relative? That is the idea of a genius. That said, today I have to expose you what, if true, could be a useful adjustment to his Theory of Special Relativity.

We will make use of three well proven tools:
1) The time dilation equation
2) The Hafele-Keating experiment (ok, not really a tool, but a reference to a real world evidence)
3) A thought experiment to put it altogether.

Let’s suppose you are the pilot of a spaceship traveling the deep space, far away from any gravitational source. You just wake up from a long hibernation state, so you don’t know what your speed is. All you know is your spaceship is capable of accelerate and decelerate on a straight line, and that the maximum speed reached is far from the speed of light (these assumptions are appropriate to simplify our calculations).

You are bored, so you prepare an experiment to verify (one more time) the validity of the theory of special relativity. Given the spaceship can only travel longitudinally, you plan to go to the middle of the ship and from there throw two high precision clocks, one to fore-end, and one to aft-end. A pile of pillows will catch the clocks at the end, for they don’t get damaged. Of course, both clocks are already synchronized to the spaceship clock.


Being on a spaceship, you throw 2 clocks on opposite directions to measure time dilation.

While doing the calculations, you find there is missing information. You can’t make any prediction about the output of this experiment, becauseĀ  the time dilation depends not only on the speed of the clocks, but also on the spaceship speed, which is unknown. Anyway, you throw both clocks with the same speed, and then you compare them both with the spaceship clock.

Let me stop here. Have you noticed something rare on the text above? No? We have the equations but we can’t predict the output (so the readings of both clocks will be undefined for us). What will the clocks show? Will they show an undefined value? I really doubt it. They will delay exactly in the appropriate amount predicted by special relativity.

Now return to the clock readings. Given you don’t know what your speed is, the readings you get could be basically of 2 types:

1) Both clocks show exactly the same time dilation (that is, the spaceship is at rest)
2) One clock shows more time dilation than the other, that is, one clock speed up and the other one slow down (what means the spaceship has some speed > 0 in the direction of the slower clock)

Please note you now have one of 2 possible outputs, but most important, you already know what is your state of movement, that is, when you read the clocks you will know for sure if you are at movement or at rest. Nothing new here right? Everybody knows that.

Now, let’s check what we have. By the simple fact of reading the clocks, your unknown speed “collapses” (a Quantum Physics term) to a known state. That is, you certainly know if you are at movement or at rest. But moving relative to what? There is not a planet involved, there is not another spaceship either. It’s just your spaceship, and anyway you know what your speed is. If you know your speed, then you know your speed relative to something, maybe relative to rest. But what is rest? We have no point of reference! It doesn’t matter. We don’t know what is it but it is there anyway, as an absolute reference frame for time dilation. And clocks someway “perceive” that frame of reference. That is what experiments tell us (Hafele-Keating experiment, among others).

So what? If this is true, we may need to do a little “conceptual” adjustment to the theory of special relativity to account for this observation. According to Einstein, no frame of reference is absolute. No experiment can let you know what your own speed is. However, clocks disagree, as we have seen above. Please notice this experiment could be done in a fully closed spaceship, with no windows at all, and it will work anyway.

Now we are talking about an absolute frame of reference I must mention that this absolute frame is the real solution to the Einstein Twins Paradox. Previous solutions talking about the asymmetry of the movements of both twins don’t apply, sorry. We will talk about that in a later article.

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