TA 106 (Müller)

Response 3 (to C4, Peter Beamish, and C5, Alain Chouinard)


by Herbert FJ Müller
16/25 March 2008, posted 29 March 2008


I am much obliged for the answers by Peter Beamish and Alain Chouinard, concerning the speed of light question, which followed from the discussion of P Dear’s book in R1. 

I want to present some ideas for discussion, and pose a few more questions, hoping for correction of errors which are quite likely, and which those might be able to provide who are more familiar with these topics, physicists in particular.  My main point is that the subject is a part of physical theory, as it is in other knowledge.  Some conceptual difficulties concerning the theory of relativity are apparently caused by the use of traditional ontology-metaphysics (meaning belief in subject-exclusive mind-independently pre-structured reality), while in contrast a subject-inclusive zero-derivation (0-D) constructivist view* rather surprisingly implies subject-centered relativity as is.


The formula which AC sent :

                   v  +  v’
     W  =    -------------
                 1 + vv’/c²

incorporates the notion (and makes sure) that c is the fastest possible speed. 

If v and v’ each are = c, the result is  W = c;  and if v and v’ each = 2c , W = 4/5 c, for instance. 

But :  does that procedure not imply defining, determining, the speed of light; which would mean begging the question ?  One may want to re-formulate this in more general terms :  do we find reality, or do we structure it ?  The answer seems to be that we (have to) structure reality, but that, when using the structures, we may find that, according to feedback, we have to adjust them, or exchange them for others.

The Wikipedia entry for the Lorentz transformation presents a moving graphic display for someone traveling at high speeds, close to c.  In the description of the Lorentz transformation, the ‘observer’ or subject is at the center.  This is compatible with a view of ongoing subject-inclusive reality-structuring in science and elsewhere.  (‘If you do so and so, including working-assumptions, you will find that ...’). 


As Alain Chouinard remarks, ‘The MIR [mind-independently pre-structured reality] seems dependent on the fixed speed of light which is really not very well defined or understood.’   This is true, and that is remarkable because the fixed speed of light has been announced over a hundred years ago.  It appears that the conceptual aspect has remained somewhat unclear, due to a limitation of discussion concerning the observing subject, which will be the main concern of my present note. 

For one thing, the speed of light was posited by Einstein as independent of the speed of the emitting source.  This corresponds to the finding that light from distant stars arrives on earth at the same speed,  c  , whether the earth approaches them or moves away from them.  And secondly, because the earth does not perceive light, that result actually implies that  c  is always the same for all observers, independent of their speed of movement, which is to be expected in subject-inclusive world-structuring.  But, presumably due to his MIR-ontological opinion, he did not explicitly say that, and this omission appears to have resulted in difficulties of understanding. 


In an MIR-view, however, the mentioned result is paradoxical and counter-intuitive :  in MIR one would expect the speed of light to vary with the speed of the emitting source, and therefore also to vary with respect to the observer, who is in a chance relationship to the location and speed of the emitting source.  Because MIR is metaphysical fiction, the counter-intuitiveness is, as in other situations, likely to be inherent in the MIR-view per se.  -  And furthermore, even if MIR were accepted as viable, what can be meant by MIR when, as in relativity theory, time and space are declared not to be able to provide a fixed frame of reference ?  (This does not prevent us from continuing to think in 3 fixed space dimensions in daily life :  within limits the MIR-fiction is a reliable working-tool, as-if-MIR.)


Einstein wanted a consistent theory of the electrodynamics of moving bodies, in order to deal with the question of absolute movement.  The constant speed of light, which he postulated for this purpose, became the new ‘fixed point’ in his theory, replacing the fiction of fixed (absolute) time and space which had earlier been revived by means of the ad-hoc aether-theory, but then experimentally invalidated.  Shortly after that he also addressed the question of transformation of mass into energy-radiation in radioactive substances, in which the speed of light plays an important quantitative role.


Since the speed of light is now accepted as constant with respect to the observer rather than the emitting source, the relativity theory is subject-inclusive (and actually subject-centered, though not exclusively subjective = solipsistic), which coincides with the basis of the 0-D view.  This was quite surprising to me when I became aware of it during the preparation of this response to AC.  It is actually in conflict with Einstein’s own ontological view (although this conflict is concealed by his talking about ‘zero-points of coordinate systems’ instead of ‘subjects’, which might  -  erroneously  -  suggest compatibility with an MIR-view). 


The subject-dependency of the speed of light means a change from an (implied fictitious) fixed mind-external space-time reference to a posited fixed subject-inclusive (and actually mind-centered) speed-of-light reference.  The difference between ‘implied’ and ‘posited’ is in the degree of deliberateness, but both refer to subject-inclusive structuring activities within ongoing subject-inclusive experience (SE), although the action may be, to varying degree, imagined to be mind-external.


To determine the speed of light, someone (a subject or a collective of subjects) has to measure it, since measurements don’t measure themselves (not even if one delegates the measurement to a machine).  In the 0-D view, the first and thus overriding principle is that it is not possible to have  -  and ‘measure’  -  a metaphysical fiction like an observer-free pre-structured reality.  The fixed speed of light,  c,  is posited and formulated as subject-inclusive and subjective-experience-centered;  the same for all observers in a subject-inclusive visual-gestalt-determined world-structure  ( c  is set via the Lorentz-transformation to be the result when they measure the speed of light, whatever speed they themselves are at in relation to others.) 


This subject-centered procedure may appear strange at first sight.  But when one considers that absolute time and (Euclidean) space were ad-hoc tools as well (and only assumed to be absolute and mind-independent), it means a change of focus from a here-non-functional subject-exclusive MIR-metaphysics to a more helpful subject-inclusive phenomenology, with the help of a new tool, the subject-constant speed of light.   As-if-MIR** can be used for light as an object, for instance when watching fireworks, or sunlight.  But the as-if option is not available for light as an integral mental tool for reality-structuring,  in which case it cannot become externalized, because it is too close to the center of SE, which cannot be structured at all.  If it were MIR, or even as-if-MIR, visual reality could not be structured; an extrapolation from experience is in that case not available.  It is therefore necessary to stick to phenomenology, and beyond that to SE before phenomenology, keeping in mind that SE encompasses all structures but cannot itself become structured (see TA78 [23],[31]ff in KJF).   Relativity-theory works in practice (mathematically), but it does not produce an ontology of its own. 


Human world-structuring is primarily visual, i.e., the world is structured with the help of word-and-visual-gestalt tools, by individuals-and-collectives.  Other structures (auditory, tactile, etc) are reduced to visual ones (expressed in terms of vision-structured working-reality).  For instance, we don’t claim that the speed of sound is always the same  -  because in effect we subsume audition under the designated visual-gestalt criterion of reality-structure (listening to music, or smelling a perfume, we put such considerations on hold).  In such a subject-inclusive (and human-centered) visual world all subjects are, according to relativity theory, postulated to receive light at the same speed, thereby determining their (visual-gestalt-) physical world quantitatively. 

Due to verbal (and non-verbal) communication, that procedure also defines the world collectively, with a distortion for someone moving very quickly in relation to others.  In this subject-inclusive 0-D-structuring view, the subject-inclusive visual-gestalt structuring-tools ‘time’ and ‘space’ are influenced by the posited constancy of  c  for all observers.  When light interacts with gravity, these working-tools lose their previously imputed fundamental MIR-stability, and are systematically changed (deformed, for instance when described with the help of coordinates), in case  c  is posited as unchangeable, because speed = distance (i.e., space) / time.  If space and time were to remain fixed,  c  would have to vary. 


The disappearance of aether and of Euclidean MIR in relativity-theory is similar to the one of epicycles and of geo-centrism after Copernicus; but the continued maintenance of earlier (incompatible) views can complicate understanding.  Despite the lack of an absolute space-time reference frame, Einstein remained an ontologist (in contrast to Bohr, for instance), apparently mainly in the sense that he understood objects (like the moon) as mind-independently real.  Extending from there, he also seems to have believed that  c  is constant (although it depends on the observer, and at least initially he explicitly stated it to be a postulate), and that space and time (which like all structures are subject-inclusive) are deformed according to relativity; where the ‘is’ and ‘are’ are (presumably) opinions about subject-independent pre-fabricated onta.  A consequence (extension) of this MIR-ontological view is the notion of the four-dimensional ‘block-universe’, with disappearance of free will.  It implies the MIR-existence of the dimensions (instead of understanding them as subject-inclusive human tools); they take over the world, and the subject vanishes. 

As mentioned earlier, the alternative to a leap of faith to ontological assumptions is to say :  if you do so and so, including working-assumptions, you will find that ... .


I have two more general questions about these points. 

(a)  Has the question of ontology versus reality-structuring been discussed in this context ?

(b)  And how was Einstein able to maintain an ontological view despite the above mentioned points, for instance despite his reliance on the Lorentz-transformation ?  Is such an opinion not inherently counter-productive ?  But it would appear that despite his ontological stance, in practice he proceeded according to the subject-centered reality-structuring principle, for the reason that it is the only possible way :  he based his theory on the speed of light perceived by subjects, instead of on the speed of fictitious unknowable light-in-itself.

Finally let me repeat that I would be interested in discussion of the mentioned aspects.




* The subject- (or mind-) inclusive zero-derivation (0-D) structuring epistemology was developed to deal with the mind-brain relation question, which requires that the mind (ongoing subjective experience) is not

considered as a  mind-independent reality, because in that case the mind disappears inevitably.  Since there can only be one viable epistemology for all areas of enquiry, the 0-D view was subsequently tested in other fields (see various texts in the KJF), such as here concerning relativity theory.


** In many situations, for instance concerning objects like the moon, one can use traditional metaphysics, transformed to working-metaphysics, or as-if-MIR.  Instead of saying that the continued presence of the moon is an extrapolation from what we perceive, we can simply claim that the moon persists mind-independently, which is much easier, and reliable in many situations.  One needs to be aware, though, that this MIR-view is a shortcut for as-if-MIR.  However, this shortcut is not available for light in case it functions as a mental tool in reality-structuring. 




Herbert FJ Müller

     e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>