Picture a third scenario. Here’s where light enters the picture. Instead of a pistol, there is a laser attached to the train car’s ceiling. The laser fires, producing a pulse, or photon, of light moving downward. Since this is a thought experiment, we must think of the most hypersensitive witnesses imaginable. The ones inside the car see the light travel toward the floor. But light is such a different phenomenon than ordinary objects. So from your perspective trackside, will the light move diagonally, just as the cannonball and the bullet did in the previous examples? What did Einstein say? He said yes. The photon of light will move diagonally forward and downward. Einstein simply applied Galilean relativity to the movement of light.
And Tony Iaquinta? This is where Einstein went wrong, he told me. Why? Because photons do not sit around, à la bullets and cannonballs in the examples above, waiting to be fired. The photons are first produced by the firing laser. Yes, the laser attached to the moving train car is also moving. But before the laser fires, there is no photon inside the laser. Therefore, no photon can be moving forward along with the train car. As soon as the laser produces the photon, however, it will blaze away, independent of the laser, but only in the direction in which it was fired, downward.
Now who sees what? Standing trackside, you will look into the train car and see the light move downward only, while the laser that produced it continues to move horizontally. Those inside will see the light move away from them, toward the rear of the car. Why? Because these viewers are going forward with the movement of the train. From their perspective, the downward trajectory of the light will look like a movement backward.
So what, you ask, is the ultimate point? (A copy of the paper refuting Einstein can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.)
If I read Iaquinta correctly, it concerns whether humans can ever trust the detection of motion to guide them in the universe. For Einstein, all motion is relative motion, detectable only from various frames of reference or particular standpoints. At times, Iaquinta spoke to me of absolute motion. On the Web, I see two definitions of absolute motion. One that’s used in navigation means motion that can be measured against an established point of reference, such as a point on land whose geographical coordinates are known. A second is a use in physics. Here it means motion that is measured from a preferred standpoint, let’s say Earth.
Iaquinta asked me if I saw the last two lines of his paper. Yes, of course. They read: “God provided man with the ‘magnetic’ compass to navigate the seas. God also provided man with the ‘light’ compass to navigate the heavens.” So Iaquinta’s paper has a religious dimension? “The whole paper is religious,” he told me. “Do you think God would put us in this universe without giving us a way to find our way around?” But to what extent do statements like these make the work religious? According to biographer Denis Brian, even Einstein maintained “he had finally tapped ‘God’s thoughts’ and tuned in to the master plan for the universe.”
I ask SDSU physics professor Calvin Johnson if he ever comes across challenges to Einstein such as Iaquinta’s. “Every once in a while, somebody sends us one,” he tells me. “And I concede that one of them may turn out to be right. But they all contradict each other. So we can’t spend the time defending Einstein against each one. We need to work on other things.” Johnson does say, however, that the successful geopositioning technology used first in navigation and now in automobiles “makes corrections, though very slight, for” Einsteinian relativity.
Will the entire theory of the relativity of all motion collapse if Iaquinta’s refutation is correct? When I page through books and articles on special relativity, I see myriad equations on many aspects of the subject. “That’s because Einstein was a mathmagician, nothing more than a clown,” Iaquinta told me. Einstein’s science, in other words, has led to illusions. Some of the ideas in the wake of special relativity do seem to stretch credulity. Take the notion that clocks slow down as they travel faster. Or that starlight bends past other heavenly bodies on its way to our detecting it. “Light doesn’t bend,” says Iaquinta. “All these crazy ideas are science fiction.”
Then have all the physicists — the majority, it seems — who embraced Einstein’s 1905 paper been taken in over the years? “They were part of the intelligentsia,” said Iaquinta, who struck me at that moment as almost holding his nose. I was reminded of how some people view intellectuals as silly eggheads. A neighbor of mine took me aside recently and said under his breath, “You know, Einstein wasn’t all that he’s made out to be. The guy couldn’t even tie his shoes. That’s the truth. I read it.”
I, in contrast, tend to buy up front what most of the “intelligentsia” tell us about the physical world. I base my acceptance on scientific authority. Or would you call it scientific dogma? My excuses start with lack of time to investigate every scientific claim that comes my way. But they also include the notion, which is a fundamental aspect of scientific thinking, that experts become experts by submitting their work to peer review. That’s what “intelligentsia” suggests to me. Iaquinta is admirable for doing his own investigations. But he does not want to publish his position in a scientific journal. “The intelligentsia would only tear it apart,” he told me. Instead, he wants to take his ideas straight to the public. These days, that discussion starts on the patio of Bull’s Smokin’ BBQ.