of the Nature of Motion
Dewey B. Larson
When the theory of the universe of motion, the Reciprocal
System of theory as we are calling it, was first being introduced to the
scientific community in books and lectures, about twenty-five years ago,
one of the principal obstacles with which we had to contend was the generally
accepted concept of the nature of motion, in which motion is regarded
as a continuous change in the position of some "thing" in a three-dimensional
space that acts as a background or container. In the Reciprocal System
of theory, motion is defined simply as a relation between space and time,
which means that "things" do not participate in the simplest types of
motion. For those who were not willing to entertain the possibility that
their basic concept of the nature of motion might be wrong, this closed
the door to any consideration of the new theory, in spite of the outstanding
successes of that theory in dealing with the most recalcitrant and long-standing
problems of physical science.
In the years that have followed, our activities aimed at
promoting understanding of the theory have been directed primarily at
those who are open-minded enough to recognize that the need for conceptual
modifications cannot be ruled out. We have therefore been engaged mainly
in extending the application of the theory and clarifying those points
that have been questioned. However, now that a quarter of a century has
elapsed, a new generation of scientists is coming in contact with these
ideas, and the earlier questions about the basic concepts are resurfacing.
A review of the fundamental situation therefore appears to be in order
at this time.
This history of science clearly demonstrates that long-continued
existence of a major scientific problem is rarely due to the lack of adequate
methods of dealing with such problems, or to deficiencies in the abilities
of the investigators. Almost without exception, when such a problem is
finally solved it is found that the obstacle that has so long stood in
the way of solution is an error in one of the fundamental concepts on
which the previous thought has been based. Before any significant progress
could be made it was necessary to change the conceptual base from which
the problem had been viewed.
This is always a difficult undertaking. For example, the
idea of inertia seems almost self-evident today, and even a schoolboy
is able to grasp it. But, as Herbert Butterfield points out in his book
The Origins of Modern Science, until the days of Galileo and Newton the
problem that was finally solved by the formulation of this concept "defeated
the greatest intellects for centuries." The then prevailing view of the
nature of motion--the theory developed by Aristotle--"was hard for the
human mind to escape from... because it was part of a system which was
such a colossal intellectual feat in itself." Butterfield goes on to say:
We have to recognize that here was a problem of a fundamental
nature, and it could not be solved by close observation within a framework
of the older system of ideas--it required a transposition in the mind.
This experience with Galileo's discovery illustrates the
fact that we actually know very little about the basic structure of the
universe. The concepts on which thinking about such subjects is based
are not products of scientific investigation and research. They are the
ideas that our early ancestors derived from observation of the world about
them, and they have achieved their present unquestioning acceptance only
because they have remained unchallenged for so long a time. When we subject
them to a critical examination we find that they are not, in fact, derived
directly from empirical observations. Instead, they are assumptions suggested
by those observations.
For example, we know practically nothing about the nature
and properties of time. We have a vague impression that it is some kind
of a moving forward, and that is all that we have to work with. But time
enters into every physical activity in one way or another, so in order
to deal with those activities, we have to make assumptions about the properties
of this almost totally unknown entity. Not one of these assumptions is
free from doubts. Physical theory assumes that time is unidirectional,
and one of our important physical principles, the Second Law of Thermodynamics,
is based on this assumption, but the mathematics of motion are equally
consistent with a reverse flow. The theory assumes, in nearly all applications,
that the flow is uniform, but Relativity theory, which challenges this
assumption in its field of application, is also generally accepted. The
theory assumes that time is one dimensional, but the investigators working
along the outer boundaries of science are continually advancing hypotheses
that call for the existence of additional time dimensions.
Little more is actually known about the nature and properties
of the other basic physical entities. The physicists cannot answer such
questions as "What is matter?" or "What is an electric charge?" And the
validity of the assumptions that are made about these entities is just
as doubtful as that of the assumptions about time. No doubt many are valid
statements of the physical facts. Perhaps most of them are. But it is
totally unrealistic to take the stand that all of the assumptions that
have been made about these poorly understood basic physical entities--at
least 30 or 40 assumptions in all--are factual. And no one knows which
ones are wrong. Furthermore, an error in one of these fundamental assumptions
necessarily results in many errors in the structure of thought that rests
on the fundamentals. Thus, there is no justification for rejecting a new
theory simply because it conflicts with an existing idea or belief, or
even if it conflicts with many aspects of previous thought. A conflict
with the observed facts is, of course, fatal, but a conflict with previous
theory, or assumption, is something that should be considered on its merits.
In Aristotle's concept of motion, it was assumed that continuous
application of a force is necessary for production of a continuous motion.
Galileo's conclusion from his experiments was that this assumption is
wrong, and that motion continues on the same basis indefinitely unless
a force is applied to change it. Direct verification of basic assumptions
of this kind by means of observations is impossible, but we can develop
the consequences of each of the rival assumptions and see which set of
consequences agrees more closely with those observations. On this basis,
Aristotle's concept was ultimately disproved and abandoned, after long
and acrimonious controversy with those who refused to concede any possibility
that their long-standing beliefs might be in need of revision.
The same kind of a situation now exists with respect to
those aspects of motion that are redefined by the Reciprocal System of
theory. Just as Galileo met an obstinate adherence to the dictum that
"Continuous motion cannot exist without continuous application of force,"
so we are now told, just as positively, that "Motion cannot exist without
something moving." Both of these confident pronouncements are pure assumptions.
Neither has any support from observation. Indeed, both are specifically
contradicted by modern astronomical observations. The motions of the planets,
for instance, are incompatible with Aristotle's assumption. Similarly,
the motions of the galaxies flatly contradict the assumption that underlies
the twentieth-century motion concept.
The following assumptions enter into this concept:
- The space and time that we observe constitute a container, or background,
for the action of the universe.
- All existences occupy specific locations in that space and time.
- Motion is a change of location of some "thing" in that space during
an interval of time.
The status of assumption 3 has always been somewhat dubious,
in spite of its general acceptance, because there is no trace of the "something"
in the mathematics of motion. It serves only to identify the motion under
consideration. Where the motion can be identified in some other manner,
the mathematics are equally applicable. The recent discovery of the recession
of the galaxies has provided a definite refutation of the assumption.
It is now generally conceded that the recession is not a movement of the
galaxies themselves. The astronomers are agreed that they are being carried
outward by what is called the "expansion of the universe."
This expression merely describes what is occurring; it does
not explain anything. But whatever the nature of the "expansion" may be,
it clearly must apply to all locations in space, not merely to those that
are occupied by galaxies. Here, then, is a motion that is not a motion
of any entity that could be called a "thing." Thus, the contention that
there cannot be motion unless some "thing" is moving is refuted by actual
observation. However, for the benefit of those to whom this kind of motion
presents conceptual difficulties, we can legitimately say that it is motion
of spatial locations. Each galaxy remains in a particular location, but
the locations move outward.
Assumption 2 is likewise invalidated by the observed galactic
recession. Galaxy X is receding from galaxy A, and at time t occupies
a position on an extension of the line AX. But X is also receding from
galaxy B, and at time t it also occupies a position on an extension of
the line BX. When we take the other galaxies into account, it is evident
that galaxy X does not occupy any specific position in the space of a
universal "container." The invalidation of assumptions 2 and 3 makes assumption
When we take the other galaxies into account, we find that
galaxy X occupies all positions in what we ordinarily call "space" at
a certain distance from the initial point of the motion. This is obviously
incompatible with the concept of "space" as a container in which each
physical object has a specific location, as asserted by assumption number
1. Indeed, it can be seen that the "space" and "time" of our ordinary
experience are not physical entities at all; they are merely mental constructs
that constitute a reference system which we use for relating the quantities
of space and time that do have an actual physical existence, those that
take part in the various motions of which the universe is composed.
Furthermore, this is an incomplete reference system. It
is not capable of representing the positions of the receding galaxies
in their true character. It can represent only the positions relative
to some reference point. Nor is this its only deficiency. Our investigations
have shown that there are a number of other types of motions that, like
the scalar motion of the galaxies, it cannot represent correctly, and
still others, such as motion in more than one dimension, that it cannot
represent at all. What we are up against here is a range of variability
of physical motion (relations between space and time) that far exceeds
the capability of any system of reference that has thus far been devised.
However, when the space and time of our ordinary experience,
extension space, as we may call it, is viewed in its true capacity as
a reference system, it is easy to see that there is no obstacle in the
way of representing a simple motion, one that is not motion of anything.
As defined by the theory of the universe of motion, this simple motion
is a relation between a quantity of space and a quantity of time, and
is measured as speed. If we specify an initial point we can represent
the amount of space corresponding to any given amount of time by a line
in the reference system extending away from the initial point. Obviously,
there is no need to identify this line with any "thing."
Thus, the conceptual basis of the explanation of the nature
of motion embodied in the postulates of the Reciprocal System is just
as rational and logical as that of the currently accepted theories. It
is merely different. The question as to which of the two is correct is
not a matter of which one we like better. It is an issue that can be settled
by the same procedure that was used to resolve the analogous questions
raised by Galileo; that is by developing the consequences of each hypothesis
and comparing the results with the relevant observations and measurements.
There can be no doubt of the verdict if all of the evidence is examined.
As we have shown in our publications, the theory of the universe of motion
produces the kind of a comprehensive and fully integrated general physical
theory that has long been sought, but never before even approached.
In looking back on the history of the development of thought
with respect to the nature of motion prior to the acceptance of the concept
of inertia, a striking feature of the situation is the extent to which
Aristotle and his disciples were forced to call upon the actions of "angels"
and other hypothetical existences to take care of gaps in their explanations
of physical phenomena. As Butterfield puts it, Aristotle's universe was
one "in which unseen hands had to be in constant operation." The great
achievement of Galileo and Newton was to put the science of mechanics
on a sound physical, rather than metaphysical, basis.
Today, physics in general is the same kind of a position
that mechanics occupied before Galileo. The physicists have built a structure
of rather loosely related theories that have had some spectacular successes--another
"colossal intellectual feat." But like Aristotle's system, "modern physics"
has many gaps in its structure, and to fill those gaps, or at least to
conceal them, the modern theorists have resorted to the same expedient
that was employed by Aristotle. In their universe, too, as in his, "unseen
hands" must be in continual operation.
Of course, present-day scientists do not speak of "angels"
or "demons," but the mysterious "forces" of modern physics are exactly
the same things under different names. They are pure inventions, designed
to overcome specific difficulties in accepted theory, with no other functions
to perform, and with no independent evidence of their existence (that
is, no evidence other than that they agree with the observations that
they were specifically designed to fit). Aside from the name, there is
nothing to distinguish the "nuclear force" that holds the hypothetical
nucleus of the atom together for the modern physicist from the "angels"
that pushed the planets along in their paths for Aristotle. No reason
is given for the existence of these strangely limited "forces," nor are
we given any explanation of how they operate. "We do not ask how mass
gets a grip on space-time and causes the curvature which our theory postulates,"
says Arthur Eddington.
The problems in mechanics could not be solved without paying
the price--to many a very high price--of giving up some cherished ideas
and beliefs of long standing. But, the rewards were enormous. Again quoting
Once this question was solved in the modern manner, it altered
much of one's ordinary thinking about the world and opened the way for
a flood of further discoveries... It was as though science or human
thought had been held up by a barrier until this moment.
The world of science now faces the same kind of an issue.
If the scientific community recognizes that a number of the basic assumptions
of present-day physics have been invalidated by modern discoveries such
as the recession of the galaxies and the interconvertibility of matter
and non-matter, then some of the ideas that are now hailed as the "greatest
achievements of science" must be discarded in favor of new--and to some,
disturbing--concepts. But once more, as in Galileo's day, the door will
be opened to "a flood of further discoveries."
The theory of the universe of motion, in its present stage
of development, accounts for all of the major physical phenomena, and
a large and growing assortment of subsidiary phenomena as well, by pure
deduction from a single set of basic premises, without the introduction
of any supplementary assumptions. A particularly significant point is
that this deductive development accounts for the existence of the basic
physical entities--matter, radiation, electricity, etc.--as well as the
properties of those entities.
In the quarter of a century since the first publication
of the theory no one has attempted to refute the foregoing statement.
Those who reject the theory invariably do so on the ground that the conclusions
derived from the theoretical development conflict with some of the generally
accepted ideas, which, of course, they do. Sooner or later, perhaps when
the devastating effect that recent empirical discoveries have had on the
basic assumptions of "modern physics," are more generally recognized,
the scientific community will find it necessary to face this issue, rather
than continuing to evade it. In the meantime, we will continue extending
the application of the theory into additional areas and into more detail,
each step in this process adding to the already overwhelming mass of evidence
confirming the validity of the development as a whole.