Since my return from the speaking trip through the East and Midwest that I undertook in April and May I have spent considerable time reviewing and analyzing the questions that were asked in the course of the long question and answer sessions that followed each of the eight talks that I gave to college audiences. My primary objective in so doing was to determine just where the most difficulty is being experienced in following my explanation of the development of theory from my basic postulates, so that I can give special emphasis to these points in my next book. In the meantime, however, my conclusions may be of interest to some of those who took an active part in the discussions.
Evidently the thing that is needed most is a better understanding of the general nature and scope of my new development. It is particularly important to realize that I am not only proposing some significant changes in physical theory; I am going a big step farther and proposing replacement of the fundamental physical concept on which all physical theory is based. Without a recognition of this point it is not possible to appreciate the full significance of much of what I have done.
Physical theory is not constructed in a vacuum. Before any theory can be devised we must have,some general idea as to the nature of the universe about which we are going to theorize, some kind of a “general conceptual system” , as one British author puts it. The currently accepted concept is that we live in a world of matters a world in which material “things” exist in a setting provided by space and time. This is the concept that underlies not only all of the orthodox physical theory of the moment but the entire structure of scientific and philosophical thought.
For obvious reasons, changes in the basic concept of the nature of the universe are seldom made. So far as the record reveals, such a change has occurred only once in all human history. For the first hundred thousand years or so of the existence of our species the prevailing concept was that of a world of spirits, in which superhuman beings or agencies dealt with natural phenomena in the same manner that man himself deals with the things and processes that are under his control. But some three or four thousand years ago it began to be recognized by the more advanced thinkers that the “spirit“ concept was no longer adequate to meet the new demands that were being made upon it by reason of the emergence of a new way of looking upon physical phenomena, the beginning of that which we now know as science. All proposals for change met with strong resistance, of course, both from the “Establishment” and from the rank and file, but ultimately the “matter” concept prevailed, and it has served as the foundation for all physical theory ever since.
As I pointed out wherever I spoke, the tremendous advances in physical knowledge in the intervening three thousand years have brought us to the point where the “matter” concept is now in the same position that the “spirit“ concept occupied in the days of the ancient Greeks; that is, it is no longer adequate to meet the demands upon it. This is the kind of a thing that is seldom brought to our attention, simply because there is no purpose to be served by moaning about the inadequacies of our tools and equipment so long as there is no visible prospect for improvement. But once the issue is raised the answer is clear. In the words of P. A. M. Dirac, some “drastic change in our fundamental ideas” will be necessary before current problems can be solved. The “matter” concept has not only failed to give us theories that are adequate to deal with the vast amount of new phenomena discovered by observation and experiment in recent years, but is directly contradicted by some of these phenomena, particularly the “annihilation” reactions in which electrons and positrons, or similar pairs of so-called “anti-particles” are converted into photons of radiation. This transformation of matter into nonmatter is, of course, impossible in a world in which the basic entities are material “things” , and the undeniable fact that it does take place is a body blow to the “matter”concept of the universe–a fact that must sooner or later be generally recognized.
The existing situation definitely calls for replacement of the “matter” concept, and my proposal is that it be replaced by the concept of a universe of motion, in which all physical entities and all phenomena are manifestations of motion. This idea itself is nothing new. The “motion” concept has some quite obvious potentialities that have commended it to many investigators, and such men as Descartes, Hobbes, and Eddington have made strenuous efforts to work out a practical theory on the “motion” basis. Such attempts have been uniformly unsuccessful, but my studies have revealed that the failure was not due to any shortcomings of the “motion” concept itself but to the fact that these previous investigators did not realize that the conventional idea of the nature of space and time is a creature of the “matter” concept of the universe, an arbitrary assumption that has no place in a universe of motion. When this situation is seen in its true light and space and time are redefined in a manner consistent with the “motion” concept, the way is opened for a comprehensive and accurate new theory of general applicability.
Many of the features of the new theory seem strange, perhaps even incredible, on first consideration, but it should be realized that this initial reaction is a result of trying to fit the new ideas into the pattern of existing thought, a pattern that is based on the “matter” concept, whereas in order to arrive at a valid judgment it is necessary to view the theory in the context of the “motion”concept. For example, the simple basic motions, as envisioned in the new theory, are not motions of anything; they are simply motions: specific relations of space to time. I am often told most emphatically that such a thing is impossible; that motion is necessarily motion of something. But those who are so positive on this score are laying down a principle that is valid only in application to a universe of matter, and has no place in a universe of motion. If the basic entities of the universe are material “things” and motion is a property of those “things” then, of course, the objectors are correct; matter is logically prior to motion, and there can be no motion that is not motion of something. But if this is a universe of motion, in which matter is a complex of motions, then motion is logically prior to matter, and there must be simple motions before there can be matter or motion of matter. Hence the existence of these simple motions is not only logical but essential in a universe of motion. As I explained in our discussions, the mathematics of motion of matter are equally applicable to the simple motions, since an equation such as v=s/t has no term representing the “something” regardless of the kind of motion that is involved.
The manner in which the accepted basic concept of the nature of the universe controls and restricts scientific thinking can be seen very clearly if the orthodox theory of the structure of the atom is examined critically. On the basis of the “matter” concept material aggregates must be constructed of some kind of basic units. The concept of a world of material “things” simply demands that complex material structures be built up from elementary unit of matter. Originally it was thought that the atom itself was the elementary unit, as the name “atom” implies, but when it was discovered that atoms disintegrate under certain conditions it became necessary to look for smaller elementary units, and since the sub-atomic particles appear to be the only candidates for this role, it has been taken for granted that they are the building blocks. The currently favored hypothesis of an atom constructed of electrons, protons, and neutrons is simply the most plausible combination that the theorists have been able to devise.
The development of a hypothetical structure on this basis has been no easy task. In fact, the point that I want to emphasize here is that the expedients that have had to be used for this purpose are so drastic and so utterly without independent justification of any kind that the attempt to construct an atom from “elementary particles” would undoubtedly have been given up long ago had it not been for the fact that the “matter” concept of the nature of the universe left no alternative. From its very beginning the “nuclear atom” hypothesis was in serious trouble, and it could not even get a start without postulating a pattern of behavior for the presumed constituents of the atom that defies the physical laws that these same particles follow implicitly wherever we can actually observe them. The “nuclear force” that is supposed to hold the components of the hypothetical nucleus together, and the mysterious something that gives the neutron a stability in the atom that it does not have elsewhere, are purely ad hoc assumptions without a shred of factual evidence to support them.
Furthermore, it is now clear that this atomic theory cannot be maintained without abandoning some basic philosophical principles of great significance, such as causality and physical continuity. In today's picture of the world of the atom there are events happening without cause, objects which appear first at location A and then at location B without having been anywhere in the meantime, and other occurrences equally inconsistent with our ordinary concept of rationality. The apologists for current scientific thought are trying to make the best of this state of affairs and portray it as an advance in our understanding of nature, but when we realize that all of this hatchet work that is being done on long-standing physical laws and philosophical principles serves no other purpose but to avoid the necessity of abandoning the concept of a universe of matter, it is certainly in order to suggest that we are paying much too high a price. The theory that I have developed on the basis of the concept of a universe of motion requires no such questionable tactics. It employs no ad hoc assumptions or principles of impotence to evade contradictions, and it arrives at a picture of the physical universe that is completely rational and understandable.
Some of the new and rather surprising phenomena that result from the reciprocal space-time relation, such as motion in time, require a certain amount of mental reorientation, to be sure, but motion in time actually could be possible even in the context of a universe of matter. In a universe of motion it is required and it plays a very important part in the clarification of many hitherto unresolved physical problems. In fact, the introduction of motion in time and other related phenomena into the theoretical picture is largely responsible for the rather spectacular results that have been obtained from the new structure of physical theory.
It is particularly significant that a number of the most important results of the new theoretical development–the explanations of the origin of gravitation and the nature of the photon of radiation, for example–are immediate and direct results of the postulates of the new system of theory, essentially obvious once the general nature of the change that is being made in the basic viewpoint is clearly understood. The remark of one reviewer with respect to the explanation of the recession of the galaxies, Seen from this angle the expansion of the universe is self-evident, might equally well be applied to the new explanations of some of these other basic phenomena. For this reason, it is a fairly simple undertaking, aside from whatever effort say be required to change ones pattern of thinking from the “matter” basis to the “motion” basis, to check the validity of this initial portion of the development, and the results in this area are more than adequate, in themselves, to establish the new theoretical system as a major advance in physical understanding. Whether or not one should take the time that would be required in order to understand the new theory in detail is largely a question as to how much advantage he feels that he would gain by getting in on the ground floor of a significant new development.
The initial emotional reaction to any proposal for a major change in basic thought is almost invariably antagonistic, unless the individual involved is already disenchanted with the prevailing pattern of thinking, but I believe that if the points that have been discussed in the foregoing paragraphs are carefully considered it will be clear that this proposal of mine for a change in our basic physical concept and in fundamental theory is something that warrants the attention of anyone who is concerned about the foundations of physical science or philosophy. As expressed by one of the reviewers of New Light on Space and Time, Professor Schmeidler of Munich, “a branch of science which takes its task seriously” has an obligation to make a “most careful investigation” of all features of this new development, even though, as he says, “a considerable effort” will be required.
A good start has been made toward getting that “careful investigation” under way. Almost all university and major college libraries in the U. S. and Canada now have at least some of my books on their shelves, nearly a dozen institutions are using or have used one or another of the books for classroom study, and I am receiving an increasing number of invitations to present the theory personally. There have been some obstacles, largely financial, that have stood in the way of accepting very many of these invitations, but by scheduling a number of stops on one trip, as I did this time, I may be able to get around more. In any event, it can be said that definite progress is being made.
D. B. Larson