Attitude of the 'Elder Statesmen'

The personal examples I have so far given from physicists and mathematicians, though all from those of repute, are (except, of course, that from Professor Max Born) from those whose training in the subject took place at a time when special relativity had already become an accepted part of physics. As will be explained in Part Two, those who learnt physics from the 1920s onwards were presented with a metaphysical interpretation of the mathematical equations as though it were a necessary requirement of those equations and so possessed the logical necessity of pure reason. The physical impossibility of that interpretation was accordingly obscured. The theory was therefore, so to speak, embedded in their minds as a necessary truth, rendering them incapable of separating the speculative (and indeed impossible) physics and the superimposed metaphysics from the irreproachable mathematics of the subject, and leaving them unaware, for example, that two quite different physical interpretations (see Chapter 8) those of Lorentz and Einstein were equally compatible with the same mathematical structure and the same apparently confirmatory experimental facts. It is therefore readily understandable which is not the same as justifiable - that they found, and still find, the difficulty of discarding the physical theory, without denying the inescapable necessity of mathematical truth, practically insuperable. Hence the present multiform graspings at any device for escaping the obvious impossibility of each of two clocks working faster than the other.

It is otherwise with the older physicists. These were sufficiently grounded in the fundamental principles of science to realise that the new conceptions - space turning into time, and so on - were meaningless, but they could not challenge them without facing the counter-challenge of giving a better interpretation of the mathematics. This was easy enough with special relativity alone - Lorentz, in fact, had done it, and, as we shall see, from 1904 until 1919 the 'relativity theory*1 was generally ascribed to Lorentz, not to Einstein. But with the apparent success in 1919 of Einstein's general theory with its then quite new and terrifying mathematical machinery of tensor calculus, came the fatal climax. Almost overnight 'the relativity theory of Lorentz' became 'Einstein's special relativity theory', and it was immediately hailed as such by the mathematical experts. The established physicists, therefore, had to face the alternatives of accepting, without understanding, the metaphysics of the newly christened 'Einstein's special theory', or mastering tensor calculus sufficiently to show that the so-called general rclativity theory was not necessarily a generalisation of the earlier Einstein form of the 'relativity theory', and therefore carried with it no justification of 'Einstein's special relativity theory' (this is explained in detail in Part Two). They chose the former alternative. They gave up trying to understand the whole business, surrendered the use of their intelligence, and accepted passively whatever apparent absurdities the mathematicians put before them.

They had the seeming excuse that the mathematical equations worked. They could use their accustomed electromagnetic equations, which by themselves gave the wrong experimental results, and apply 'the relativity correction', whereupon they gave the right experimental results. They accordingly ignored the physically intelligible (though, of course, not necessarily true) interpretation given by Lorentz that the electromagnetic equations were incomplete since they failed to include a postulated effect of the ether on bodies moving through it - and simply went on with their experiments, accepting and confessing their inability to make any sense of waves interfering with one another in a strictly specified way in a medium which nevertheless did not exist, and other such mysteries, and leaving the mathematicians free to propose any interpretation they wished of their mathematical symbols, regardless of physical absurdity.

This, as I say, is explained and corroborated in detail in Part Two. In this chapter my task is to show the reaction to my criticism of special relativity of those to whom I have just referred, who in their early days yielded their intelligence, which showed them plainly that the new conceptions were physically meaningless, and left the field open to the 'mathematicians'. A few of these men are, after 50 years, still alive and have attained positions of great eminence in the scientific world. I select two whose reactions I record in detail and with evidence drawn from their own statements, so that there can be no question of my misrepresenting them. My purpose, I repeat, is not a personal one (indeed, I have no right to blame them, for I myself was for long at fault for failing to recognise that the mathematics of the time was simply another form of mediaeval logic restored to its old position of authority over experience. I offer no excuse for this, nor do I regard my own intellectual pilgrimage as of sufficient general importance to relate here the course it took and how later I awoke from my dogmatic slumber. Shutting the eyes when the fact is pointed out is, of course, quite another matter), but solely that of showing, beyond all possibility of doubt, that the now prevailing state of mind in the world of physical science, which controls the future of our material civilisation, is directly opposed to the moral principles of science, and is fraught with the greatest danger to the future of mankind. The two I select are Lord Blackett, lately President of the Royal Society, and Sir Lawrence Bragg, formerly Head of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge and Director of the Royal Institution.

I have related (pp. 55-0) my failure, as well as that of Professor Coulson, to find anyone willing to read the paper which I had prepared for submission to the Royal Society. Among those whom I had approached was Professor P. M. S. (later Lord) Blackett, who afterwards became President of the Royal Society. There was more than one reason why he was an appropriate choice. In his student days he had worked under - and, like every other physicist, had the highest respect for - Lord Rutherford, who could be more accurately described as scornful than as critical of the relativity theory; he was a specialist in high energy physics, a field in which a failure of the theory would have the most serious consequences; he was then Head of the Physics Department at the Imperial College, where I had worked for more than 30 years, though I had left before his arrival there; and I had heard independently that, when my discussion with Born appeared in Nature, he had pointed out to his mathematical colleagues that this matter demanded attention. I therefore asked him if he would read my paper and, if he thought it worthy of consideration, submit it to the Royal Society for publication. His reply was as follows:

I am afraid I cannot help. I am naturally interested in relativity, particularly as I have taught the special theory for many years to pur first-year students, and of course anybody dealing with cosmic rays or high energy particles uses it every day; one could not think accurately about any of these phenomena without using it. Moreover, if there had been no general argument in its favour, it would have been deduced from the experimental results on high energy particles. However, on the subtle point you are interested in I am afraid I have no contribution to make. I have often consulted my theoretical colleagues on this question, and can find none of them who has serious doubts about the ordinary formulation. I confess I cannot completely follow the details of yours and Max Bern's argument, or rather, I have not had the time or inclination to do so. But to my superficial knowledge of the subject, there is nothing obviously wrong with the ordinary formulation.

It was impossible to interpret this as other than a refusal to read my paper, and, notwithstanding the shocks I had already received to my one-time naive belief that scientists did at least try to conform to the image represented by Dale's description, I must confess that I was not prepared for so radical a departure from the ideal as this. A leader in the most highly dangerous field of scientific research then existing was not prepared even to look at a criticism of a theory fundamental to that research which he was using every day; and had been for many years 'teaching' to students, shortly to be entrusted with the use of instruments employed in that research, principles of which he had only 'superficial knowledge' and which he had neither time nor inclination to examine. He had merely accepted uncritically the opinions of others who had only theoretical (which in this case meant mathematical) acquaintance with the theory, while the essence of my criticism, as he would have seen if he had consented to look at it, applied not to the mathematics but to the physical interpretation of the mathematics.

However, shortly after this Professor Blackett became President of the Royal Society, and in that capacity he had, of course, a new responsibility, over and above that resting on a practical physicist as such namely, that of ensuring that scientific research in this country was conducted in accordance with the principles on which the Royal Society was founded and to which formally it still adhered. These certainly included the critical examination of the fundamental theories of physics, so I wrote a very short paper, setting out the bare essence of my criticism of special relativity, in much the same terms as those given on p. 45, and asked Professor Blackett - not now as a physicist but as President of the Royal Society - to submit it to that Society for publication. He replied as follows:

I am sorry I have not replied earlier to your letter of 14 February 1966 but I have been making various enquiries. I am very sorry to say that I do not feel able to communicate your paper for publication. I have looked back at a lot of the old correspondence about other discussions between you and Officers of the Society on related ideas. This confirms my decision.

For one thing I have a firm rule not to communicate papers which I do not fully understand and agree with. Now I am no relativist, that is except in the sense that all we practical high energy physicists are, and have not the time nor the ability to discuss fundamentals. There are, of course, in this country quite a number of people who have expert knowledge of these fundamental, logical and experimental phases of relativity. Unless you can find at least one of them to sponsor your idea I do not see how the Royal Society can publish your paper.

I am really sorry about this but I do feel that if you were in my position you would take the same view. With many regrets.

I of course at once disclaimed the final statement: I could in no circumstances have taken the view expressed by Blackett had I been in his position. It is not necessary to explain why; I am merely recording the course of events, so that the reader may form his own opinion of them. But there are two points which I should mention since they are not evident from the contents of this letter alone. First, when Blackett refers to the discussions between me and the Officers of the Society on related ideas, he can have seen only the referees' reports on my papers and possibly my replies to them; he cannot have seen the papers themselves because they were returned to me. Since comments without knowledge of the material on which they were made must necessarily be beyond possibility of appraisal, I cannot see how they could have confirmed his decision regarding this new paper unless that decision also was arrived at without reference to its contents. Secondly, when he says that 'all we practical high energy physicists have not the time nor the ability to discuss fundamentals' ('fundamentals', of course, meaning here what the 'mathematicians' proclaim as such) he is stating, as I can confirm from many years of experience, nothing but the simple truth. That is one of the basic facts that have made this book necessary. The 'experimenters', as I have called them, with scarcely one exception, if any at all, simply do not understand the principles on which their experiments are based: they blindly accept whatever the 'mathematicians' tell them, even though, as Dame Kathleen Lonsdale acknowledged with more frankness than most, it seems 'esoteric nonsense'. How could it be otherwise when they are taught by those with only 'superficial knowledge'? The difference between the more responsible, first-class minds - like those of Lord Blackett and Dame Kathleen Lonsdale and Sir Bernard Lovell who wrote me: 'I have never been one of those who pretended to understand either the theory of relativity or its implications' (notwithstanding that it is profoundly related to theories of cosmology, with which radio-astronomy is largely concerned) - and the general run of 'experimenters' who form the great majority, is that the former have the insight to perceive and the candour to acknowledge the fact (would that the revelation would come to them that the theory appears to them to be nonsense because it is nonsense and not because they are too stupid to understand it!) while the latter utter meaningless phrases like 'time dilation* and think they are saying something profound. It is a vast difference, but unfortunately one to which nature will pay no heed at all. Her response to the questions asked her in the experiments performed will be exactly the same, whoever performs them.

The next point at which Lord Blackett became involved in the matter occurred during the course of the Listener controversy. In view of certain facts which there transpired it became necessary for me to write (issue of 21 August 1969):

In these circumstances it is my right, and dear duty, to ask the President of the Royal Society, the body unquestionably responsible to the public in such a matter, to inform your readers what it is doing to allay the natural and fast-growing suspicion of the integrity of scientists which my large correspondence reveals, and to prevent this pre-Aberfan mentality from ensuring a super-Aberfan outcome.

On this I received the following letter from the President:

I am afraid I have nothing more to say about the relativity question. As far as I am concerned, the two papers we arranged to be published in Nature by you and by McCrea adequately convince me of the correctness of the conventional view. I do not intend to take any further action.

But I had not asked Lord Blackett for his conclusion concerning the conventional view on the relativity question: I had asked the President of the Royal Society for an assurance that the existing suspicion of the integrity of scientists was unfounded; and since this was the only reply I had received to that request, I could do no other than write as I did in my closing letter (p. 86) to the Listener, which naturally has aroused the misgiving among readers of that correspondence expressed in Dr. Platt's letter (p. 91). That letter, as I said, was unpublished, but I have ample evidence that the misgiving remains and is only too well founded.

I turn now to the second of my 'elder statesmen'. Sir Lawrence Bragg*1. His work has not been directly related to special relativity, but, like all modern physics, it is no less dependent on it although the relation is much more indirect than that of Lord Blackett. Sir Lawrence's life work, which has been concerned with the interaction of X-rays (electromagnetic waves) with matter, is inseparably connected with the Maxwell-Lorentz electromagnetic theory, and the whole purpose of Einstein's special relativity was to save that theory in the face of apparently fatal experimental test. 'The special theory of relativity has rendered the Maxwell-Lorentz theory plausible,' wrote Einstein,1 and he several times repeated the assertion. Clearly, then, according to Einstein, if special relativity is wrong the Maxwell-Lorentz theory, which is the basis of Sir Lawrence Bragg's work, fails, so its tenability is a matter of vital importance to his chief scientific interests. However, it is true that, in the purely practical field, where division of labour becomes more and more unavoidable every day, the credentials of special relativity are not a matter which it is in any way incumbent on him to examine in detail, and herein lies the chief significance of the fact that I did not - as a last resort, as I told him - bring the matter personally to his notice (though I have no doubt that he was aware of the controversy) until I had failed with all the specialists in the subject whom I had approached. For, as I have said and cannot repeat too often, the real gravamen of this matter - notwithstanding the extreme seriousness of the special relativity question in itself - is not the truth or falsity of a particular theory, but the moral attitude of scientists to the great responsibility that now rests on them, and in approaching Sir Lawrence Bragg last, and laying a representative account of the way in which my criticism had been received by those whose direct duty it was to appraise it before one who had no such duty (I did, in fact, enclose a fully representative account of the behaviour of the individual authorities, journals and societies which is given in the earlier chapters of this book), I was adopting, as I thought, the most effective way of presenting the moral issue without the risk of its being mistaken for a technical one. Deservedly, no living person stands higher in general estimation as an embodiment of the scientific ideal throughout most of this century, so I sent him a letter from which I quote the following extracts, omitting only passages which would be merely repetitions, in other words, of what I have already given here:

In these circumstances I realise that I have now reached a stage at which - failing this final appeal to you as almost, if not quite, the only remaining older physicist of outstanding distinction who has not lost the ideals on which those of our generation were reared and saw exemplified in their seniors, and who has an influence far beyond mine with those to whom it should be a matter of course to see that the one necessary sentence which I ask for is provided or its impossibility, with all the necessary consequences of that, frankly acknowledged - I can no longer postpone a duty which I have tried for years to avoid; namely, the publication in a book, with all the clarity and unqualified starkness that I can command, of the whole disgraceful story, from the beginning to its state at the time of writing, of which the enclosed is a small but typical part, and so inevitably bring shame upon those now most honoured in the scientific world. This I have been urged to do for a long time by distinguished interested but scientifically uninfluential followers of the controversy, and since the Listener correspondence referred to in the enclosed, money has been offered, unsolicited, by astonished and indignant readers to support the publication of such an account if financial assistance is needed, but I have shrunk from so distasteful a course, perhaps longer than I should have done, in the vain hope that something would happen to bring to responsible physicists a realisation of what they are doing. I am now too old and conscious of failing physical powers, and have had too much experience of the futility of every other effort I can devise, to feel justified in delaying longer. You will realise, therefore, that this letter is a final appeal to make a complete exposure of the most inglorious phase in the history of science (this is not rhetorical; I say it deliberately, with some knowledge of that history) unnecessary.

Therefore I venture, with all respect, to ask if you would use your influence to persuade Blackett to take steps to see that my obviously legitimate question is clearly faced in Nature - honestly, straightforwardly and promptly, with a complete and clearly evident avoidance of all evasion and subterfuge - and that a clear and convincing answer in a single sentence (it could be elaborated afterwards to any extent thought necessary) is given to it; or else an equally clear and convincing acknowledgement is made that, since no answer is possible, the special relativity theory, in Synge's words, 'must be abandoned'. Science is now at the crossroads, and the behaviour of Blackett and Nature in this crucial situation will determine whether its future will be as Dale described its past, or as McCrea, Bondi and others are acting, or failing to act, in the present. It is a humiliating exposure of the depths to which we have sunk that what I have to plead for, as the culmination of 13 years of world-wide vain effort, is not some unprecedented, abnormal act, controversially called for by exceptional circumstances, but simply what is always understood by everyone to be the normal, everyday routine of scientists - just open-minded and honest attention to legitimate criticism of a theory, followed by refutation or acceptance of it.

If, therefore, you can do something that will attain that end, by any legitimate means at all, in such a way as to enable me to retire into obscurity and leave the full disgrace of the past unrevealed, I shall be more thankful than I can say.

Sir Lawrence's immediate reaction was what I had feared, though I had hoped against hope that it might be otherwise. He at once returned the papers I had sent him, with the following letter:

Thank you for your letter of 21st November. I cannot help because I have never had any claims to be an expert in the relativity field. I could not therefore venture to criticise or try to distinguish between the two sides. I do appreciate, however, your sending your notes to me.

I am keeping the letter but sending back your typescript in case it is useful to send to people who can be more helpful than I can.

As in every such case, the word 'relativity' had produced the familiar conditioned reflex. It would be almost an impertinence to say that Sir Lawrence Bragg is far more than intelligent enough to realise immediately that a theory that requires one clock to work steadily both faster and slower than another, must be wrong, and that if special relativity is to be acceptable it must be defended against the charge that it requires such an impossibility. Yet, such is the state to which even the leading physicists have been reduced, that the mere mention of the word 'relativity' makes it impossible for him to perceive such an obvious fact. It at once conjures up a dread image, compelling an instant, unreasoning retreat, and automatically transforms a simple ethical question into the semblance of an esoteric intellectual one. However, I replied as follows:

I am very sorry that, despite the care I took, I did not succeed in making it clear that the question on which I wrote was a moral, not a technical, one; yet, on re-reading my letter I do not see how I could have made that clearer. The fact that, nevertheless, a request for assistance in restoring integrity in science can be read as a request to 'try to distinguish between the two sides' on a particular scientific point I can only regard as one more example of the evil spell cast by the word 'relativity' - a word that immediately reduces the mental power of even leading physicists to impotence and is the greatest stumbling-block to my efforts to bring home to them the extreme seriousness of the state to which we have been reduced. Apart from that word-magic, there is nothing in the whole course of events which I related which might not have happened if 'crystallography' had been substituted for 'relativity': it is just a historical accident that Einstein's theory caused, or showed up, the corruption.

I profoundly regret, therefore, that I shall now have to proceed with the book I mentioned, and make it as plainly as possible an indictment of the scientific community by presenting its moral degradation and indifference to its responsibility to public safety in such a way as to make it impossible for the situation to be obscured by technical considerations. As a necessary part of that I cannot avoid including this correspondence, on account both of your scientific eminence and of the unmistakably clear contrast which it affords (to anyone but a physicist) between the nature of my request and the character of your reply. I therefore return the statement which I sent you, for I must have complete justification for my assertion that your satisfaction with the present moral situation is that of one fully acquainted with the facts which the statement presents. The promptness with which you have returned it makes it at least possible that you have not yet read it with the attention necessary to appreciate its import, and I must leave no room for doubt on that point.

I need not repeat with what reluctance I do this, but I have no alternative now. I should be culpable in the extreme if, with the experience that has been forced on me, I let the public any longer remain in ignorance of the measure of trustworthiness to which scientists have shown themselves entitled to retain their present uncontrolled power over its safety. What the outcome will be I cannot, of course, foresee, and for that I am not responsible; but I am responsible, first, for trying to awaken scientists to a realisation of the state into which they have lapsed, and then, that having failed, for making generally known the whole truth on a matter of such transcendent importance, and then leaving the public to react with a full knowledge of the facts as they are. With the deepest regret.

To this Sir Lawrence replied a month later (after an immediate brief acknowledgement which I took to imply that he would make some enquiries):

It seems to me that you have had a very fair and patient hearing from a number of people who are competent experts. I trust their judgement and I think no useful service to science is done by reopening the correspondence. I think it best to be frank.

I need not quote my brief acknowledgement, for I can comment here at greater length - thus, I hope, revealing the implications of the exchange with correspondingly greater clarity. I would direct attention to two points.

First, Sir Lawrence's sole concern is with the fact that I have had 'fair and patient hearing' by other people - which I have never denied. Indeed, I have little doubt that they have tried long and patiently to think of a way of dealing with the problem I have set them. On the vitally important fact that I have had no reply to my patiently heard question, which could have been given in a sentence if a reply had been possible - he makes no comment at all, and there is nothing to suggest that the need for a reply has occurred to him.

The second point is embarrassing, and I would willingly omit it but for the fact that it is compulsory for me to present the situation faithfully and completely, no matter what that might involve, and the tenor of Sir Lawrence's letter, which is that of one written to a misguided, though perhaps well-meaning, ignoramus whose delusions have received sufficient, if not over-generous, attention, forces me to state the following facts. I cannot, of course, compare my qualifications directly with those of the competent and trustworthy experts, for they are unnamed, nor can I defend my judgement against theirs, for I cannot by any means ascertain what the grounds for theirs may be, and I am not allowed to ask for them through the Royal Society or Nature or any other person or agency that I know of; I am told only that my fallacy is so elementary that it is not even instructive and that the Royal Society would make itself ridiculous if it published the grounds of my criticism. In' these circumstances I can only give some of the reasons why I think my criticism merits more serious notice than Sir Lawrence seems to consider adequate.

To the best of my knowledge there is no one now living who can give objective evidence that he is more competent in the subject than I am, and I can only conjecture Sir Lawrence's reason for regarding as untrustworthy my judgement on a matter on which he disclaims all title to form a judgement of his own. I have been studying relativity for more than 50 years. I learnt it in the first place from the late Professor A. N. Whitehead, who encouraged me in 1921 to write my first book on the subject (Relativity for All -Methuen) and read the typescript of that book before it was published. During the following half-century I have studied intensively the field of investigation to which it belongs, and discussed the theory with practically all those physicists whose names are best known in connection with it - Einstein, Eddington, Tolman, Whittaker, Schrodinger, Born, Bridgman, to name but a few: I knew some of them intimately. I worked for a year (1932-3) with Tolman while he was writing his now standard work, Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology (Clarendon Press), and he went through the MS with me and included in the book what he called 'Dingle's Formulae' which I worked out for him. When, in 1940, I published my second book on the subject (The Special Theory of Relativity Methuen), now in its fourth edition and still much used in universities in this country and in America, Max Born wrote me: 'I have enjoyed it very much, as your explanations of the difficult subject are very clear and well presented. I hope the book will find many readers.' When, some 20 years ago, Whittaker, who had direct, first-hand knowledge of the origin of the theory, published his history of the whole field of thought of which special relativity forms a part - now recognised as the standard work on the subject - I sent him some comments (on matters of substance, not mere typographical errors), to which he replied: 'Many thanks for the corrections and comments. You have detected several mistakes which had been missed by my two proof-correctors and myself; and some of the remarks and suggestions you make could have originated only from a vast background of knowledge, which fills me with admiration.' When the volume on Einstein in The Library of Living Philosophers (published in 1949) was prepared, there were only two Englishmen among the twenty-five contributors selected from the world; I was one: the other has long been dead, so he could not have been one of the 'competent experts' whose judgement Sir Lawrence Bragg trusts. When Einstein died I was summoned to broadcast a tribute to him on BBC television, which I did. Later, Granada television invited me to give a course on relativity, but by that time I was fairly well convinced that the special theory was untenable, so I refused. There are two articles on the subject in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, one by an American and the other by me. It was written before I had found reason to reject the special theory, and when recently I was asked to revise it for the forthcoming new edition I refused because I felt that my then unorthodox views made it undesirable for me to write, for a publication of that kind, the only article I could honestly write. The editors, however, would not accept my refusal, but agreed to my writing on the subject as a controversial one and increased the length originally assigned. On that understanding I agreed, and the article is now in print.

I could continue in this vein, but it is distasteful and, moreover, I consider that the question should be decided on its intrinsic merits and not by a comparison of personal records. However, since Sir Lawrence thinks otherwise I am bound to set out my qualifications, and I think I have now said enough to justify me in asking the question: why does Sir Lawrence Bragg regard my judgement as untrustworthy? If there are competent experts in the subject, as he asserts, he can scarcely, in view of the above facts, exclude me from their number or distrust my judgement on account of relatively insufficient knowledge or understanding of the subject. Nor can it be from his own perception of the truth of the matter, for he has declared his inability 'to criticise or try to distinguish between the two sides'. It may be for personal reasons, but if so I cannot conceive what they can be. I have never, so far as I know, given him cause to regard me with distrust. Indeed, his father, the late Sir William Bragg, early in 1935, when he was invited by the Bishop of Bath and Wells and the Bishop of Taunton to go to Wells and explain the scientific attitude to a number of clergy who were perturbed by the writings of Sir James Jeans on theological matters, did me the honour of asking the Bishops if they would allow him to take me with him, as he felt that there were some aspects of the matter on which I could be of assistance: they agreed, and I went. We remained on the friendliest terms until Sir William's death, and although my relations with Sir Lawrence have been very slight, they have never, so far as I know, given the slightest reason for either of us to regard the other with anything remotely savouring of distrust. Why, then, I ask again, does he now, suddenly, without any critical examination at all (which, with all due respect to his modesty, I have not the slightest doubt that he is perfectly capable of making, and would make if he had not already taken it for granted that anything to do with relativity - a subject which Lord Blackett considered suitable fare for first-year undergraduates - must be to him an impenetrable mystery) straightway stigmatise my judgement as untrustworthy and consider that, since it has already been ignored with all due politeness, no useful service to science would be done by anyone taking any further notice of it or allowing me to say anything more on the matter ?

I can conceive of only one reason - that my judgement does not reach the orthodox conclusion; and, that being so, it may be dismissed without further attention: Special relativity must be right because trustworthy experts say so: the experts are trustworthy because, they say that special relativity is right, and I am untrustworthy because I deny it. It is a perfect example of a circular argument.

If this is the true explanation - and I can conceive of no other - then Sir Lawrence Bragg has committed the cardinal sin of the scientist. He has closed his mind to the possibility that the theory of the moment, however plausible, might be wrong, and those experts, however competent, are fallible. He has forgotten that the final arbiters in science are experience and reason, and that the judgement of human authorities must be submitted for their approval, and that due retribution will unfailingly follow if this duty is not fulfilled. Like Lord Blackett, he has acquiesced in the neglect of this duty, and blindly given his allegiance to the ipse dixits of those whose pronouncements I have already related - to that of Max Born, who had nothing but praise for my exposition of special relativity, but refused to read my criticism of it after 25 years of further study because, since he knew the theory was right, it necessarily followed that I had made 'some elementary mistake'; to that of Synge, who 'casts a vote' that special relativity is right; to that of Ziman, who 'gambles' on its being right; and to those of other 'authorities' which are equally at variance with the genuine canons of scientific judgement. The fact that no one submits my simple question to the arbitration of reason he ignores, accepting the verdict of dogma, of the majority of 'experts', of chance, of anything but the only judge whose authority true science recognises. To the action of the editor of Nature in abruptly closing a correspondence at a point at which a single communication, submitted but withheld from publication, would have settled the question conclusively but unpalatably, he gives his approval, holding that 'no useful service to science' would be done by allowing the communication to appear. If such a thing had occurred in 1935, I at least - and, I have no doubt at all, Sir William Bragg also would have been ashamed to present the actual scientific attitude at Wells - though, in justice to the memory of the then editor of Nature, Sir Richard Gregory, it must be added that the supposition is fantastic; he would have been incapable of such conduct.

Such is the state now reached by the specialists in relativity and by those individuals and journals whose eminence in the scientific world inescapably imposes on them a responsibility for seeing that scientific integrity is preserved. This is the contribution that science is now making to the moral framework of civilisation - not, as Dale saw it, something that the world cannot afford to lose, but something that, unless the world does lose it with all speed, must sooner or later lead to general disaster. Science no longer refuses to tolerate the neglect of any anomaly; it refuses to tolerate anything but neglect of a most outstanding anomaly. It no longer fears only prejudice and preconception; it fears to the point of terror a particular threat to its prejudices and preconceptions, and does everything in its power to suppress such a threat. Its criteria of truth - if that word can still be used in connection with it are no longer reason and experience, but strict conformity to a theory that, despite its apparent successes, is still less plausible and less supported by observation than, in their day, were Ptolemaic astronomy and Newton's law of gravitation, both of which are now, rightly or wrongly, out of fashion. That is the state of mind in which the scientific world faces the responsibility that the development of experimental techniques has now laid upon it. The outcome, if it is allowed to continue, is only a matter of time; its character is certain. That, I repeat once more, is why this book has had to be written.

In spite of the difficulties I still believe that Sir Henry Dale's ideal scientist is worth the effort to make actual, but I do not underestimate the magnitude of the task. Its nature differs with the 'experts' and the 'elder statesmen'. It is understandably humiliating for the ^experts' to acknowledge especially after so long a resistance - that they have made so elementary an oversight; yet, since the fact is inescapable, they must either do so or remain silent. That is, I have no doubt, why the editor of Nature has had repeatedly to break his promise to Lord Soper and to me to write his 'long leader summarising the position' over a period which has extended from a month to nearly two years and still persists: he has not been able to obtain from his advisers the information which he confidently expected when the promise was made, and the quality of mind needed to retract what he had written in an earlier leading article is one which he has shown no evidence of possessing. In the blindly trusting 'elder statesmen', however, belief in the theory is irremovably implanted; it cannot be dislodged, for there is nothing to which to appeal to dislodge it. What is misunderstood can - granted the moral stamina - be corrected, for there are grounds for the misunderstanding which may be rectified; but what is accepted and not understood has no intellectual grounds at all, and so no basis on which one may stand to remove it. All that one can do is to hope that their sense of responsibility can be sufficiently awakened to lead them to demand of the 'experts' an open, candid answer to criticism, despite the cost, instead of an evasion of it. That is what I hoped to do through Lord Blackett and Sir Lawrence Bragg, only to find that the former had 'a firm rule' not to allow to be submitted for consideration to others what he himself did not understand and agree with, though he had no rule at all against 'teaching' what he did not understand to those who would later apply their ignorance to the operation of the most dangerous instruments yet devised; while to Sir Lawrence Bragg, Synge's voting and Ziman's gambling and Nature's trimming seemed 'fair and patient' methods of meeting criticism.

As I have said, however, I am writing this book not to indict but to inform and let the information bring whatever indictment is called for, so I cannot rest content with my interpretation of Sir Lawrence Bragg's response to my letters, inescapable as it seems to me: I am compelled to ask him to give his own interpretation. I am sure that at rock bottom (if only one could reach it!) he is as anxious as I am that the truth, whatever it may be, shall prevail as quickly and as harmlessly as possible, so I finally put to him the following questions:

(1) Why do you consider it compatible with the ethical principles of science that an objective scientific question should be automatically closed to further inquiry when it has been dismissed unanswered by the ex cathedra judgement of human authorities?

(2) Why, having decided that such closure is ethically justifiable, do you accept the judgement of those who refuse to give reasons for it, and reject that of one having at least equal qualifications in the subject, who gives reasons for his judgement in which no fault has been found?

(3) Will you use your influence to persuade the 'competent experts', whose judgement you trust, to state clearly and publicly what factor of the situation described on p. 17, in which everything with which the theory is concerned is entirely symmetrical, enables the theory to distinguish which of the two clocks in question works the more slowly, as it requires one of them to do; and if they cannot specify that factor and validate the choice by applying it to Einstein's own examples, to acknowledge publicly, in the honourable scientific way, that the theory, since it requires what is physically impossible, is untenable, despite its mathematical impeccability? If you are not prepared to do this, what is your reason for refraining, in view of the unquestionable importance of the matter?

To this Sir Lawrence replied in the friendliest manner, but without answering my questions. Instead he reverted to the scientific question which I had put to the experts and had not expected him to deal with. 'I was very interested in your Introduction,' he wrote, 'because for the first time I thought I began to see where you had gone wrong. I say this with some diffidence, because I am not expert on relativity.' He then cited one of the electromagnetic observational arguments for special relativity, concerned with the decay of fundamental particles in cosmic ray phenomena, which I had already answered many times (see, for instance. Part Two and section II of my Nature article in the Appendix, p. 232), and added:

If I may say so, I do think you are very wrong to attack physicists for refusing to acknowledge that relativity is wrong. I am sure that reasoning like the above has convinced them that it is right. It is of course quite fair for the two parties to hold different views, but not fair to accuse the other party of lack of scientific integrity. Frankly, in this case, I think you are wrong in your interpretation of relativity. I say this in a friendly way, hoping you will consider cases like the one I have quoted carefully, because it might save you from dropping a terrible brick.

I had not the slightest doubt of Sir Lawrence's genuine conviction (though, as he himself had admitted, it was diffidently based on reasoning outside his own field) or of his wholly friendly intention in thus writing, and I was glad to assure him of this. However, as I say, he had not answered my questions or made any reference to them. After repeating my answer to the cosmic ray argument I wrote on 3 May 1971:

I couldn't agree more both that physicists are 'convinced that s.r. is right' and that I should not 'accuse the other party of lack of scientific integrity'. On the first point, it is simply because they are convinced that it is right that their minds are closed to the possibility that it might be wrong. There are two kinds of integrity: (1) the practice of asserting only what you believe; (2) keeping your mind open to the possibility that what you believe may be wrong. They have the first kind all right; the second - what Dale referred to as 'not neglecting any anomaly' - is now, in this matter, a dead letter. That needs no further proof than the fact stated in my Introduction, that more than a decade's persistent attempts to elicit the one sentence needed to dispose of my anomaly have all failed. Your 'very simple direct physical proof that the clock is going at a different rate' is a matter of common agreement. But it stops there. When I ask which clock goes faster (for you can't have clocks going at different rates without one going faster than the other), and why, I get no answer. So what is their 'conviction' worth?

One the second point - that I should not accuse the other party of lack of scientific integrity I have been most careful not to do so. I have simply stated the bare facts and left the judgement of them to the reader. That, for instance, is why I have asked my three questions of you, so that I can report your answers, not make charges of my own, or the absence of answers if that should be the case.

Consider a few facts. McCrea says that relativity doesn't compare the rates of two clocks and that Einstein never did so. But he himself, as well as Einstein, has done so many times through s.r. I simply quote them and leave judgement to the reader. Blackett is 'convinced' by McCrea and refuses to assure the public that integrity is preserved: I have his letter stating this; it is not my opinion, so I quote it. The R.S. referee says that my fallacy is too elementary to be instructive, but nothing will make him, whoever he is (and of course I don't ask his name), publish the fallacy, and Nature refuses to allow the R.S., whose principles require it to discover and make known the truth, to be asked by the public to do so. All this is in writing, and I simply state it; the reader can do the judging. Maddox closes down the discussion with Synge when it reaches a point where a decision is inevitable, and has suppressed my decisive reply for three years (it is still unpublished), during which two Listener correspondents (goodness knows how many more, but two letters were published) call me to task for not answering Synge. That is verifiable fact, not my accusation. Maddox assures Lord Soper and me time and again that he will deal with the matter In a long leader 'in a week or two': after 18 months it has still not appeared. The reader can judge that, but the fact is verifiable. And so on, and so on.

The problem that faces me is not whether I shall charge physicists with dishonesty or not, but whether, knowing that the attitude exemplified by these and other incidents is that with which physicists as a whole face the responsibility that lies before them in the present age; that nature will pay no attention to what McCrea, etc. say, but will take her own course; and that I alone possess all this conclusive evidence of the actual state of affairs - I shall hush it all up or make the public acquainted with the actual facts of a situation that concerns everyone so vitally. I know only too well what its judgement will be. I have had too much assurance from non-scientific people of intelligence and responsibility, arising merely from the facts I was able to state in the Listener (Dr. Platt's letter to The Times is typical) to have any doubt about that. I hate it with all my heart, but I have no doubt at all about what I must now do. It is too much to hope now for a miracle that would make it unnecessary. From my knowledge of them, there is not one of the 'authorities' who has the moral stamina to face the humiliation that, after his evasions for so many years, would inescapably attend his coming clean now, and I have not been able to persuade any of those who have the guts of the need to force the 'authorities' to answer my question with patent straightforward honesty. I expect it takes my years of experience to make their behaviour credible. I can therefore only thank you once more for the kind terms of your letter, and get on with the job.

Sir Lawrence finally replied on 18 May 1971:

I very much appreciate your kind letter. I think I have shot my bolt, my knowledge of relativity has never been very thorough, and now that I am 81 and well into my retirement, it is not easy for me to make the effort to recall what knowledge I had of the subject, I am getting out of my depth. I do appreciate your writing as you do.

(As stated in the Introduction, this chapter was written before Sir Lawrence Bragg's death on 1 July 1971, and he had read the whole of the section relating to him, as it appears here, before writing his final letter just quoted.) The picture, which I have tried to present in the foregoing pages, is of necessity incomplete. It includes very little of the efforts in other countries, and of those in this country attention has been concentrated almost wholly on the attitude of the leading workers, for these, though far less numerous, have much greater influence than the general body of physicists, both 'mathematicians' and 'experimenters', with whom I have had communication. Moreover, I have omitted all reference (apart from the slight incident mentioned on p. 39) to the prevailing frame of mind of students and young research workers in this subject of which I have had ample experience over the years through visits to universities to address student societies and discuss the problem with them. It will suffice to say that this is, in one respect, the most saddening aspect of the whole matter, for it is evident that the students have been trained, consciously or unconsciously, to believe that criticism of special relativity is a sure sign of ignorance, not to say stupidity, on the part of the critic, and I have been informed, with various degrees of tolerance, of fallacies that I had learnt to outgrow before the fathers of my instructors were born; only comparatively rarely have I been asked questions for information.

It would be a serious omission, however, if I failed to state that the general attitude of scientists, which I have presented, does not exist wholly without protest. There are many intelligent, interested, but scientifically uninfluential thinkers who are not willing to surrender their power of judgement and supinely to accept the implication that the world is essentially irrational and unintelligible, and there are 'experimenters', even among the academic physicists themselves, who have succeeded in preserving their intellects from submission to the general state of passivity. Among these I should mention particularly Dr.L. Essen, whom some years ago the late Sir Charles Darwin, one-time Director of the National Physical Laboratory where Dr. Essen's work is conducted, described to me as probably the world's greatest authority on the practical problem of time-keeping, and Dr. G. Burniston Brown, formerly Reader in Physics at University College London. These, in different ways, have for many years criticised the relativity theory by an analysis of its implications. Dr. Essen has given attention to the actual procedure used in the determination of the times (instants) of distant events, and Dr. Brown has examined the relation of the theory to the foundations of electromagnetism. I should explain briefly why I think it would be undesirable to attempt to relate what I have said here to their criticisms.

If you have a theory that requires clocks to do impossible things, then it is to be expected that if you examine in detail the procedure by which clocks determine the instants of distant events you will find that the results which the analysis shows they must yield will not agree with the results which the theory requires them to yield. Dr. Essen has made such an examination and has consistently maintained that Einstein's statements concerning the determination of distant instants are erroneous. But I have thought it best to avoid all such considerations because long experience has taught me that the moment one enters into details, the door is open to endless quibbles over words or phrases that invariably deflect attention from the real point at issue, and succeed only in persuading those who already suspect, or have become convinced, that the matter is too intricate for their understanding, that it really is so and that they may safely trust 'The Establishment' to have disposed of the criticism satisfactorily. That has happened over and over again. I therefore now refrain from entering into any discussion at all of Dr. Essen's papers, and concentrate on the single question, which I have asked. If that cannot be answered - and it certainly has not been - then the theory must be false; the details of its failure are then of secondary importance.

Dr. Brown, besides objecting to particular details in the presentation of special relativity by its founders and expositors, has given special attention to the Maxwell-Lorentz electromagnetic theory which Einstein's special theory was designed to protect against what at first seemed fatal criticism. Again it is true that, if the Maxwell-Lorentz theory is inherently faulty - as others, such as Ritz, long ago maintained and as is supported by the fact that it remains unreconciled with quantum phenomena - a theory that makes it appear 'plausible', as special relativity was designed to do thereby condemns itself. But this also diverts attention from the one simple and utterly fatal criticism of the theory, and opens another door into endless discussion of irrelevant points. I therefore, without prejudice, leave Dr. Brown's, like Dr. Essen's, criticisms of the theory out of consideration here. Nevertheless, I wish to pay tribute to the integrity and independence of mind, by virtue of which they have refused to be carried away by the tide of mystification by which the great body of experimenters have allowed themselves to be swept along.

A more profound reason for leaving their work out of consideration here lies in the fact that, as I have stressed more than once, the most serious aspect of this whole discussion is the moral aspect -not the question whether the theory is right or wrong, but the attitude of physicists to its rightness or wrongness. Indirect analyses of the details of time determination and of electromagnetic theory both allow scope for genuine differences of view, and opposite sides may be taken by physicists, both of whom preserve their scientific integrity intact and differ on purely intellectual grounds. In my discussion of the theory, however, the distinction between the moral and the intellectual aspects is absolute. I simply ask the question: what determines which of the relatively moving clocks works (and not merely appears to work, as Einstein's example of the equatorial, and polar clocks shows) the more slowly? The obligation to answer this question, or to admit, as Synge does, that if no answer is possible the theory must be abandoned, is a purely moral obligation. The physical justification of the answer, if one is offered in terms of the theory, is an intellectual matter. The evidence which I have given I think shows conclusively that the moral obligation has not been met, but the reader will judge for himself on that point. Certainly no answer has been offered. When an approach, through Synge's letter, to a final settlement has been made possible, it has been resolutely blocked; yet the theory remains at the foundation of modern physics as though it had never been questioned. That, I repeat, is the state of mind in which science faces the responsibility of the scientific age.

I have called this book Science at the Crossroads because science has indeed now two courses before it: it can, on the one hand, resume progress along the course which Dale, generalising from its past history, believed it still to be following, or it can, on the other hand, remain on the path which I hope I have enabled the reader to see that it is now pursuing. The consequences of the choice are important beyond measure.

One question, however - relatively academic, but still fundamentally important remains and will inevitably arise, namely: how can such a situation as that which I have described have arisen in a movement whose sole aim is the discovery of truth, and which has not only nothing to gain by departing from that aim, but also the certainty that the departure will ultimately be discovered? Although the fact itself is so surprising that scarcely any conceivable explanation can be dismissed on grounds of improbability, I do not think it can be seriously entertained that the whole body of physical scientists has, within a generation or two, bargained its soul, Faust-like, for unworthy ends. Although there is an occasional instance is which I am not able, however hard I try, to persuade myself that there is not a conscious departure from rectitude, I have no doubt at all that the great majority of physical scientists are genuinely unaware that they are not acting according to the strict requirements of their calling. How, then, can they behave as they do?

The cause must be sought in the history of modern physics, and in the second part of this book I shall try to present in outline what I believe it to be. Although I have studied the literature pretty widely over a considerable period, and have had personal experience of the later part of it, I am aware that a full explanation needs more detailed treatment than I am able to give, and, were I still in my former position and a suitable student were available, I should set him the problem of studying, and presenting the results as a thesis for a doctorate, the development of physics during the last hundred years or so, with the special object of tracing the steps by which physics, the scope and character of which was once understood clearly enough, gradually became enslaved to mathematics and metaphysics until its present state of almost complete unconscious subordination to those subjects was arrived at. I hope that in the future that will be done. In the meantime, the explanation which I am now able to offer, though I am fully aware of its inadequacy, is, I believe, essentially true.


*1 See Introduction, p. 20.

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