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this is a book whichI have been trying for more than thirteen years to avoid having to write: I have at last been forced to do so because it has become impossible for its purpose to be achieved otherwise and that purpose is imperative.
I am well aware that the bare summary of the matter given in this Introduction will appear so incredible that the reader will feel an almost irresistible impulse to dismiss it as illusory: that is why the evidence has to be given at such length and in such terms that doubt of its reality will be impossible; its gravity, if it is real, will need no proof. The fantastic appearance of the situation is indeed one of the reasons why it has not been rectified long since; those who could have rectified it have found it impossible to credit, and it has accordingly been allowed to persist, with the result that unless drastic action is taken, the whole community stands at a risk which is quite incalculable but might be overwhelmingly great. In introducing the matter here, therefore, I beg the reader to suspend his incredulity, which it will need the whole evidence that follows to remove, and to accept, merely as a working hypothesis at present, that what I have to say is true. Part One, which is concerned only with the ethical principles of science, not with technical details, is wholly comprehensible to any intelligent person, while Part Two needs a little elementary knowledge of physics, less than that possessed by any physics undergraduate, for its full comprehension, and only ordinary intelligence for a true idea of its general import.
I can present the matter most briefly by saying that a proof that Einstein's special theory of relativity is false has been advanced; and ignored, evaded, suppressed and, indeed, treated in every possible way except that of answering it, by the whole scientific world (the world of physical science, that is; the theory has no place at present in the biological and psychological sciences). Since this theory is basic to practically all physical experiments, the consequences if it is false, modern atomic experiments being what they are, may be immeasurably calamitous. That is why the failure of physical scientists to practise what is generally understood to be their faithfully preserved fundamental ethical principle Ч the subordination of all theories, however plausible, to the demands of reason and experience - compels its exposure. In the conditions of former days the falseness or otherwise of the theory could have been left to the arbitrament of experiment, which would, sooner or later, inevitably have appeared: today the possible consequences of such, equally inevitable, settlement of the question are far too dire, and nothing but the observance of strict scientific integrity, here and now, can meet the ethical demands of the case.
The reason why this has happened is largely that which will, in all probability, immediately strike the reader Ч namely, that the theory of relativity is believed to be so abstruse that only a very select body of specialists can be expected to understand it. In fact this is quite false; the theory itself is very simple, but it has been quite unnecessarily enveloped in a cloak of metaphysical obscurity which has really nothing whatever to do with it; the physical theory itself, indeed, is much simpler than many physical theories familiar to most educated non-scientific but interested persons in the nineteenth century; it is wholly devoid of any mystical significance. This will be explained in Part Two, where the historical reasons for the illusions concerning the theory are fully set out. But the consequences of those illusions are the vitally important matter for the general public. They are, briefly, that the great majority of physical scientists, including practically all those who conduct experiments in physics and are best known to the world as leaders in science, when pressed to answer allegedly fatal criticism of the theory, confess either that they regard the theory as nonsensical but accept it because the few mathematical specialists in the subject say they should do so, or that they do not pretend to understand the subject at all, but, again, accept the theory as fully established by others and therefore a safe basis for their experiments. The response of the comparatively few specialists to the criticism is either complete silence or a variety of evasions couched in mystical language which succeeds in convincing the experimenters that they are quite right in believing that the theory is too abstruse for their comprehension and that they may safely trust men endowed with the metaphysical and mathematical talents that enable them to write confidently in such profound terms. What no one does is to answer the criticism.
It would naturally be supposed that the point at issue, even if less esoteric than it is generally supposed to be, must still be too subtle and profound for the ordinary reader to be expected to understand it. On the contrary, it is of the most extreme simplicity. According to the theory, if you have two exactly similar clocks, A and B, and one is moving with respect to the other, they must work at different rates (a more detailed, but equally simple, statement is given on pp. 45-6, but this gives the full essence of the matter), i.e. one works more slowly than the other. But the theory also requires that you cannot distinguish which clock is the 'moving' one; it is equally true to say that A rests while B moves and that B rests while A moves. The question therefore arises: how does one determine, consistently with the theory, which clock works the more slowly? Unless this question is answerable, the theory unavoidably requires that A works more slowly than B and B more slowly than A --which it requires no super-intelligence to see is impossible. Now, clearly, a theory that requires an impossibility cannot be true, and scientific integrity requires, therefore, either that the question just posed shall be answered, or else that the theory shall be acknowledged to be false. But, as I have said, more than 13 years of continuous effort have failed to produce either response. The question is left by the experimenters to the mathematical specialists, who either ignore it or shroud it in various obscurities, while experiments involving enormous physical risk go on being performed.
It cannot be too strongly emphasised that this question is exactly what it appears to be, with every word and phrase bearing its ordinary, generally understood, meaning; it is not a profoundly complicated question, artificially simplified to bring it within the scope of the non-scientific reader's intelligence. It is presented here in its full scientific reality, and the ordinary reader is as fully competent to understand whether a proffered answer is in fact an answer or an evasion as is the most learned physicist or mathematician Ч though, of course, he may not be able to judge whether the suggested answer is true or not. For instance, the statement: 'the slower-running clock is that judged by a chosen body of experts to be the more beautiful' would be an answer, though it is not likely to be acceptable to anyone. On the other hand, the statement: 'I cast my vote for the special theory of relativity and the abandonment of Dingle's concept of clocks because the latter is equivalent to Newton's concept of absolute time, and relativistic physics appears to me to represent nature more closely than Newtonian physics does' (sec p. 77 for the fuller statement from which this is taken), which is the conclusion reached by one generally considered to be among the most authoritative mathematical experts on relativity, can be seen by anyone to be no answer at all, but a clear evasion of the question. Who can gather from this how to tell which clock works the more slowly? The question is by-passed, and the reader is led into a slough of metaphysical concepts which have nothing whatever to do with it. Nevertheless, the statement serves to confirm the experimenters' conviction that the matter is beyond their understanding but has been competently dealt with by an expert authority, so they need give it no further attention.
This is typical of all responses to the criticism that have yet appeared: I choose it here because of the outstanding reputation of its author in this field and the fact that it can be expressed more briefly than most - far more briefly, for instance, than the equally evasive and far denser obscurity (given here in the Appendix) that 'convinced' the then President of the Royal Society that what he had been 'teaching' for many years but confessed he did not understand, was indeed true (see pp. 97, 100). It serves to explain why this book has become necessary Ч because unceasing and world-wide effort over many years has produced nothing but such evasions of a simple question needing less than six lines to answer if answer is possible, and revealing a universal attitude foreshadowing certain danger to the whole population if it is not. Any reviewer of the book can dispose at a stroke of its basic raison d'etre by giving those six lines. By the same token, his failure to do so would speak for itself.
It is no doubt generally believed that means exist for preventing the occurrence of such a situation as this, and theoretically, of course, they do. The Royal Society is a body whose function includes the safeguarding of scientific integrity in all matters, and especially those vital to public welfare in this country (the situation is of general significance, of course, but for reasons of space I deal in this book almost wholly with Britain), and accordingly, after great difficulty in overcoming the interposed obstacles, the criticism was submitted to it for consideration. It was rejected on the basis of a report from an anonymous 'specialist' that the fallacy invalidating it was too elementary even to be instructive. The 'fallacy', however, was not revealed, nor was the simple but crucial question answered, but the customary paragraphs of mystical comment were supplied, and these satisfied the Society that the criticism was baseless. A letter to the leading scientific journal, Nature, asking, in the public interest and in accordance with the principles of the Society, that the fallacy should be published, was refused publication, on the ground that actions of the Royal Society were not open to question in Nature. An attempt was made to obtain a ruling of the Press Council (one of whose functions is 'to keep under review developments likely to restrict the supply of information of public interest and importance') on this refusal of Nature - not, be it noted, merely on this instance, but on the general decision of the editor that no action of the Royal Society, whatever its relation to the public interest, was open to questioning in the journal - but the officers of the Council would not allow the inquiry to reach it. As will be seen in this book, other scientific journals impose a similar veto; that again is part of the reason why I have been forced to use the medium of a book to acquaint the public with the position in which it stands: a body of scientists, in whose uncontrolled hands the physical safety of the whole community lies, is daily engaged in experiments of the greatest potential danger, based on principles which the experimenters confess they do not understand, and the Press is closed to any criticism, however well informed, of their activities, and to all questioning of their decisions.
These, then, are the circumstances that have made this book necessary. My purpose throughout is not to indict but to inform, and let the facts bring whatever indictment is necessary. This book is the only means I have of doing so. I have written it with the greatest regret, not only because iconoclasm is not an activity in which I take any pleasure at all, but also because most of those whom I am forced to present in what is bound to appear an unfavourable light - though I still believe that they do not fully realise what they are doing - are those whose friendship I value and must inevitably run the risk of forfeiting: it is largely this consideration that has persuaded me to continue so long in an endeavour which perhaps I ought long ago to have realised was hopeless. But to continue now to withhold the certain knowledge which I possess from those whose welfare, and even existence, depend on it, would be a betrayal of responsibility of which I am no longer willing to be guilty.
After the writing of this book was completed came the sad news of the death of Sir Lawrence Bragg who, as will be seen, figures prominently in one section. This raised a problem, and after reflection I have decided to leave what was written exactly as it was, without change even of tense. This seemed desirable for two reasons. First, it conforms to what I cannot too strongly emphasise - that the purpose of the book is wholly objective and what is said in it of any person relates only to the public significance of the work of that person and so is independent of whether he or she is alive or dead. Secondly, Sir Lawrence had read this Introduction and the whole passage referring to him, knowing that it would be included verbatim in the book, as it appears here down to his last letter, printed on p. 113, which was written only a few weeks before his death and now takes on an added poignancy. I know, therefore, that by leaving the passage unchanged I am saying nothing to the appearance of which he would have raised objection.
The case of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, who died during the writing of the book, is slightly different. I should not in any case have sent her a copy of the part referring to her, knowing her well enough to be sure that there was nothing in it to which she would have taken exception.