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Philosophy of Modern Physics

# Philosophy of Modern Physics

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04/29/2011

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200-353-705
What do you think Newton’s bucket thought experiment shows? Discuss theanalogies and disanalogies with the twin paradox in special relativity.
In this essay I will exposit Newton’s bucket experiment (
BE
), describe two perspectives onthe things it shows, and then examine one analogy and two disanologies to the twin/clocks paradox (
TP
) (Newton p10).ExpositionIn the Principia, Newton describes a bucket, suspended by a cord. The cord is twisted whilethe bucket is held stationary; the vessel is then filled with water. The bucket is then released.As the cord untwists the surface of the water will at first be even, then as the vessel begins torevolve the water will, after a short delay, form itself into a concave figure. When the water and the bucket are at rest relative to each other, the water remains concave (Newton, p10).ForcesI will now discuss what Newton’s BE shows. Firstly, it does not attempt to demonstrate acircular velocity, instead in shows an absolute acceleration. The idea of a circular velocity isfictitious – instead it consists of a series of directional accelerations. The concavity is formed by a series of restrictions on the movement of water by the bucket. The particles in a fluidhave a natural tendency to move at a tangent to the curvilinear path they are following, andwhen they are restricted they produce the characteristic concave shape (Dainton, p174).

Two optionsMany conclusions can be derived from this experiment. Two favourable to Newton are:
The metaphysical conclusion - the concavity shown by the water even in the absenceof relative motion is due to the water moving relative to absolute space.
The epistemological conclusion- if we are in a rotating reference frame, or have nomeans of constructing a reference frame, we can detect a motion of the bucket byidentifying concavity in the water. This is supported by Newton’s rotating spheresexperiment. Here, we can identify the movement of the spheres by reference to thetension in the string that connects them, even though they may appear at rest.Absolute space?The metaphysical conclusion seems suspect. The relativist will decry the existence of  Newton’s postulated ‘absolute’ rotation leads to the existence of absolute space. It is clearly problematic to describe the rotation of the bucket without reference to anything else, if it isrelative to the existence of other bodies then it cannot prove the existence of absolute motion,if it is relative to ‘absolute space’ then this is likely to be circular as it relies on the existenceof absolution space to prove absolute motion.It also seems that the bucket could rotate relative to something. Firstly, one can claim that itis rotating relative to the cord. One could distinguish the rotation without positing theexistence of absolute space - though one could solve this by postulating a spinning, cordless bucket. Secondly, one could argue that the water is rotating relative to itself, the outer edgesof the water may be relatively at rest relative to the bucket‘s edge but if we imagine the water as to be composed of concentric circles, the inner circles are moving at a much lower speeds

relative to the bucket’s edge and the outer circles
.
The concave effect is caused in part by thevelocity differential between the centre of the water’s speed and the edge of the bucket’sspeed. One could describe the bucket’s inertial forces

purely with reference to its internalmotions and without reference to absolute space. The outer concentric circles may be at restrelative to the bucket, but the inner concentric circles are not.Additionally, even if we accept that the thought experiment demonstrates absoluteacceleration, it doesn’t demonstrate absolute rest. It seems Newton could pick out a class of moving inertial frames in which the bucket is contained, but it is not clear that any of theseframes entail, or contain an absolute space (Lacey p341).

Furthermore, Sklar holds thatacceleration is a primitive monadic property, and one does not need to make reference toabsolute space to describe it (Dainton p179)
.
Whatever one’s perspective, it seems clear thatthe BE does not strictly entail absolute space.DifferentiatingI believe that this thought experiment attempts not to necessarily affirm the existence of absolute space or motion but expresses the illustration of a case where absolute ‘rotation’ can be
distinguished
from merely relative rotation
if
one holds Newtonian mechanics to be true.In the BE, it is when the water is relatively at rest to the bucket that the concavity at itszenith
.
It is the inertial effects of the continued accelerations of the bucket that force thewater into concavity. The existence of inertial forces in the bucket indicates that it is
it
that isrotationally accelerating, not the reference frame.However, what is it that causes these inertial forces? Is it, as Mach holds, that the existence of a framework of other situated objects causes these forces at a distance (Dainton p176)? With

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