by Adriana V. Araujo, Diego F. López and José G. Pereira
The Quest for Consistency in Spacetime Kinematics
Newton’s inception of the theory for the gravitational interaction in 1687 was a landmark for modern physics. In addition to explaining all known gravitational phenomena of that time, Newton’s gravitational theory was consistent with the kinematic rules of the Galilei group, known as Galilei relativity. Such consistency provided an atmosphere of intellectual comfort, which lasted for more than two centuries.
By the mid nineteenth century, most secrets of the electric and magnetic fields were already unveiled. Those advancements culminated with the publication by Maxwell of a comprehensive treatise on the unification of electricity and magnetism, which became known as Maxwell’s theory. This theory brought to the scene the first inconsistency of our tale. In fact, it became immediately clear that the electromagnetic theory was inconsistent with the Galilei relativity: electromagnetism was claiming for a new relativity. In response to this claim, and with contributions from Lorentz and Poincaré, Einstein published in 1905 the basics of what is know today as Einstein special relativity. According to this theory, for velocities near the velocity of light, spacetime kinematics would no longer be ruled by Galilei, but by the Poincaré group. Most importantly, electromagnetism was consistent with Einstein special relativity! Mission accomplished? Not quite! Continue reading