Drawing the Line Between Kinematics and Dynamics in Special Relativity

Publication Year:
2008
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Repository URL:
http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/3895
Author(s):
Janssen, Michel
conference paper description
In his book, Physical Relativity, Harvey Brown challenges the orthodox view that special relativity is preferable to those parts of Lorentz's classical ether theory it replaced because it revealed various phenomena that were given a dynamical explanation in Lorentz's theory to be purely kinematical. I want to defend this orthodoxy. The phenomena most commonly discussed in this context in the philosophical literature are length contraction and time dilation. I consider three other phenomena of this kind that played a role in the early reception of special relativity in the physics literature: the Fresnel drag effect in the Fizeau experiment, the velocity dependence of electron mass in beta-ray deflection experiments by Kaufmann and others, and the delicately balanced torques on a moving charged capacitor in the Trouton-Noble experiment. I offer historical sketches of how Lorentz's dynamical explanations of these phenomena came to be replaced by their now standard kinematical explanations. I then take up the philosophical challenge posed by the work of Harvey Brown and Oliver Pooley and clarify how those kinematical explanations work.