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Reading: Does the Mere Notion of a Frozen Light Wave Discredit the Electromagnetic Ether?

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Does the Mere Notion of a Frozen Light Wave Discredit the Electromagnetic Ether?

Author:

Nathaniel F. Sussman

About Nathaniel F.
MSc in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences student. His main fields of interest are include the philosophy of scientific and social scientific methods, the philosophy of physics, and political philosophy.
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Abstract

This paper addresses a current debate in the philosophy of physics, concerning whether and in what sense Albert Einstein's Chasing the Light thought experiment was significant in his development of the theory of special relativity. While Einstein granted this thought experiment pride of place in his 1949 Autobiographical Notes, philosophers and physicists continue to debate what the thought experiment actually establishes. I claim that we ought to think of Chasing the Light as Einstein's first attempt at problematizing the idea of the electromagnetic ether, thereby contributing to his eventual adoption of the light postulate. This interpretation requires one to presuppose the principle of relativity when considering Chasing the Light, and my argument is unique insofar as it provides evidence for the conceptual and historical plausibility of this presumption. My argument directly challenges John D. Norton's compelling claim that Chasing the Light is best understood as a refutation of emission theories of light propagation. While both interpretations of the thought experiment are conceptually coherent, the interpretation found in this paper is more straightforwardly supported by historical evidence.

How to Cite: Sussman, N.F., 2017. Does the Mere Notion of a Frozen Light Wave Discredit the Electromagnetic Ether?. Rerum Causae, 9(2), pp.112–131.
Published on 01 Jul 2017.
Peer Reviewed

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