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History of the Visual Physics Project

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Original Idea

I had the basic idea on which the Special Relativity Simulation is built many years ago, back in 1971, when I was 17 years old. At that time I heard of "curved spacetime" for the first time, and as I was trying to understand what it is I had a very clear picture of a vertical time axis and, perpendicular to that, a horizontal space axis; and the accompanying thought that if all points of the space axis are projected on the same point of the time axis (that is, if the space axis is perpendicular to the time axis, which means that all its points have the same time coordinate), this spacetime is non curved (it is Galilean). If, however, the points of the space axis have different projections on the time axis (which means they have different time coordinates), this spacetime can be "curved". (Although there is also the theoretical case of a space axis that is a straight line that meets the time axis not perpendicularly but at an angle.)

This idea remained in the back of my mind ever since, but I had no way of checking if it is correct or not. I have been using computers in my work since the early days of DOS (I am a professional translator, see my user page and my translation site Translator Pro). My first PC was an Amstrad 1512 with BW monitor and two 5" drives for 512K floppy disks, and of course those days our word-processing program was Volkswriter. As time went by, PCs got better, and at some point I got my hands on Excel. I realized that it would allow me to check my idea, but I had to wait again until I could learn to use it. Of course, all this was slow progress as I could only work on this on my spare time, which, as any freelancer knows, is practically nonexistent. After I familiarized myself with Excel, I was able to graph my idea and I saw that most probably it was correct. However, the picture was far from clear.

Easy Java Simulations

The big break came when I was googling for a simulation software that would allow me to put a working simulation on a web page, and I came upon Easy Java Simulations (Ejs for short), a program that is part of the Open Source Physics project and was built by Dr. Francisco Esquembre, Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Murcia, Spain. This solved the problem of presenting my ideas in the form of a web simulation (something that you cannot do with Excel or other even more advanced programs), and that made me decide to have a go at trying to build a simulation that would present my ideas.

August 2005: Visual Physics Site

Ejs has a different philosophy than Excel, and it made me think more clearly what I was trying to say. It took me about 2 weeks to build the first version of the simulation (SpecialRelativityV1, which only shows the bodies of each system without depicting their coordinate systems), and 2 more weeks to build the web page that hosted the applet (learning Java, HTML and Javascript as I went), as well as the explanatory pages of text. I finished the first version of the simulation on August 30, 2005, and I uploaded it on this domain, www.visual-physics.com, that I registered on the same day.

September-October 2005: Efforts at Feedback

The same day, August 30, I informed Dr. Esquembre about the simulation, and I posted a short message at sci.physics.relativity and sci.physics.research (it appeared on September 1 and 2 respectively), where it attracted a lot of visitors from universities and research centers, as well as a dismissive comment by an avid poster of these groups.

During September 2005, I started sending emails to known physicists, asking them to look at the site. I will not mention any names, I would not want to embarrass any of them SmileWP.gif. I started with 5 isolated people. Only one of them visited the site for 5-6 minutes, and then answered my email without commenting on what I am proposing. He just said to let him know if I do a general relativity simulation. (I have to note though, to his credit, that he is one of the most famous, and even this was more of a response than I got from most other physicists, who did not bother answering.) Then I emailed some of the physicists who have contributed to Living Reviews in Relativity, but I had no answer.

I realized that what seemed like obvious conclusions to me may not be as obvious to others, so I started working again on the simulation. I built SpecialRelativityV2, that also depicts the axes (the coordinate system) of the body of each system, as well as the axes calculated on the basis of the Lorentz transformation, and it shows, convincingly I think, that the latter are produced by the projection of the axes I propose for the Moving Body (or Moving Observer, if you like) on the x axis of the Stationary Body (or Stationary Observer). And this proves that the phenomena of Special Relativity are due to the curved expanding universe. I uploaded this version on October 30, 2005. On the same day I sent a new email through a mailing list to a number of physicists, again most of them authors who had contributed to Living Reviews in Relativity, as well as to the 10 editors of the journal. Again I had a few visits but no response.

November 2005: Closing Down the Site

The site had several hits that were not from universities, so that I do not know who these people were. Then I started having hits from some group discussion in Orkut, which I could not follow since I am not a member. And so at some point in November of 2005 I closed down the site putting up a blank homepage that said that access to the site is restricted. For a while I stopped thinking about this project.

Spring-Summer 2006: Reopening the Site, Publication Efforts, Feedback

However I could not abandon it. Besides, I had a few more simulations that I wanted to build on the basis of some other ideas I had had in the meantime. I decided to write a paper with the basic views presented by the simulation and try to deposit it at arxiv.org or publish it somewhere. I wrote the paper and I opened again the site. I also made a minor correction to the simulation, that brought it up to the 2.1 version. On May 17, 2006, I uploaded the paper to arxiv, and on May 19 it was rejected. The reason was that, since I have no institute affiliation, I should at least have an endorsement.

I made a new version of the paper with black & white figures and I submitted it to IOP on June 4, 2006. It was rejected on June 5 ("we do not publish this type of article in any of our journals"). On the same day, June 5, I submitted it at the PhilSci Archive. It was rejected on June 7 ("lies outside material suitable for our philosophy of science preprint archive").

Since I was obviously considered a crackpot, I decided to try my luck among others who have unconventional views. So I sent an email to a "maverick" professor at Cambridge, and to two proponents of Euclidean Relativity. The professor downloaded the paper, but did not answer. The same with the first of the "Euclideans". The second, however, wrote right away with his objections, explaining why what I am proposing is impossible. (I was not convinced.) But he also made a valuable comment, that the simulation is not very intuitive and that I should add some buttons that would play some predefined simulations. I implemented his suggestion building the "running" simulation that shows the formation of the axes in "real time". Also on June 7, 2006, I submitted a post to the Independent Research Forum of Physics Forums. (It was rejected on November 5, 2006: "There is no clear distinction between the submission and currently accepted theory". Also, "there needs to be a discussion of experimental results within the proposal". I did not resubmit.)

On June 8 I sent again an email to the authors of Living Reviews in Relativity about the paper, without any response. I started sending emails at two or three people at a time. Some came and downloaded the paper, but no one answered. On June 12 I emailed a physicist at CERN who is also working on Special Relativity. He downloaded the paper but disagreed with my conclusions and stated that he cannot endorse it for arxiv. His objections also did not convince me, since he had not viewed the simulation. What I am proposing is very different from the way people are used to think about Special Relativity, and it seems that this makes the whole thing incomprehensible.

Summer 2006-Spring 2007: Blog and "Physics Portal"

As a last step, I decided to make a blog so that visitors would be able to leave their comments even anonymously, if they do not want to use email. I opened an account in Blogger, and in July 2006 I made my first post, About the Aims of This Site. The blog was hosted in this site (not in Blogger's servers). Also I started playing around with an idea that I had for some time, building a site that would have a wiki and a forum besides the blog, essentially a portal for collaborative theory development.

I first turned to Community Server, a windows based program that offered blogs and forums. The problem was that it did not offer content management, and it did not have a wiki yet. The development of a wiki plugin had started, but it was taking forever. So I started looking around for other options in the LAMP platform (linux-apache-mysql-php). The main solutions were the main Content Management Systems, Xoops, Drupal and Mambo-Joomla. When I saw that Joomla had a special component that integrated MediaWiki, Mambowiki, I decided to use it. I installed Joomla and Mambowiki, configured and customized it, worked out several problems I had, and started adding content. I installed also Simple Machines Forum (SMF), integrated with Joomla through a bridge. However, Mambowiki had several limitations which, although not critical, were annoying enough.

So I started from scratch, installing Mediawiki, something I had not dared to do from the start because I thought it would be beyond my capabilities. I was wrong however. Everything went fine, I was able to work out some problems I had (one of which was the integration of MediaWiki and SMF, so that users don't have to log in twice), and the result was much better. Also, I was able to export the wiki pages I had added in the previous Joomla-Mambowiki installation, and import them in Mediawiki. The new integrated site went live in January 2007, while in February I switched the blog from Blogger to WordPress, which is an altogether better solution.

Winter 2007: Guest Post at Tommaso Dorigo's Blog: Extrinsic Relativity

Except for small technical improvements of the site, the only important event for the Visual Physics Project was my Guest Post at Tommaso Dorigo's Blog in November 2007. Tommaso Dorigo is a research scientist at the National Institute of Nuclear Research of Italy, who works at the University of Padova and maintains a prominent blog in English. He is open minded enough to advocate that

doing science does not necessarily require a PhD and a desk in a University office, and that ideas and theories are not crackproof or crackpotty, but just right or wrong.

(In this connection, he had also published in his blog a great story titled "Cracked Pots" which is well worth reading.)

So Tommaso started a series of guest posts at his blog, some from mainstream scientists, some from "alternative theorists" with high academic credentials, and some from "alternative theorists" with no academic credentials, aka "crackpots" (I belong to the third group). He graciously accepted my submission entitled Extrinsic Relativity, which he posted on November 16 and you can see in the link above. I have also copied it to a page of the Visual Physics Wiki: Guest Post at Tommaso Dorigo's Blog: Extrinsic Relativity.


See also