Specifying the prejudices Absolute space

One prejudice, popular among natural philosophers at the time, was that one could define somewhere an absolute and immovable set of axes, a frame of reference which determines absolute space. This 'absolute' frame of reference provided a fundamental, stationary reference point and gave a meaning to 'absolute motion'. Physical constants, such as the speed of light, would have their 'true value' measured with respect to that absolute frame. To make the idea more concrete, it was assumed that an imaginary substance with no mass, called the 'ether', pervaded the universe, defining a universal stationary medium and providing such an absolute reference frame. It would also give substance to what would otherwise be completely empty space, with nothing in it. One notable argument for the ether was based on the fact that light waves obviously can travel across the universe. It was asserted that these waves, like sound waves, needed some kind of medium through which to propagate.

Absolute time

A second prejudice concerned the notion of time. According to Newton, time is absolute. To quote him: 'it flows by its nature,

'universal' frame

'absolute' clock ether everywhere

'absolute' clock classical model of absolute space and absolute time

Figure 15.2 The 'obvious' model of the universe.

without reference to anything external'. One could imagine somewhere a 'master clock' which shows 'universal time', the same for all.

Pythagoras thought that space was filled with integral finite numbers. Natural philosophers thought that it was filled with 'ether'. They all believed that something must be there.

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