‘Special’ Relatives and Special Relativity

There are two seemingly unrelated issues here, but the timing and the pun are too good to pass up, so let’s travel these twin paths and see where they meet. Yesterday, Hank Williams, Jr. managed to either stick his foot in his mouth, his head up his ass, or pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of doing BOTH simultaneously.

Which brings us to Albert Einstein and the Theory of Special Relativity.

Last week, as the results were published that CERN had clocked neutrinos going FASTER than the speed of light, the entire world of popular science seemed stunned, and uttered the same idiotic phrase over and over again: But relativity PROVES that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

One of my Freshman year math or calculus tests was to derive Einstein’s e = mc² and I’d already read the St. John’s College (Santa Fe) text on deriving it, and, while I forget the math involved (it’s not that rough), what I remember most specifically is that Einstein ASSUMED that the speed of light in a vacuum is constant for all inertial reference points (i.e. if I’m in a car, travelling at, say 200 miles per hour, and I turn my headlights on, the observer will measure my lights at C, or the old 186,000 miles per second, and NOT 186,000 miles per second + 200 miles per hour.

He did the math, and came up with the equations, and came up with predictions that have worked very well to the present day. OK.

Uh, No: you CANNOT prove an assumption of a theory BY that theory. (Or, short Gödel’s Theorum: you can’t prove the consistency of a system BY that system, e.g. you can’t logically PROVE that logic is logical. It is a circular argument.)

Relativity CAN’T prove that the speed of light is immutable and constant, because … that’s the ASSUMPTION used to construct Special Relativity. (And, later, General Relativity.)

Einstein levity while wrestling with gravity

I’m not taking issue with those cornerstones of modern physics, mind you. But I AM pointing out their limitations. Both are still mind-bending, although I am sure that most readers have come in contact with them at one point or another. It is not important that you know all about them, other than to understand that while the science press might believe themselves to be scientifically literate, they are, as evidenced, logically ILLITERATE.

Wikipedia [emphasis added]:

Einstein developed special relativity on the basis of two postulates:

  • First postulate – Special principle of relativity – The laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames of reference. In other words, there are no privileged inertial frames of reference.
  • Second postulate – Invariance of c – The speed of light in a vacuum is independent of the motion of the light source.

Moreover, if you follow the development of Special Relativity (usually with a kinda boring slideshow, film, video or powerpoint) , Einstein’s mental quest begins with disproving that there is an “aether” which propagates light, as air propagates sound, as water propagates waves. After the Michaelson-Morley experiment failed to show the presence of aether, physicists went back to the drawing board, and the one who thought furthest out of the box was Albert Einstein.

He BEGAN by imagining that the speed of light was constant in a vacuum for all observers, and that was the “speed limit” which the equations would later show. But that was the assumption on which the entire intellectual edifice was built, and oddly, scientifically literate people (including physicists) the world ’round seem to think that the theory proved its basic assumption. Thus, the kerfuffle over the CERN faster-than-light neutrino results.

Back in 1905*, the mathematics were derived by Einstein, the papers published, the solar eclipse observations made (by astronomers from the US and UK) and relativity became an accepted “law” of physics, even though most don’t seem to have the foggiest idea what it actually means, even though they generally have no problem applying the equations. (If you feel the unlazy need to educate yourself on the subject, click here.)

Gravity lensing

[* And, Gödel’s Theorum doesn’t show up until 1931, so a lot of early scientific aficionados of Relativity might not have realized that such COULD NOT be proven using a theory that was based on the assumption that they were “proving” using that selfsame theory. ]

All of which is just fine. Relativity only becomes important at the fringes: the very big, very little, very fast and very slow. For most normal garden-variety physics, Newton works just fine. It’s only at the EXTREMES that the weird stuff happens.

Which brings us back to Hank Williams, Jr.


He may be a distant relative — albeit a ‘special’ one — but he may not be at all. The surname doesn’t come from a genetic line, but, rather from a conquest. In 1066, William the Conqueror beat old Harold in the Battle of Hastings, which is the last successful invasion of Britain in recorded history. One of the first things that old Bill the C did was do a census, which required that everyone had a surname. Most were (as in most languages) working or place names: Ford (where you can wade across a river), Cooper (barrel maker), Smith and Smithson. Others, of course, but anybody who’d come over with William became a “William’s” — which could have been anyone from anywhere.

Which is a long way of saying that my ‘special’ maybe/maybe not distant relative Hank Williams, Jr. made some pretty out there comments on Faux Nooz™ yesterday morning, which has been pounced on by anyone with an opinion to push, but what was most important to me has not been commented on, that I know of.

Because it’s about assumptions, as well.

Here’s the video:

‘Fox & F(r)iends

And here was the Memeorandum pundit GoldRush.


This was what shunted me from a physics major to a philosophy major: I noted in the sciences generally, that, while the students “learned” the math and “learned” the physics (or biology, or computer science, for that matter) no instruction WHATSOEVER was given in the scientific method, in the fundamental epistemology of “how do I know what I know?” — which is what epistemology means, in essence.

There was a huge hole in the education, and I thought that taking a basic course in logic, and perhaps an introduction to philosophy would help me understand the nuts and bolts of scientific inquiry. (And it would probably help in debate to understand logical fallacies.)

The initial observation has remained with me, though. We are conducting a twenty-first century science using a seventeenth century philosophical construct. Worse, we generally don’t bother teaching our scientists that Seventeenth Century construct, either figuring that someone else taught it up the line somewhere, or else that it’s so OBVIOUS within the disciplines of mathematics and [INSERT SCIENTIFIC DISCIPLINE NAME HERE] that there’s no need.

Oh, yes. There is a need.

Bad science has consequences

I wish I had a nickel for every astronomer and physicist who has blithely told me “Oh, it’s impossible to travel faster than the speed of light. Relativity proves that.”

Well, allow me a moment of math. We begin with the famous e = mc², or Energy equals Mass multiplied by the (Speed of Light times the Speed of Light).

There was a good reason that Einstein picked that particular speed:

As electricity and magnetism were better explored, it became clear that the two concepts were related. Over time, this work culminated in Maxwell’s equations, a set of four equations that could be used to calculate the entirety of electromagnetism. One of the most interesting results of the application of these equations was that it was possible to construct a self-sustaining wave of electrical and magnetic fields that could propagate through space. When reduced, the math demonstrated that the speed of propagation was dependant on two universal constants, and their ratio was the speed of light. Light was an electromagnetic wave.

We return to the original equation, and, using only high school algebra, when we  solve for M, we get this, factoring in relative velocity (v):

They’ve flown atomic clocks in jets and confirmed that yes, time dilates (same equation solved for T – time):

You don’t need to be an Einstein to see that it’s the same equation. Or even a Lorentz.

What you will notice is that as Velocity (v) approaches the Speed of Light (c), your, say, one pound of mass becomes m divided by zero.

Which “increases to infinity.”

Same thing with time.

We have confirmation of this effect, but at nowhere in normal size approaching the speed of light, so well, nice.

The point here is that the “impossibility” in this approach (which is generally the one my mathematically literate, scientific method illiterate friends give me) is that you can’t divide by zero, which most schoolchildren learn fairly early into Long Division, and after they learn their “Times Tables.”

The point is that it’s a sophomoric mistake, but such is the chauvinism of the scientific press that THIS article appeared shortly after the “impossible” finding that neutrinos were clocking faster than the speed of light:

Proof is in the cosmos: General relativity confirmed (again)
New findings come from study of light from distant galaxies

By Clara Moskowitz
Senior writer, MSNBC
updated 9/28/2011 3:27:00 PM ET

Albert Einstein wins again. His general theory of relativity has proved accurate in predicting how light travels from some of the most distant galaxy clusters in the universe, according to new measurements.

However, the findings still do not disprove an alternative theory of gravity invented to undo the need for dark energy, which is thought to be causing the accelerated expansion of the universe.

The new findings come from a study of light from hundreds of thousands of distant galaxies. General relativity predicts that the wavelength of this light will be shifted by a small amount due to the galaxies’ mass, in an effect called gravitational redshift….

Einstein is now quiet in his grave. Several other items appeared worldwide, attempting to soothe his troubled shade, evidently.

In a hundred years we’ve gone from that Karazee Krackpot Einstein to “Oh NOES! Ze Doktor was …. WRONG!!?!?! Say it’s a prank, Planck!

Still not understanding it much, of course. But ask yourself this: if we hadn’t had the “Faster than light” scare out of CERN, would any of these news outlets bothered writing a story on the Danish scientific paper?

Was Einstein wrong?
Chicago Tribune – Sep 30, 2011
If the speed of light is a constant in the universe, as Albert Einstein famously predicted, then so is this: Researchers always will try to prove Einstein was wrong. The latest in a long line of challengers: scientists at the European Organization for …

Success or failure, for Albert Einstein it’s all relative
The Australian – Sep 29, 2011
One of Albert Einstein’s theories may have been proven wrong last week, but this week another appears to have been validated. Source: AP POOR old Einstein has had a rough few days. It all began with an experiment last week that bizarrely found …

Findings indicate Einstein was right about relativity
Deutsche Welle – Sep 29, 2011
A new Denmark-based study on galaxy clusters provides more evidence for Einstein’s general theory of relativity – which would mean that mysterious ‘dark energy’ probably does exist, although this has yet to be proven. Einstein was right about gravity …

Theory of Relativity Confirmed on Cosmic Scales
Forbes – Sep 29, 2011
I’m a freelance writer and blogger who writes about pretty much everything under the sun, including politics, art, religion, philosophy, sports, music, culture, and science. Here at Forbes, I focus on futurism, cutting edge technology, and breaking …

Galaxy clusters light proves Einstein’s general theory of relativity
Daily Mail – Ted Thornhill – Sep 29, 2011
Last week Albert Einstein’s reputation took a glancing blow from CERN scientists who revealed that they may have fired neutrino particles faster than the speed of light. One of Einstein’s most famous theories – special relativity …

Einstein’s general relativity theory proved again in galaxy clusters
Xinhua – Chen Zhi – Sep 28, 2011?
BEIJING, Sept. 29 (Xinhuanet) — A new study has accurately proved Einstein’s general relativity theory again on cosmic scales. The study, led by astrophysicist Radoslaw Wojtak from University of Copenhagen, was published in Thursday’s issue of the …

Stars say relativity still works
Register – Richard Chirgwin – Sep 28, 2011
The Special Theory of Relativity may be under re-evaluation following CERN’s astonishing neutrino observations, but over in the world of astronomy, general relativity has had another reconfirmation from …

Albert Einstein in 1912

Einstein has had a rough few days.
Brisbane Times – Sep 28, 2011
It all began with an experiment last week that bizarrely found sub-atomic particles called neutrinos appear to move faster than the speed of light. The speed of light was enshrined in 1905 by Einstein as the Universe’s speed limit. …

Proof is in the cosmos: General relativity confirmed (again)
msnbc.com – Clara Moskowitz – Sep 28, 2011
Albert Einstein wins again. His general theory of relativity has proved accurate in predicting how light travels from some of the most distant galaxy clusters in the universe, according to new measurements. …

Galaxy Clusters Back Up Einstein’s Theory of Relativity
Wired News – Yudhijit Bhattacharjee – Sep 28, 2011
By ScienceNow By Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, ScienceNOW Testing gravity is simple: walk out of a second-floor window and see what happens. It’s a lot tougher to test Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity — the general theory of relativity — which says that …


What is so “threatening” about those neutrinos that sudden trumpeting of Great Einstein thumps its chest around the globe? Get the hence, damned Neutrinos! Thou shalt not cast aspersions on Saint Albert of Geniusland.

Whatever it is, it is NOT science, which says: I may never know THE answer, but I will know ever better and better answers. Right now, Relativity gives the best answers. Three hundred years from now? One doubts it.

There is a strange scientific conservatism here: hanging on irrationally — some might say ‘desperately’ — to a hundred-year-old physics paradigm that few seem to actually understand in any kind of organic manner. But we cleave to it because … it’s tradition?

Which brings us back to Hank Williams, Jr.


The main thrust of the blog coverage is either to engage in ad hominems (offense) or somehow shoehorn “Black Panthers” or “Rev. Wright” into the conversation, and while one is often amused or surprised at the incredible inventiveness shown in these pursuits, I don’t think that anyone is actually getting the point, which has nothing to do with “Hitler.” Popular was the assertion that Williams was “drunk.” But, as we all know, drunk doesn’t make you dishonest. It makes you TOO honest, which leads to the kerfuffle about what Williams* actually said.

Oliver Cromwell

[* The original American Williams come from two general strands, the Welsh Williams — according to my friend Peter Williams —  who seem to have come more through Virginia and the Carolinas (my branch), and what I call the Northern Williams, who come from the English Civil War. Later, a lot of Welsh Williams ended up emgrating from the Welsh coal mines to the Pennsylvania coal mines, but that’s another story.

These New England Williams were the winners of the battle between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers. When Cromwell died (Cromwell was a Williams) his family and his religious group — the Williams and the Puritans and the Puritan Williams — found it increasingly a good idea to move to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which perhaps explains why Boston was always “the first to break the King’s law!” as was charged.

That branch of the Williams family can still be traced in genealogy hunts, as one of the male children will invariably be named “Such-and-such Cromwell Williams. However, as the gene pool was already hopelessly confused by the time of American emigration, I maintain that ALL Williams are welcome in the clan, including Black Williams, who have been, as their namesakes, fruitful and multiplied. In that sense, I have a ‘special’ relative named “Hank Williams.”]

The point is the assumptions.

2006 arrest mugshot

What Hank Williams, Jr. said ASSUMED that the Faux Nooz F(r)iends were sympatico. Williams assumed that nobody would object to his comparison that Obama and Boehner playing golf together was just like “Hitler and Netanyahu” playing golf together.

When they took exception and gave him the opportunity to walk it back, he uncomprehendingly doubled down, again, assuming that in the company he keeps, such statements aren’t anything unusual, or controversial, and hey, EVERYBODY WHO WATCHES FOX NEWS KNOWS THIS.

It is his assumption that his views were uncontroversial, that calling President Obama (and, by extension, all who voted for him) “the enemy” and then justifying his statements with “it’s polarized” (and we all know it. Geez. What’s wrong with you guys?)

It is a cosmic meat thermometer stuck deep in the sinew of the Heartland, and if old Hank, Junior was drunk, the reading is even more accurate, since he wasn’t bein’ “politic.”

Let me tell you a secret: the “N-word” is spoken secretly in numbers far outweighing the rare public utterance of the word. And the hatred of our president and for those who were once “liberals” but are now “leftists,” as the liver-spotted hands of the dying oligarchs reach back into their youth for mud to smear their enemies with.

Leftists. Communists. Socialists. Class warfare.

These are the epithets of the 1920s and 1930s, echoed for a time in the 1950s.

But it is the assumption that Hank Williams, Jr. makes in his Fox meltdown that gives us the temperature of what’s being said behind closed doors, and in bars, on tour buses, at truck stops and secluded Aspen hideaways.

And that assumption is what disturbs me. Not the “Hitler” thing. (Godwin’s Law, etc. Google it — but not “Santorum.” Seriously.)

The assumption that everybody knows this stuff, and you’re in the gang, Fox.

Which is why, perhaps, it’s so damned funny to watch the morning team move into damage control mode and clearly not managing the mushrooming kerfuffle.

Journalism isn’t what’s being sold here

But it gives a temperature reading, and things are hot. When you’re talking about record guns and ammo sales, that’s not a hopeful thing.

Because it’s an innocent, unblinkered testament to polarization.

Here’s Rolling Stone’s story on Hank’s Hitler Huff

And division.

Which brings us back to Albert Einstein, and dividing by zero.


You see, when you divide by zero, anything becomes possible. You can even prove that two equals one:

Two Equals One?

© Copyright 1997, Jim Loy

You may have seen this little proof that 2=1:

     a = x            [true for some a's and x's]
   a+a = a+x          [add a to both sides]
    2a = a+x          [a+a = 2a]
 2a-2x = a+x-2x       [subtract 2x from both sides]
2(a-x) = a+x-2x       [2a-2x = 2(a-x)]
2(a-x) = a-x          [x-2x = -x]
     2 = 1            [divide both sides by a-x]

You may doubt that 2=1. So, where is the mistake? Think about it. […]

Oh, whoops. I already gave away the punchline.

And distant relative Hank Williams, Jr.? Well, he’s ‘special.’



A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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