[pictured: Hendrik Lorentz by Menso Kamerlingh Onnes (1860–1925) ]
Isaac Newton believed that Space “always remains similar and immovable.” Einstein contended that, au contraire, Space bunches and bends. Newton thought that objects would not affect the characteristics of Space, that Space just keeps on being Space “without regard to anything external.” Einstein directly opposed this conjecture, insisting that objects cause distortions in the Space around them.
However, even Newton recognized that motion is something steeped in relativity. In The Science Of Mechanics, Mach quotes Newton as admitting, with an air of regret, that “it may be that there is no body really at rest to which the places and motions of others can be referred.”
I feel like Newton is unfairly maligned by high school and even college teachers as someone who discounted the notion of relativity, and that it took Albert Einstein to overturn this wrong and biased notion accepted on faith by all mankind, just as they teach that it took Galileo to show people that Aristotle was wrong and that, actually, heavier objects do NOT fall faster than lighter ones. However, the idea that motion is relative was not exactly a new idea by the time Einstein hit the scene in the early 20th century.
Besides Newton’s own view stated above (that ALL objects could be imagined to be moving only relatively to other objects), we know that in the 18th century Kant had already kicked the legs out from our idea of Absolute Time with his philosophy that Cause-and-Effect is merely a mental construct… thus, without any trustable standard of time, motions cannot be measured in any absolute sense.
And Hendrik Lorentz, with his equations at the end of the 19th century (the Lorentz Equations), laid the foundations and first 99 floors of Einstein’s theoretical edifice. It was Lorentz who first proposed, and supported with mathematical precision, that Time and Distance changed with velocity. Einstein just took this ball and ran with it (the last yard needed of ten).
Ernst Mach, writing several decades ahead of Einstein’s triumphs, wrote that “all masses and all velocities and, consequently, all forces are relative.”
According to Mach, we can conceive of absolute motion, as an ideal, but we have never, ever experienced it.
“The properties of one mass always include relations to other masses,” explains Mach. “Every single body of the Universe stands in some definite relations with every other body in the Universe.” Therefore, no object can “be regarded as wholly isolated.” And even in the simplest case, “the neglecting of the rest of the world is impossible.”
So much for the notion that Einstein bestowed upon the world the idea of relativity.
One of the implications of Mach’s theory of Total Interconnectedness is that experiments are automatically limited in their scope… We can, for instance, never know how two objects would affect each other in complete isolation… the Universe is just too irredeemably interconnected for that.
As for Newton’s Absolute Space, Mach asserted that if it exists, humans can have no knowledge of it. For Mach, Absolute Space– and thus, Absolute Motion– “are pure things of thought, pure mental constructs.”
Mach contended that “the motions of the Universe are the same whether we adopt the Ptolemaic or the Copernican mode of view” of the Solar System, and “both views are, indeed, equally correct.” The geocentric and the heliocentric views are merely two “interpretations” of a Universe that “is only given once.”