Thread-breaking experiment

This experiment is generally known as Bell's Spaceship Experiment because it involves two accelerating spaceships joined by a thread under slight tension (as in Fig. 1). About 1976 John Bell described the experiment to physicists at CERN's Theory Division and asked them to predict whether or not a gradual, identical acceleration of the two ships, and the resulting change in the ships' velocity, would cause the thread to break.  Bell found that, "There emerged a clear consensus that the thread would not break!" This incorrect response from capable physicists is understandable because relativity theory obscures the physical causes responsible for the experimental result.

A more detailed version of Bell's experiment will be described below. It will be apparent that the quantum medium view (i.e. qm view) provides logical physical causes for the experimental result, and that anyone aware of these physical causes would predict the correct result.

The experiment
Two space stations, represented by the black rectangles in Fig. 1, are floating in remote space without relative motion. They are 1 light-second (ls) apart. Thus the time required for round-trip light signals between the laser ranging instruments located at the centers of the space stations is exactly 2 seconds (s) according to the instruments' atomic clocks. This distance is automatically maintained by the instruments, which control thrusters for correcting deviations from 1 ls. The space stations are aligned at the 0 ls and 1 ls locations on the x axis of the space station reference frame, as shown.

Two spaceships with short masts near their centers are parked next to the space stations. A thread capable of stretching one part in ten million before breaking is put under slight tension and clamped to the masts. Therefore, the thread can be stretched 30 meters (m) before breaking. We would like to determine if and when the thread will break if the two spaceships begin accelerating at the same time and with the same low acceleration along a line parallel to the thread and x axis of the space stations. For convenience we will assume an acceleration of 1E−8 c/s or 3 m/s or about .3 g, but it could be much less.

The clocks aboard the ships and space stations are synchronized with one another via radio signals broadcast from a master clock aboard the space station at the 0 ls location. For example, if the master clock broadcasts its −1000 s time, the clocks at the 1 ls location are automatically set to −999 s. This procedure allows for the 1 s signal travel time. The clock aboard the ship next to the master clock is automatically set to the broadcast time because the signal travel time is insignificant.

At a prearranged time, when all the clocks read 0 s, the ships begin accelerating toward two distant space stations aligned with stations 0 and 1 but parked at the 50 ls and 51 ls locations, as shown in Fig 2. Because the spaceships begin accelerating at the same time and accelerate with exactly the same observed acceleration relative to the space stations, the rearward ship will reach the 50 ls location when the forward ship reaches the 51 ls location. This arrival of the ships at the 50 ls and 51 ls locations is simultaneous according to these space stations' clocks which display identical times when the ships arrive. The clocks aboard the ships should also remain synchronized with one another because they experienced the same acceleration at the same time, and there was no reason for one to advance more or less than the other.

Expected results of the experiment according to relativity theory
According to relativity theory, observers aboard space stations 50 and 51 should observe a broken thread as the spaceships pass due to the thread's contraction as a result of its high speed motion relative to the space stations. On the other hand, in the reference frame of the spaceships the thread will not contract due to relative motion and there is no reason for the spacing between the ships to deviate from the fixed spacing of the space stations if they both start accelerating at the same time and both have the same acceleration relative to the space stations. Therefore, the thread should not break. Possibly these two conflicting pictures contributed to the disagreement among the CERN physicists.

Conflicting observations of distances, times, and masses by observers moving relative to one another are an inherent characteristic of relativity theory and the constant-light-speed-c assumption on which special relativity is based. The qm view shows why the illusion of light speed, c, is a consequence of a qm through which all mass/energy is propagated in the form of oscillations of the qm. The qm view does not result in conflicting observations.

The experiment in the qm view
The qm view shows why the thread will break. The explanation is not simple because it involves four reference frames in which the time and distance observations depend on the reference frames' velocities through the quantum medium (qm) and the observers' light-speed-c assumption. The four reference frames include the qm reference frame, the reference frame of the space station system (sss) and the reference frames of the rearward and forward spaceships (ssr) and (ssf). The reference frame of the qm is the absolute frame through which energy quanta (e.g. photons/light) travel at a maximum absolute speed ca, when not slowed by mass/energy (e.g. air) or by the proximity of massive bodies (e.g. stars). This maximum speed through the qm (ca) is a fundamental physical constant in the qm view.

The explanation requires the use of absolute units of time and distance determined in the absolute reference frame. An absolute second (sa) is a second according to a standard cesium atomic clock at rest in the qm and not slowed by any environmental influence (e.g. the mass of our galaxy). The primary unit of distance in the qm view is the absolute light-second (LS) which is the distance that light with absolute velocity ca travels through the qm in one sa. An absolute meter (ma) is (1 / 299792458) LS, and for convenience we will say 1 LS = 3E8 ma.

Systems sss, ssr, and ssf will be moving through the qm with different speeds which cause physical effects in their systems. The primary effect of a system's motion through the qm is the variation in the speeds of light (and energy quanta in general) in the system. For example, for a reference frame or system having a velocity of va= .001 ca through the qm, the speeds of light (and energy quanta in general) through the frame or system range from .999 ca in the direction of va to 1.001 ca in the opposite direction.

A simple example
The simplest case for the experiment is when the reference frame of the space station system, sss, is at rest in the qm. This reduces the number of reference frames to two and it results in the observers in frame sss observing the absolute phenomena occurring in the qm because, in this case, the speed of light in sss is constant and isotropic as the observers assume. Figure 3 shows this case at absolute time, ta=0 sa, where ta means a particular absolute time throughout the qm.

Only in this special case where the absolute velocity of sss is zero (i.e. vsssa = 0 ca, as shown) are the clocks aboard the spaceships and space stations absolutely synchronized. And only in this case do the sss clocks keep absolute time. This is shown in Fig. 3 where the seconds (s) on the space station clocks, shown next to the space stations, agree with the absolute seconds (sa), shown in the gray bar which contains the absolute reference frame information. Figure 3 also shows that when vsssa=0 ca, the ls distance scale in sss agrees with the LS distance scale in the qm.

When all the clocks read 0 s as shown, the spaceships begin a constant 1E−8 c/s acceleration. During the first 14142 s of travel, the ships move 1 ls in the +x direction, and after 20000 s they have traveled 2 ls in reference frame sss. After 100 000 s, or about 28 hours, the spaceships pass the space stations at the 50 ls and 51 ls locations in sss, as shown in Fig. 4.  At this 100 000 s time the observers with the spaceships and space stations all determine that the velocity of ssr and ssf relative to sss is .001 c. This also happens to be the .001 ca absolute velocity of the ships and thread through the qm (because sss is at rest in the qm) and it causes a lengthwise contraction of the ships and thread. It does not cause a contraction of the distance between the masts on the ships because nothing occurs that would cause a change in this distance.

The contraction of the ships and thread and a slowing of the clocks aboard ssr and ssf is determined via the physical change ratio (rv) in the following equation where va is the absolute velocity of the ships and thread through the qm, which is .001 ca because in this case the observed relative velocity between the spaceships and the space stations system is also the absolute relative velocity.
According to the rv equation (and logical, physical causes explained by the qm view) the systems of matter comprising the thread and the ships (i.e. molecules, atoms, subatomic mass/energy systems) contract in the va direction to about .999 9995 times their length when at rest in the qm. Had the thread been lightly clamped at ssr so it could pull away before breaking, it would have contracted to .999 9995 LS. This is a .000 0005 LS or 150 absolute meter (ma) contraction. Therefore, if tightly clamped at ssr, the thread will break when it is near the 10 ls or 10 LS distance in the sss reference frame, when the thread's contraction will be 30 ma. Had ssr been accelerating relative to sss and had ssf maintained a constant virtual 1 ls distance from ssr, then the 1 LS distance between the masts at time ta=0 sa would also have contracted during the acceleration, and the thread would not have broken.

As pictured in Fig. 4, the time in system ssr and ssf for a round-trip light signal between the masts, which are 1 ls apart in system sss, is more than 2 s. This is because the speed of light from ssr to ssf is .999 ca due to their .001 ca speed through the qm, so light from ssr takes (1 LS / .999 ca) or 1.001001... sa to travel to ssf. And light from ssf takes (1 LS / 1.001 ca) or .999000999000... sa to travel to ssr, so the round-trip time is about 2.000002 sa. This is (2.000002 sa * .999 9995) s or 2.000001 s on clocks ssr and ssf. Therefore, observers on the ships who assume constant light speed, c, would observe that the ships are 1.000 0005 ls apart and therefore increased their separation by about .000 0005 ls or 150 m during the acceleration.

This observed increase in distance between the spaceships is an illusion that would lead the observers to believe that the thread broke due to an increase in the distance between the ships. Had the thread been lightly clamped at ssr and pulled free, the observers aboard ssr and ssf would have observed an illusion of the thread having a constant 1 ls length during the acceleration.

The real cause of the actual, absolute contraction of the thread is the change in energy-exchange rates within and between the atoms of the thread (and ssr and ssf) due to the .001 ca increase in their absolute velocity. This is explained in the qm view introduction videos and elsewhere on the qm view website, and will not be discussed here.

A complex example
A second and last example of the causes of the thread breaking will be more complex because system sss will be moving in the −x direction through the qm with a constant absolute velocity of −.002 ca. Via the rv equation, this vsssa=−.002 ca velocity results in a .999998 LS spacing between the centers of space stations 0 and 1, which are 1 ls apart in sss, as shown in Fig 5. In this case the observers aboard the space stations and spaceships who assume constant light speed, c, will make exactly the same observations and the thread will break at the same location in frame sss, but the causes of the break are different. In this case the spaceships and thread experience a decreasing absolute velocity as they accelerate in the +x direction through sss while moving in the −x direction through the qm. This decrease in absolute velocity of the spaceships increases the thread's length.

Figure 5 shows the situation at time ta=0 sa, .002 s after ssf began accelerating. The observers aboard the space stations and spaceships observe that all the clocks are synchronized and that both spaceships started accelerating at the same time. The reason that the clocks reading .002 s appear synchronized to the observers at the 0 ls location in sss is that light from the .002 s clocks takes (.999998 LS / .998 ca) or 1.002 sa to reach the 0 ls observers when their clocks read 1.002 s, as the observers expect. This same phenomenon, in which the observers are unintentional participants, is responsible for the virtual synchronization and absolute asynchronization of all the other clocks in sss, including those at the 50 ls and 51 ls locations, as shown.

The absolute asynchronization of the clocks results in ssf starting its acceleration .002 s (approx. .002000004 sa) before ssr starts. And this results in an absolute velocity of ssf relative to the absolute velocity of ssr (vssfssra) of approximately 1.999996E−11 ca during the ships' travels through system sss. After approximately 100000.10 sa, ssr has moved from sss0 to sss50, and clock sss50 has advanced 99999.9 s from .1 s to 100000 s, as shown in figures 5 and 6.

Figure 6 shows that ssf has passed sss51 by about .000002 LS at time ta=100000.10 sa. At this absolute time the distance between the masts has increased approximately .000002 LS or 600 ma, and the absolute velocity of the spaceships and thread decreased by about .000999997 ca (from −.002 ca to −.001000003 ca). This change in absolute velocity of the thread resulted in a change in the thread's physical change ratio, rv, from about .9999980 to about .9999995, which would have caused an increase in the thread's length of about .0000015 LS or 450 ma had the thread been lightly clamped at ssr so it could pull free rather than break.

Figure 6 shows the real phenomena occurring in the qm (e.g. the 600 ma increase in distance between the masts). Observers who assume constant light speed, c, observe various virtual phenomena that depend on their reference frames. Observers on the spaceships observe that the distance between the masts gradually increases by 150 m during the acceleration. They observe that prior to acceleration the ships' masts were 1 ls apart and that when ssr is at sss50 the masts are 1.0000005 ls apart. This observed .0000005 ls or 150 m virtual increase in the distance between the masts is the same virtual increase in distance observed aboard the spaceships in the simple example.

The observers in reference frame sss see different virtual phenomena, as shown in Fig. 7. They see the ships' masts still 1 ls apart when the ships pass sss50 and sss51 at time 100000 s.  And if the thread had been lightly clamped at ssr so it could pull free, the observers in sss would have observed a 150 ls virtual contraction of the thread during the 100000 s acceleration of the spaceships and thread. Therefore, all the observers aboard the space stations and spaceships would have observed a net 150 m foreshortening of the thread relative to the masts. This is the same observed foreshortening relative to the masts that occurred in the simple example.

Although observers aboard the spaceships and space stations will observe the thread breaking, they will disagree on the reasons for the breaking. In keeping with their assumption of constant light speed, c, they will probably attribute the breaking to relative motion. The qm view shows that the reasons are more complex than relative motion. Observers who understand the qm view will agree on the reasons for the thread breaking, and they will agree on the phenomena occurring during the experiment.

If you try other combinations of absolute velocities of system sss and observed velocities of the spaceships relative to sss, you should get similar results. We think you will find that the qm view provides a satisfactory explanation for the thread breaking and that no one who understands the explanation would be led to believe the thread would not break. The qm view shows why the relative motion explanation for observed length changes is misleading and causes paradoxes and confusion, even among experts at CERN.

The above explanation is complicated because it involves several reference frames, each with it's own standards of time and distance. Much of the complication disappears when observers in different reference frames agree on an approximate absolute reference frame. A logical candidate for an approximate or provisional absolute frame is a coordinate system in which the pattern of cosmic microwave background radiation is most symmetrical and non-rotating. All observers can then know their provisional absolute velocities and physical change ratios in this provisional frame, which permits them to have the same standards of time, distance, and mass and be in complete agreement on all their observations, which will closely approximate the absolute phenomena occurring in the qm. The reality on which all the observers agree will not change when the observers change their velocity. This agreement on times, distances, and masses in the universe avoids the complexity, confusion and irrationality caused by assuming constant light speed, c.

Bell's thread-breaking experiment is one of many examples where the qm view provides physical causes for otherwise inexplicable phenomena. It is part of a large body of evidence supporting this view and showing that constant light speed, c, is an illusion having a complex combination of causes that are consequences of energy quanta propagating through a quantum medium. If the qm view is not correct, and all mass/energy is not comprised of oscillations of a qm, then the fact that the logical consequences of this qm explain a wide range of poorly understood phenomena including light speed, c, inertia, and gravity is a remarkable coincidence.

1.  J. S. Bell,  Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics  (Cambridge University Press, ed 2, 2004, pg 68)
2. More specifically, the light containing the .002 s time on the clocks at the 1 ls location moves in the −x direction in sss with an absolute relative velocity of cr=(1 ca − .002 ca) =.998 ca. Therefore, the light takes 1.0020020040060120200400701402525 sa to reach the 0 ls location which is (rvsss · 1 ls) =.999997999997999995999989999972 LS away. During this time, the 0 ls clocks advance from 0 s to (rvsss · 1.0020020040060120200400701402525 sa) =1.002 s. (rvsss = .999997999997999995999989999972 per rv equation.)
3. A convenient "Rule" for determining the absolute asynchronization of virtually synchronized clocks is as follows: In any inertial reference frame moving through the qm, two clocks which have been virtually synchronized are out of sync by an amount equal to the absolute velocity of the reference frame times the observed, virtual ls distance between the clocks in the direction of absolute motion. The forward clock is set retarded relative to the rearward clock.
4. The reasons for the observed 1.000 0005 ls separation of the masts are as follows: The masts are 1 LS apart, as shown in Fig. 6.  A round-trip light signal between them takes 2.000 002 000 014 sa because the speed of light from ssr to ssf is .998999996999997 sa and the speed from ssf to ssr is 1.001000003000003 sa. The physical change ratio, rv, for the clocks aboard the spaceships is .99999949999687 because their absolute velocity is −.001000003000003 ca. Therefore, the time for a round-trip light signal according to the ships' clocks is 2.000 001 s, which means that the virtual distance between the masts is 1.000 0005 s.
5. For example, in 3 steps: 1. An observer at sss50 or sss51 will observe the thread (and ships) pass with a virtual relative velocity of vssrsss=.0009999990 c (because vsssa=−.002 ca and vssra=−.00100000300 ca and vssrsss=(vsssa−vssra) / (1−(vsssa·vssra)) per the virtual relative velocity equation on Equations page.)  2. The absolute time for the thread to pass the observer is the absolute length of the thread (which is rv for the thread =.99999949999687 LS per footnote 3.) divided by the absolute velocity of the thread relative to vsssa (which is vssra−vsssa =.000999996999997 ca), which quotient is 1000.002500007370 sa, or an elapsed time on the observer's clock of rvsss · 1000.002500007370 sa or 1000.000500000370 s.  3. Therefore, the observed thread length at sss50 or sss51 is .0009999990 c · 1000.00050000037 s or .99999949999987 ls or 5E−7 ls less than 1 ls, which is a virtual contraction of 150 m.

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