Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Janne M. Sjodahl: Signs of the Time [Albert Einstein]

Janne M. Sjodahl: Signs of the Time [Albert Einstein]

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 08, 2009


By J.M. Sjodahl


The newspapers have told us that the celebrated scientist, Professor Albert Einstein, at present is located in a modest bungalow at Pasadena, Cal., for the purpose of putting some of his ideas of the structure of the universe to scientific tests. The professor maintains, as is well known, that we are living in a world in which everything has four dimensions instead of only three. Time he considers as the fourth dimension. Every object, accordingly, must be regarded as having a time-dimension as well as length, breadth and height. This is part of his theory of the structure of the universe.


As far back as the 6th century, B.C., the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, taught that the earth and other planets move around a central “fire.” He has not left the world any written documents, now known, but through his disciples it is learned that he considered the universe as an harmonious whole, whose moving, luminous orbs actually produce heavenly music – a beautiful thought preserved in the poetic expression, “the harmony of the spheres.”

Then came Ptolemy, the Alexandrian philosopher, in the second century, A.D., and taught an incredulous world that our earth is the center of the universe around which the heavens and all the celestial orbs revolve from east to west in 24 hours. According to this view, seven luminaries, the moon, mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have, besides, motions of their own.

The next world-plan was drawn by Copernicus who, in the year 1530, demonstrated that it is the sun that is the central pivot around which the earth and other planets revolve. That comes pretty near being a return to the two thousand year old idea of Pythagoras’ central “fire.”

Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, La Place and others, perfected the system of Copernicus, and Sir Isaac Newton, through his discovery of the universal law of gravitation, made it possible to complete the plan of the universe as we all know it, to some extent, from our school days. Now, Professor Einstein is about to enrich the knowledge of mankind with another plan.


I do not claim to comprehend his theory in every detail, but, as far as I have been able to follow his arguments, which are to a large extent expressed in Algebraic formulae, I understand him to maintain that the wonderful movements of the celestial orbs, as explained by astronomers, are only apparent. We are, as it were, sitting in a rapidly moving railroad car. We see the objects near the track moving in a direction opposite to ours, while objects farther away seem to be moving in the same direction as we. But all this is only optical delusion.

The velocity and the direction of a body in motion depends entirely on the point of observation. Dr. Einstein expresses this principle of “relativity” thus:

”The carriage is in motion relative to the embankment.”

“The embankment is in motion relative to the carriage.”

These are his own words, and they seem to take it for granted that the apparent motion of the embankment is as real as the motion of the train, depending on the point of view we occupy. And yet, it seems to me very clear that, while I can go from Salt Lake City to Ogden, sitting in a railroad car moving in that direction, I cannot return to Salt Lake City by sitting on the embankment, no matter what point of view I take.

How does the professor arrive at the conclusion quoted?

In the first place, he does away with Euclidean geometry by stating that the “truth” of its axioms and demonstrations is “limited.”

Then he maintains that “every scene of an event or of the position of an object in space is based on the specification of the point on a rigid body (body of reference) with which that event or object coincides.” He illustrates this proposition thus: Let us imagine a raven flying over a moving train. Seen from the embankment he has a certain velocity and direction and his motion is uniform and in a straight line. Observed from the moving car his motion is one of different velocity and direction, but still uniform and in a straight line.

The principle thus illustrated, the famous professor applies to the universe. The earth is the moving train. The motions of the other celestial bodies are real only as they appear from the earth. From any other point in the universe, they would appear differently.

I am not disputing the theory of Professor Einstein, but I firmly believe that the world we inhabit is real, both as to substance and motion, and not a complete system of optical illusions. I believe, further, that it is, both in substance and qualities, such as God intended that we should perceive it through our five senses, which are so many counterparts of the Divine image. And I further believe, with the Apostle Paul, that “the invisible things of Him [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.” (Rom. 1;20.)


A few selections from Dr. Einstein’s treatise on Relativity, a translation of which appeared in 1921, will show how utterly difficult it is to follow his line of argument.

For instance, a passenger drops a stone out of a window of the moving railroad car. That stone, he says, traverses a straight line, as viewed from the car, but a parabola as seen from the embankment. Then he asks, Can the same line be both straight and crooked at the same time?

If we should take the liberty of replying to that question, we would perhaps say, No, but an object – in this case the path of the stone in its fall – can certainly appear different to different spectators, although there is no difference in reality. We have known persons who have called green red and red green, not because of anything unusual in the object that emitted the rays of light, but on account of error of judgment on the part of the observer, or some defects in his organs of vision.

Here is another conclusion. Professor Einstein tells us that “the length of a train as measured from the embankment may be different from that obtained by measuring in the train itself.” He repeats this statement thus: “If the man in the carriage covers the distance w in a unit of time – measured from the train, – then this distance – as measured from the embankment – is not necessarily also equal to w.

In other words, two entities, each equal to a third, are not necessarily equal to each other. Or, two lengths of cloth, each equal in length to a yardstick, are not necessarily equal in length. One may be some inches, or feet, shorter than the other, although both are a yard long each.

The next illustration is still more startling. He has a metre-rod placed on the floor of the car. Then he gives us some algebraic formulae and concludes thus: “The rigid rod is thus shorter when in motion than when at rest, and the more quickly it is moving, the shorter is the rod.”

From which the conclusion seems inevitable, that if the train moves fast enough, there will be no rod at all, and yet, when the train slows up, the rod is there, and was there, all the time.

Clocks, too, we are advised, act strangely at times. Dr. Roy J. Kennedy states the conclusion of the eminent scientist on this portion of the argument, thus:

If we are living in an Einstein universe, time would change with increasing velocity, just as the dimensions of matter change, but instead of shortening, time would lengthen.

If a man were riding on one of the projected rockets to the moon at a velocity of 161,000 miles a second, his watch would shrink, and assuming it would still function, would lose 12 hours of time daily, which shows how intimately associated space and time really are.

At the velocity of light, 186,.300 miles per second, the watch would shrink to nothing and time would stand still.

It seems to me that by such reasoning it would be easy to argue the entire universe out of existence. And that has actually been attempted, and is still being tried. Sir James Jeans, in his book, “The Mysterious Universe,” covers, according to the Literary Digest, this ground:

The universe has no substance. It is nothing but waves. It exists only in the mind, only as an object of thought. Time and space are measured in terms of a mysterious unit equal to a second multiplied by the square root of minus 1, a number which has no existence outside the imagination.

From such speculations it is restful to hear what Dr. W.R. Whitney, also a scientist, has to say: Speaking of an object floating in air, he asks, “What supports it?” and he answers: “The will of God.” Then he adds:

Sir Oliver Lodge says it is the all-pervading ether. But Einstein denies that there is an ether. Which is right? I say that the magnet floats in space by the will of God. The magnet repels another magnet by the will of God. And no man today can give a more precise answer.

He says further:

We move from one theory to the next, and always there is something that does not fit in with the other evidence. Take the atom. Yesterday it was whirling particles, infinitesimal solar systems. But that is outmoded now, and today it is described as a wave in space. Tomorrow it will be something different. * * * The will of God, the law which we discover, but cannot understand or explain – that alone is final.

This is the view of a scientist who has found God in his laboratory of research. It proves that even from a scientific view, faith in God is a true principle, and that the power of the Priesthood, of which God has made us partakers, is the moving force in creation as in the foundation and development of the church and kingdom of the Son of God.

The Instructor, February 1931, 79-81.

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