Lewis Carroll and Relativity
by John Tufail    BA (lst class Hons) M. Phil, Phd, AIPM.

Did you know that Lewis Carroll seems to have been something of a 'relativist' in philosophical and religious terms. However, it was not until 1913 that Newtonian Physics was overturned by Einstein's Theory of
(physics) The theory that space and time are relative concepts rather than absolute concepts.
Relativity (not completely true as people like Planck had been nibbling away at the edges before that - but that's the general perception). Now, in 1915, Einstein said that his inspiration for the mathematics of Relativity Theory was what he called a thought experiment. He said that he had imagined a group of scientists trapped in a lift - that the lift was in a shaft which extended to infinity. He then imagined that the cords holding the lift had broken and imagined the universe which would then exist for the scientists in the lift. He said that trying to work out the Relativity of these scientists' experiences in relation to the rest of the universe enabled him to arrive at the math of Relativity Theory.

Now read this excerpt from 'Sylvie and Bruno' (Chapter heading 'A Ride on a Lion'.)

     "One can easily imagine a situation", said Arthur, "where
     things would necessarily have no weight, relative to each
     other, though each would have its usual weight, looked at by

     "Some desperate paradox!" said the Earl.  "Tell us how it
     could be. We will never guess it."

     "Well, suppose this house, just as it is, placed a few billion
     miles above a planet, and with nothing else near enough to
     disturb it: of course it falls to the planet?"

     The Earl nodded.  "Of course - though it might take some
     centuries to do it."

     "And is five-o-clock-tea to be going on all the while?"
     said Lady Muriel.

     "That and other things," said Arthur.  "The inhabitants would
     live their lives, grow up and die and still the house would be
     falling, falling, falling!  But now as to the relative weight
     of things.  Nothing can be heavy, you know except by trying to
     fall, and being prevented from doing so.  You all grant that?"

     We all granted that.

     "Well now, if I take this book, and hold it out at arms
     length, of course I feel its weight.  It is trying to fall,
     and I prevent it.  And if I let it go, it falls to the floor.
     But if we were all falling together, it couldn't be trying to
     fall any quicker you know: for if I let go, what more could it
     do than fall?  And as my hand would be falling too, at the
     same rate, it would never leave it, for that would be to get
     ahead of it in the race.  And it could never overtake the
     falling floor!"

VERY curiously similar, don't you think? Those interested should read the whole of this section - and if possible get hold of Einstein's biography where he describes his 'thought experiment'. In fact Carroll's 'thought experiment' is even clearer than Einstein's! Actually Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded are both filled with gems of relativity. However, few contemporary readers would have recognised the import of Carroll's 'thought experiment' and since, the Sylvie and Bruno books have been eclipsed by the shining brilliance of the Alice books and Hunting of the Snark.

by John Tufail

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