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Absolute Time, Relative Space, And The Hole In The Bucket

1916 words - 8 pages

At first glance, Isaac Newton’s bucket argument seems invulnerable to scrutiny. I never found the argument to be truly convincing, but like Newton’s supporters and perhaps a few of his critics, I possessed no means of successfully refuting it. In fact, proponents of the bucket argument have been so confident in its fortification that even now, in the 21st century, they continue to cite the bucket as undeniable evidence of absolute motion and, therefore, absolute space. One such supporter is Robin Le Poidevin, who revisits the bucket argument in Travels in Four Dimensions to defend the experiment against further scrutiny. However, in doing so, Le Poidevin inadvertently introduces to the ...view middle of the document...

Therefore, the water is moving in absolute space (Newton 327). The problem lies in the truth value of the first premise and, as a result, the first conclusion, that there is a time when the water is moving in relation to no material object. Le Poidevin openly admits that the water could, in principle, be moving relative to its position at an earlier time, so long as relative time is not used to quantify the water’s earlier position (Le Poidevin 49). He fails to recognize that even in a void containing no matter, except for a rope and a bucket full of water, time still exists because, according to Newton himself, time is absolute and flows equably (Newton 322). And so long as time flows equably and absolutely, there will always remain a point of reference for an object’s change in position. Therefore, absolute motion does not exist, at least not in this experiment.
To illustrate the possibility of relative motion in a void, I will produce an original thought experiment, similar to Newton’s. Assume the bucket and water are at rest in the void, and the rope holding up the bucket is taut, as stated in the original bucket experiment. Now, superimpose an unreal, intangible XYZ coordinate plane, on which the water bucket lies. No numbers should be placed on any of the three axes, since this would automatically indicate relative measurements. Simply pick one arbitrary molecule of water and find its exact coordinates on the plane. Designate these coordinates simply as X,Y, and Z, and designate the molecule as “WM.” Allow the rope to unwind, causing the bucket, but not yet the water, to rotate; the very moment the rope is released, designate the time of release as “T-0.” Because time is flowing absolutely, we understand that the molecule of water “WM” is at the particular coordinate location (X,Y,Z) at this exact moment, time “T-0,” and by “T-1,” which is some moment in time after “T-0,” the water begins to rotate. By “T-1,” molecule “WM” has changed its position on the XYZ plane. “WM” is now located at X prime,Y prime, and Z prime (X’,Y’, Z’). By time “T-2,” the concave in the water will have formed, but the water and bucket will be at relative rest to one another. The molecule “WM,” however, is now located at X,Y, and Z double prime (X’’, Y’’, Z’’). This will continue until the rope becomes taut once again, and the bucket and water reverse direction. Therefore, given our measurements using absolute time, we see that “WM” has changed positions and continues to change position so long as the water is moving.
We know that molecule “WM” is moving because it is at a different position on the XYZ plane at one moment in time than in a previous moment in time. For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that (X,Y,Z), (X’,Y’,Z’), and (X’’,Y’’,Z’’) would not defined at by the same numerical values, whatever those values may be, at any moment in time that we choose to measure, and that the void does not possess a fourth spatial dimension. Therefore, molecule “WM”...

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