The “reality” of the lorentz contraction

Summary A recurrent theme in the philosophical literature on the special theory of relativity is the question as to the reality of the Lorentz contraction. It is often suggested that there is a difference between the Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction in the pre-relativistic ether theory and the Lorentz contraction from special relativity in the sense that the former is a real contraction of matter conditioned by dynamical laws, whereas the latter should be compared with the apparent changes in the size of objects when the perspective of the observer changes. It is here shown, however, that the same laws of nature which are operative in the Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction also condition the relativistic Lorentz contraction. The relevant distinction therefore is not between the reality of the two contractions. What is at issue is the difference in explanatory structure of the pre-relativistic theory on the one hand and the special theory of relativity on the other. In the course of the argument the question of the conventionality of simultaneity is also discussed
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