The Non-Velocity of Light

From all the various interpretations of the phenomenon of light that there have been throughout our scientific history, there has so far never been any truly satisfactory conception of what light is. This will come later  in the following page: What, then, IS light?  For now, at least, we show what light is not.

We shall see that  it is a fallacy to assume that just because c is a ratio of distance units to time units,  it is necessarily a ’velocity’. This means that c need not be thought of as a ‘velocity’, far less a constant velocity relative to the vacuum, as in the  Second Postulate of Einsteinian Relativity. We now go further, by demonstrating that whatever light is, it cannot possibly be have a velocity, as of something travelling in space. Here, for example, is a list of ten short proofs that were presented by Pope in his talk at the Alternative Natural Philosophy Association (ANPA), in Cambridge, UK, on Saturday, August 5th, 2006 [[i]].  Please note that scientists are now awakenng to the fact that  Einstein’s Second postulate in relativity theory is  redundant, as recently confirmed in New Scientist (See  ‘Shedding Light on Light’, N.S., 1/11/08, pp. 28-31).) Please note. also, that  none of the further, philosophical, implications for Physics of this ‘flipoover’ concept of  c  have been systematically explored to anything like the extent to which they have now been in the Neo-Machian Normal Realist approach which underlies the Pope-Osborne Anglar Momentum Syntheseis (POAMS). Anyway, here is why the constant c cannot be a ‘velocity’.

Ten logical reasons why the constant c  cannot be a velocity

1.        It is undeniable that c has the dimensions of distance divided by time. However, the fact that all velocities are distances divided by time by no means entails that all distances divided by time are velocities, which would be as absurd as saying that because all dogs are quadrupeds, all quadrupeds are dogs, which is an obvious fallacy. 

2.       Herman Bondi says: ‘Any attempt to measure the velocity of light is … not an attempt at measuring the velocity of light but an attempt at ascertaining the length of the standard metre in Paris in terms of time-units.’ [[ii]]  Also, it has been proved that all the practical consequences of Einstein’s Theory, both Special and General, can be deduced much more simply by adopting Bondi’s minimalist interpretation of c as a pure ‘conversion factor’ for interconverting measures in metres into time-measures in seconds .[[iii]].  This simplification of relativity wihout ‘light-velocity’ was also discovered independently by Pope at about the same time, and concurred in correspondence between the two scientific thinkers. 

 These two above arguments were aimed to prove that c  need not necessarily be a ‘velocity’. The following eight arguments contend that c cannot possibly be a velocity.

3.        For light to be seen, photographed or detected in any possible way, it has to shine on something. In a vacuum there is, by definition, nothing on which it can shine. So, logically, light cannot be seen, photographed or detected in any other way in the vacuum of space. This signifies a reduction to absurdity of experiments claiming to have photographed ‘light travelling in vacuo’.

4.       Can light be scattered by light, as some experimenters have claimed? If a powerful laser-beam is shone across the path of another, do their ‘photons’ collide or their ‘waves’ interfere? In a simple experiment devised and carried out at Brunel university, in 1980 [[vi]],  two powerful lasers were beamed across each other’s paths and also shone head-on at each other. No blocking or interference whatever was detected. If any such interference were to take place, then that light would suffer dispersion. Considering the amount of light that is allegedly ‘criss-crossing’ around, it would be amazing if visual acuity were possible over the length of a single metre. All the light that is allegedly shooting around in all directions would present as much a barrier to vision as the densest fog that can be imagined. The fact, then, that there are photographs that display awesome clarity of even the farthest galaxies negates the validity of any such experimentalist claim that light is scattered by light.

5.       For a velocity to be a velocity it has to be the velocity of something that is physically identifiable. In physics both ancient and modern, there is nothing that can be physically identified as light travelling in vacuo, especially in view of Heisenberg’s Indeterminacy Principle, which makes the ‘track’ of an alleged ‘photon’ absolutely indeterminate. If we think of what ‘travels in vacuo’ as ‘waves’, then what can possibly ‘wave’ in a vacuum? And if we think of what ‘travels’ as ‘photons’, then travelling at the ‘speed of light’, the mass of even a single ‘photon’ would have to be relativistically infinite, hence  as great as that of the whole universe. To escape this absurdity some physicists have assumed that ‘in its own rest-frame’  the ‘stationary  mass’ of the photon is zero [v]. But how can that ‘zero mass’ be conceived as a ‘particle’? And, anyway, when is a photon ever regarded as stationary, since it is axiomatic in Einsteinian Relativity that  its alleged ‘velocity’ is c in all observational frames, bar none?

6.       To be seen or otherwise detected travelling in a vacuum, light would have to give off light. And that secondary light would have to give off light; and that tertiary light would have to give off light … and so on, ad infinitum, in a logical regress to infinity which again is absurd – what logicians call the  reductio ad absurdum fallacy.

7.       If c is interpreted as a ‘velocity in the vacuum of space’ (as Einstein’s Second Postulate states), then in a vacuum, to what can that ’velocity’ possibly be referred, constant or otherwise? So, with all due respect to Einstein, the concept of light as having a ‘constant velocity in space’ is just another absurdity, as his relativist mentor, Mach, intuited.

8.        Light is known to be quantised in units of Planck’s constant h. These quanta have been interpreted as ‘flying photons’, claimed to have been photographed ‘in flight’ by Nils Abramson [[iv]]. However, since the ‘photon’ is defined as a single, irreducible and indivisible light-quantum, it can have no energy to spare in manifesting itself , piecemeal, anywhere between its point of emission and point of absorption. A quantum interaction between a pair of atoms therefore has to be instantly consummated, with there being no sensible question either as to where it is or what it does between its source and sink. There are simply no parameters to describe that ‘motion’. Any attempt to photograph or otherwise detect it absorbs its whole packet of energy in one flash at that point so that there can be no question of how it exists or travels when undetected in vacuo.

9.         In order to conform to the law of conservation of energy, the alleged ‘photon’ cannot just hang around unconsummated in limbo, waiting to be absorbed. As Tom Phipps (Jr.) wryly put it, in agreement with Pope, ‘The “photon” sure don’t have a holding pattern!’ [[v]]  So, what is a ‘photon’ when it is supposed to be travelling, say, over centuries – or millennia, even – in the awesome distances between galaxies or, as it might be, missing everything en route to nowhere? The whole concept a ‘photon’  is therefore meaningless. No such chimera can possibly exist. As the seventeenth century empiricist philosopher, John Locke, put it, the ballistic concept of light (such as it then was) as akin to that of ‘fairies with racquets knocking tiny tennis balls about, some of which incidentally strike men’s foreheads (and eyes) while most of them pass by’.

10.       All velocities, properly so called, have to obey the rule of the composition of velocities, according to which the velocity of an object has to be different relative to differently moving observers. But c is, eminently, the same for all relatively moving observers, as Einstein’s Relativity requires and as experiment confirms. Therefore, logically, c cannot be a velocity.

 RESPONSES   

At Cambridge there were no really challenging responses to these arguments, from which it may be concluded that in general they were accepted. This is not to say that there were no hostile reactions. One member declared that Pope’s attempt to get rid of the ‘photon’ was ‘immoral’. Another declared that in his view, Pope’s aim in presenting these arguments was a purely egotistical  ‘slagging off of other peoples’ theories’.

There was one serious challenge, however. This was by a professor from SLAC (the Super Linear Accelerator Centre) in California, USA. He claimed that experiments had proved that light can be scattered by light. From this he inferred that light had to be something travelling in vacuo in the way Einstein had claimed. However, another professor from that same institution countered this argument on the basis of ‘quantum algebra’. After some discussion the claim that light scatters light was withdrawn, leaving what seemed to be a consensus on all ten proofs, that to conceive of light as having a velocity in vacuo is not only unnecessary but is also logically untenable – In point of fact, pure nonsense.

Eventually, the Principal member of the Association, the late lamented Professor Clive Kilmister, wrote to Pope saying that his (Pope’s) long standing contention that there can be no such thing as the ‘photon’ had now, eventually, been accepted by the core members. It was also declared,  by Professor  James Lindesay, at a meeting of the Association, in 2004 that he and a colleague at SLAC  had ‘set out to prove Pope wrong (in his rejection of the ‘photon’) and had ‘ended-up proving him right’ – That is,  in claiming that there is no such thing as the ‘photon’.

Further to this Cambridge meeting, in various Internet physics forums, these Ten Proofs were  met with much highly charged reactionary hostility, accompanied by highly biassed and contrived attempts at refutation. Since all these attempted ‘refutations’ were purely reactionary and presented in ‘logic override’, they were plainly invalid. This makes it a fact that no truly valid refutation has so far been sustained. By default, therefore, this dispensing with ‘light-velocity’ establishes the neo-Machian quantum-relativistic concept of light as just directly presented quantum data in a direct and immediate swapping of this data between the atoms of everyday objects. This, of course, includes ourselves as observational decoders of that velocity-less quantum information from which we project the physical world as known to commonsense and the empirical sciences.


[i] The title of this talk was ‘A Truly Alternative Natural Philosophy’, by N.V. Pope, delivered at the annual meeting of ANPA, to an audience consisting mostly of Theoretical Physicists. This was at Wesley House,  Cambridge.

[ii] Bondi, H.: Assumption and Myth in Physical Theory: Cambridge University Press, (1965). p.28.

[iii] See Immediate Distant Action and Correlation in Modern Physics: the Balanced Universe, by Edwin Mellen Press, USA and UK (2005), Chapters 5 and 9. Also website www.poams.org.

[iv] ‘Light-in-flight recording: high-speed holographic motion-pictures of ultrafast phenomena’. Applied Optics, Vol. 22, No. 2, Jan. 1983.

[v]  This was the response of Professor Jean-Pierre Vigier, in his answer to Pope in his (Vigier’s) lecture at the University of North York, Toronto, Canada in the conference held in his honour, August 25-2, 1996.

[vi] This was in a discussion with Pope at the PIRT (Physical Interpretations of Relativity Theory) conference in 1996 at Imperial College, London, under the auspices of the BSPS (British Society for the Philosophy of Science).

[vii] Pope with Peter Louwerse plus some laboratory assistants.