Symmetry as Bias: Rediscovering Special Relativity

Michael Lowry

This paper describes a rational reconstruction of Einstein’s discovery of special relativity, validated through an implementation: the Erlanger program. Einstein’s discovery of special relativity revolutionized both the content of physics and the research strategy used by theoretical physicists. This research strategy entails a mutual bootstrapping process between a hypothesis space for biases, defined through different postulated symmetries of the universe, and a hypothesis space for physical theories. The invariance principle mutually constrains these two spaces. The invariance principle enables detecting when an evolving physical theory becomes inconsistent with its bias, and also when the biases for theories describing different phenomena are inconsistent. Structural properties of the invariance principle facilitate generating a new bias when an inconsistency is detected. After a new bias is generated, this principle facilitates reformulating the old, inconsistent theory by treating the latter as a limiting approximation.

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