Relativity as Informational Interdependence

Ever have the experience of sitting in traffic and believe that you are moving in reverse, only to realize a second later that you were fooled by the vehicle next to you moving forward? You were sitting still, but because you saw something moving away, you mistakenly thought you started to move in the opposite direction.

Two different senses may be at work here: your sight and your balance. Lets assume that your balance did not play any role in this little experiment (you would have been moving too slowly to feel a jolt). Your sight told you that you were moving in a certain direction (backwards) because of something you saw, say a bus pulling forward. Then you saw something other than the bus, say the ground, and you realized that your initial appraisal of the situation was incorrect.

At the point when you look away from the bus, you believe that you are moving backwards. Then when you see the ground, you believe that you are not moving backwards. You reconcile these two contradictory beliefs by deciding that it was not you who were moving backwards but the bus that was moving forwards.

What this illustrates is that objects require something other than themselves to be considered in motion. Without the ability to reference a ‘stationary’ system (the ground), it is impossible to make a determination who is moving and who is staying still.

Now imagine this situation was taking place in a very gray place. The only things visible are yourself and the bus on a gray background. Then you notice that the bus is getting smaller. There is nothing for you to use as a reference (no stars, no ground, no nothing) to decide if it is you who is moving away from the bus or if it is the bus moving away from you, or both*. The only thing you have is the information that you and the bus are moving away from each other.

I refer to the statement that you and the bus are moving away from each other as information and not a belief because it is much more certain than what I called beliefs above, namely that you were in a certain kind of motion, which quickly turned out to be questionable.

The information that you and the bus are moving away from each other is not your everyday sort of information. It would be inaccurate to reduce this statement to a conjunction (you and the bus are moving), which is incorrect, or a disjunction (you or the bus is moving) because you are only moving with regard to the bus. By claiming that either you or the bus is moving, it makes it seem that the motion of one has nothing to do with the other. The motion of you and the bus need to be mutually dependent upon each other, and a mutual interdependence is not reducible.

If we return to the everyday, we can say that you have the information that you and the bus are moving away from each other and you and the bit of ground you are on are not moving away from each other. Since the bit of ground we initially selected was arbitrary (we could have chosen anything, like another bus) it is subject to the same issues as the bus; we merely take the ground to be stationary for most purposes, but this is a pragmatic concern. Hence all determinations of motion (or non-motion) are instances of informational interdependence.

The result that relativity is part of a larger class of mutually interdependent structures is non-trivial. Minimally this formalism will allow us to specify exactly when the use of relativity is warranted, but more importantly it will allow us to identify and provide insight into other situations of informational interdependence. Cases of mutual interdependence are relatively rare as far instances of logic go (they can’t even be described in first order logic) and having such a well studied example gives us a head start on this phenomenon.

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* or if the bus is shrinking, or you are growing, or all of the above, but lets assume no Alice in Wonderland scenarios.