Principle of relativity

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In physics, the principle of relativity is the requirement that the equations describing the laws of physics have the same form in all admissible frames of reference.

For example, in the framework of special relativity the Maxwell equations have the same form in all inertial frames of reference. In the framework of general relativity the Maxwell equations or the Einstein field equations have the same form in arbitrary frames of reference.

Several principles of relativity have been successfully applied throughout science, whether implicitly (as in Newtonian mechanics) or explicitly (as in Albert Einstein's special relativity and general relativity).

Contents

History of relativity

Basic relativity principles

Certain principles of relativity have been widely assumed in most scientific disciplines. One of the most widespread is the belief that any law of nature should be the same at all times; and scientific investigations generally assume that laws of nature are the same regardless of the person measuring them. These sorts of principles have been incorporated into scientific inquiry at the most fundamental of levels.

Any principle of relativity prescribes a symmetry in natural law: that is, the laws must look the same to one observer as they do to another. According to a deep theoretical result called Noether's theorem, any such symmetry will also imply a conservation law alongside. For example, if two observers at different times see the same laws, then a quantity called energy will be conserved. In this light, relativity principles make testable predictions about how nature behaves, and are not just statements about how scientists should write laws.

Special principle of relativity

According to the first postulate of the special theory of relativity:[1]

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