Some comments on Albert Einstein's paper
“On the Effects of External Sensory Input on Time Dilation”
byZ. K. Silagadze
Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics SB RAS and
Novosibirsk State University, Novosibirsk, Russia
Einstein’s famous 1938 experiment to test the relativity of time is plagued by too many ambiguities and does not prove anything. Nevertheless, it is a landmark experiment at the foundation of the modern theory of time perception.
The Relativity of Time, which is at the heart of many special relativistic paradoxes, is difficult to understand. First of all, we all are brainwashed by Newton  during our schooldays. Furthermore, to learn relativity requires time and effort, and a layman usually lacks both. “The active person lives in the world of phenomena. He does not require logical proofs, indeed he often cannot understand them” . Why should we try to change such a state of affairs and force active people to understand a bit of modern physics? The reason is simple: Irrationality and ignorance are proliferating worldwide, and such a situation is very alarming because “a stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit” .
But how can we explain the relativity of time to a layman? Einstein himself gave an excellent explanation: “when a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour”.
As a genuine physicist, Einstein performed an experiment to prove this assertion. Unfortunately, he was a theoretician, not an experimenter and his experiment is plagued by many uncertainties which prevents us from drawing the above intuitively appealing conclusion from the experimental data.
2. A pretty girl and the relativity of time
Einstein’s experiment consists of the following. He arranged, through Charlie Chaplin whom he knew personally, a meeting with Charlie’s wife Paulette Goddard, the movie star and a very pretty woman indeed. When it felt to Einstein as if a minute had passed during the meeting with the radiant and delightful Miss Goddard at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, he checked his watch to discover that actually 57 minutes had fled.
Einstein used a chrome waffle iron as a reasonable equivalent of a hot stove, because the woman who cooked for him had forbidden him to get anywhere near the kitchen. He plugged in the waffle iron and when it heated up he sat on it, fully dressed. He jumped up in less than a second but it felt to him as if a good hour had passed.
At first sight the experiment is very convincing and conclusive. However, as the ancient wisdom says: the first impression is often misleading.
3. Subjectivity in science is dangerous
Although the notion of a hot stove is quite well-defined, we cannot say the same about the notion of a pretty girl, which is too subjective. And subjectivity in science is dangerous, as the following story confirms.
I was curious about if it was beauty which caused the time dilation effect or the proximity of a women, and decided to check whether a picture of a beautiful woman can lead to the same phenomenon. Thank God the old masters left a lot of paintingd of beautiful women. I didn’t have to go far to find a proper picture. At the home page of the Southern Cross Review , an on-line magazine where I had found the Einstein paper, there is the picture Girl with Guitar by Anders Zorn, who was one of Sweden’s foremost artists. The girl is quite pretty, albeit naked. There was nobody nearby, except my wife, to ask whether she was beautiful enough to exclude subjectivity. So I called her and asked for her opinion. And lo, this cost me a black eye and the laptop broken to pieces.
4. Further problems with the experiment
Einstein did not provide enough evidence that the pretty girl effect is a real effect and not just an illusion. For example, if you sit on a hot stove in the presence of a pretty girl, the effect evaporates instantly, so does sometimes the arrival of her husband. It is a grave omission for Einstein not to investigate these effects and clarify the ambiguity.
Neither did he reveal the secret of beauty. Although his fellow scientists tried hard -
“Quest for the Secret of Beauty” by Lado Gudiashvili, 1942.
- this quest for the secret of beauty is still not finished.
Most mysteriously, beauty can emerge in quite unexpected ways for scientists, even from their most beloved thing, a sphere:
"Galatea of the Spheres” by Salvador Dali, 1952.
There is some empirical evidence that the pretty girl effect can change sign after you marry her. That is, after years of marital life you can feel like you’re sitting on a hot stove in the presence of your beautiful wife. This is a really very strange phenomenon, even stranger than the constancy of light velocity in different inertial frames. I doubt you can explain it.
Einstein mentions this mysterious change neither in the paper  nor in his other writings, although it is quite clear that this effect and the ambiguities mentioned above do undermine completely his explanation of the time dilation.
Neither does Einstein investigate (theoretically or experimentally) the possible influence of a beautiful girl on a quantum vacuum, alleged effect which can be of significant intensity and even dangerous. Namely, it was suggested ] that the presence of a young woman can alter the vacuum polarization nearby thus decreasing the molecular bond strengths which by itself can lead to a spontaneous combustion of materials. Leaving aside the danger of spontaneous combustion of a male experimenter, like the notorious case of the mysterious death of Krook described by Charles Dickens in Bleak house , particularly disturbing, as far as the Einstein experiment is concerned, is the fact that this effect can mimic a hot stove and thus blur the time dilation effect.
5. Einstein and the perception of time
As we have seen, Einstein’s famous experiment is not without flaws. Nevertheless, whatever may think about it, Einstein was a great man, the man of tomorrow, if you want to know - “while relative time became the de-facto view in physics, the relativity of psychological time is still a matter for debate” . However, despite this debate, everyone agrees (see, for example [8, 9]) that Einstein’s groundbreaking experiment initiated the interesting field of research. This research is far from being completed. “Although time is a concept that attracted and occupied the thoughts of a countless number of thinkers and scholars over centuries, its true nature still remains wrapped in a shroud of mystery” .
6. Concluding remarks
There is some ongoing mystery surrounding Einstein’s experiment. Although Einstein’s pretty girl - hot stove explanation of the time dilation effect is well documented (he gave it to his secretary, Helen Dukas , nobody have ever seen the Journal of Exothermic Science and Technology with Einstein’s article in it, except Steve Mirsky who reproduced this article in Scientific American . So we are forced to repeat Maxim Gorky’s famous question: “Was there a boy at all? ” .
Despite all our respect for Steve Mirsky, we think what we have here is an example of an unsettled past. It is a common erroneous belief that the past is always fixed in every detail. As was conjectured in Schrodinger’s cat versus Darwin [14, 15], it may be that the past is actually only partly fixed. At every moment of time we have a template of the past that gets incarnated and fixed only under the backward influence of ongoing events. By unveiling the Einstein experiment, Mirsky initiated a template. However, whether this template turns into an undeniable truth, depends on you.
The work is supported by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation.
© Zurab Silagadze was born in 1957 in Georgia. In 1979 he graduated from Tbilisi State University. In 1986 moved to Novosibirsk where he obtained his PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics in 1995. Currently he works as senior researcher at Budker institute of Nuclear Physics and as assistant professor at Novosibirsk State University.
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