It probably means that the speaker is taking a Galilean approach to physics.

In modern relativistic physics, the property of having a time-like separation between two events is independent of observer, but the magnitude of that separation depends on the observer. And two events which are spacelike separated, while having no time difference for some observers, will still appear to have a non-zero time difference for others.

So the concept of a time (or space) “distance” (ie a specific value of the difference) between two events in space-time does not make sense without reference to an observer.

However in the case of two time-like separated events the time difference is nonzero for all observers, and if we restrict to inertial observers it has a nonzero minimum (which corresponds to the time difference as seen by an observer who experiences both events directly without any intervening acceleration or gravitational field gradient). But although this minimum is in principle computable by any observer it does not correspond to the time difference actually “seen” by that observer.

# Month: March 2023

## Are Bayesian and Frequentist probability really inherently completely different, or is there a false dichotomy between them?

I would say that they are inherently “somewhat” different even though they are both used for similar purposes and obey the same mathematical axioms (of a countably additive non-negative measure on some space of “outcomes” in which the measure of the set of all outcomes is 1).

Of course there are many probability measures in the mathematical sense which have *nothing* to do with any actual probabilities in the real world, so having the same mathematical structure does NOT preclude their being “completely different”.

But probabilities in the real world are supposed to have something to do with our expectations regarding what will happen when we perform an experiment which could in principle be repeated an unlimited number of times. And since any concept of probability is intended as a measure of how “likely” we expect physical events to be, if both kinds are useful they can’t really be all that different in what they lead us to expect.

The difference, as I see it, is as follows:

The frequentist probability of an “Event” (which is just the jargon for a subset of the space of all possible outcomes) is assumed to be the proportion of “all” experimental trials in which the outcome is consistent with the event. Despite its rather fuzzy definition (in terms of whatever we mean by “all” trials), this is something that is assumed to be an actual property of the experiment, albeit one that can never be determined by experimental tests (because any finite set of trials might fail to be representative). Frequentist statisticians often try to choose between different possible sets of assumptions by using each set of assumptions for computing the probability of what they have actually seen and choosing the assumptions that lead to higher probability, but they generally do so with the mindset that there is one set of assumptions that is really true.

Bayesian probability, on the other hand, is something that is always acknowledged to depend on the observer (through both initial choices and subsequent acquired knowledge). Given those choices and experience, the Bayesian probabilities are perfectly well known because the Bayesian approach provides an explicit rule for modifying one’s assumptions in the light of experiments. But because it depends on the the observer’s assumptions and experience, the Bayesian probability is not a well-defined property of the experiment and outcome alone.

The difference is subtle though, because one cannot do any frequentist analysis without making an assumption (usually about what constitutes a set of “equally likely” outcomes). But though one can make and change the assumptions, the Frequentist attitude remains that they are assumptions about something that exists and are either true or false, while the Bayesian does not necessarily ever claim that there is one set that is really “true”.

However there are theorems which tell us (roughly speaking) that if some frequentist assumption is in fact correct, then no matter how bad the initial assumptions of the Bayesian are, after a lot of experiments it is very probable (in the frequentist sense) that the Bayesian probabilities become close to the “correct” ones.

So in the end both approaches end up giving the same advice about what one “should” expect (though neither gives anything I can understand as a non-circular definition of what that means!) and whether the difference in attitude is a “false dichotomy” is something I think we each have to decide for ourselves.

## Given that the Lorentz transformation is symmetrical with respect to interchange of space and time, how does it lead to length contraction but time dilation?

This is a question that I am surprised to not have seen before (especially since I have had to remind myself of the answer more than once – including, I suspect but can’t be sure, from way back before I entered my dotage).

It is true that in one space dimension the transformation equations

[math]x’=\gamma(x-\beta t)[/math] and [math]t’=\gamma(t-\beta x)[/math]are completely symmetrical with respect to interchange of [math]x[/math] with [math]t[/math] and [math]x’[/math] with [math]t’[/math].

(and in the case of three space dimensions the same applies if [math]x[/math] and [math]x’[/math] are the coordinates in the same direction as the relative velocity, so it’s not got anything to do with the dimension).

So what is the difference?

Well here it is in a nutshell.

When we measure the length of a moving measuring rod, we look at both ends at the same time and so are looking at the spatial distance between two events at the same time in our frame of reference.

But when we measure the time between two ticks of a moving clock we are looking at the time difference between two events that are NOT at the same spatial position in our frame.

So the nature of the two measurements is not symmetrical with respect to interchange of space and time.

I may add some more explanation and diagrams to show how this does lead to contraction for the rod length and dilation for the tick interval, but I wanted to get this off my chest right away – and also to address a couple of natural follow-up questions.

Namely, what kind of measurements would give the symmetrical outcome? Are there situations in which these others might be relevant? And why do we instinctively prefer the ones we do?

So, for example, what kind of time measurement would be symmetrical compared to our usual rod length measurement (and so would give a “time contraction” rather than the usual time dilation)?

Since the rod length involves looking at both ends at the same time in our frame, the corresponding time measurement would involve looking at the interval between two ticks at the same place. But how can we do this if the clock is moving? Well we could if the clock was extended in space, and if we have a long train of clocks that are synchronized in their own frame, then you can easily check that observers who look at the time between the ticks right in front of them will actually see a shorter interval than that measured by the travelling system – ie a time contraction.

And going the other way, what kind of measurement would give a length dilation? Well that would have to be the symmetric version of our usual clock measurement. And corresponding to our usual measurement of the time interval between two ticks at the same place in the moving clock’s frame, interchanging space and time would have us measuring the spatial distance between events where the two ends of the rod are at the same time in the rod’s frame. For example the managers of the rod might set off flares at both ends in a way that they, travelling with the rod, perceive as simultaneous. If we measure the distance between where we see those two flares then it will indeed appear dilated relative to the length of the rod in its own frame.

So now we come to the final question. Is there anything really “wrong” about these alternative kinds of measurement? If so what is it? Or is there just something about us which makes us think of what we do as natural and the alternative as somehow, if not actually wrong, then at least rather odd?

Here’s what I think (at least for now). The thing that makes us prefer to measure lengths in terms of events at the same time in our frame but times in terms of events at the same place in the moving frame is the fact that we, as blobs of space time, are much more extended in time than in space. (This is evident in the fact that we live for many years but do not extend for many light years in our spatial extent – or equivalently that in units adapted to our own spatial and temporal extent the numerical value of c is very large.)

So here’s a follow-up question. Could we imagine an entity which was the other way around? (ie of brief duration but of great spatial extent) And from the point of view of such an entity would it make sense to define measurements differently (as suggested above to achieve the effect of time contraction and length dilation)?

OR is it more just a matter of causality?

P.S. This is a question and answer that I have been meaning to post for some time, but was prompted to do so by Domino Valdano’s excellent answer to another question (in which she covers pretty much the same ground with a slightly different way of expressing the ultimate reason for why we measure as we do – which I may yet end up deciding that I prefer to my own). Please do read that one too!

## More TwinStuff from Quora

**In the twin paradox where does the missing time go? If the twin turns back to Earth then turns away again their notion of now switches back to the past. What does this mean for the experience of the observer on Earth relative to the moving twin?**

“In the twin paradox where does the missing time go?” I am not aware of any “missing” time. One twin experiences less time than the other but there is no gap where any time goes missing. (There is however an apparent speed-up of the Earth clock from the point of view of the traveller while turning around, and in the physically impossible case of an instantaneous turn-around that would look like a gap in the traveller’s understanding of what was happening “at the same time” on Earth; but in any possible actual scenario it would just be an apparent speed-up rather than a jump.)

“If the twin turns back to Earth then turns away again their notion of now switches back to the past. What does this mean…” Indeed! Does that sentence actually have any meaning at all?

Perhaps what that second sentence is referring to is the traveller’s idea of the time that is “now” *back on Earth*. It is true that when we accelerate *away* from something we infer a *slowing down* of its clock at a rate proportional to the distance. If the distance is great enough this effect can make the clock “behind” us appear to stop, but beyond that distance (called the “Rindler horizon”), rather than see it run backwards we actually just don’t see it at all. (And, yes, the Rindler horizon perceived by an accelerated observer is indeed related to the Event horizon surrounding a gravitational singularity.)