In an ideal universe there are no paradoxes. In an ideal universe we would have a Theory of Everything that could provide all of the explanations for why things appear or behave the way that they do in physical reality. Mathematics is a tool which can provide explanation of phenomena but it is a tool which can be misused as when it leads to the creation of theory based only on its logic. This is not the intended practical purpose of mathematics. Albert Einstein was once confronted by a student who asked him why gravity didn’t pull everything together in Einstein’s model of the static universe. The good doctor needed some time to think that one out and he subsequently invented a constant which introduced an anti-gravity component into his relativity equations. Math saved his static universe theory – that is, until Edwin Hubble proved him wrong by pointing to his observation that the universe was expanding. We must remember to be wary of the ostensibility of mathematical depictions.
What is needed to gain a better understanding of relativity is first to appreciate exactly how light propagates or more precisely how the release of photonic energy is causally propagated. Energy which is released or absorbed by one of an atom’s electron shells in which the electron undergoes a transitional change whereby it drops to or is raised to another energy level is called photonic energy. This energy is absorbed or released as discrete quanta. This was first noticed by Max Planck, who is essentially the unwitting founder of quantum physics. In short, he witnessed energy released as pulses of a constant frequency from a black body radiator, or cavity resonator, a small hollowed out perfectly symmetrical sphere with a tiny hole punched in it. Albert Einstein extended Planck’s observation to include energy absorption of discrete quanta, and the photon was born.
At the event horizon of a black hole, the ‘point of no return’, particles are rushing in toward the center with such violence that electrons are literally stripped from the nuclei of their atoms. That is why we do not see light emanating from a black hole, and quasi-scientists describe this by saying that not even light can escape the intense gravitational pull of a black hole. But, in fact we need stable electron orbitals around the atoms in a medium in order for the range of frequencies that we can detect as light to be propagated as EM waves. We can still detect X-rays emanating from a black hole, but that is because they originate from deep within the atom. Think of the principle of like polar repulsion. All electrons have an electromagnetic charge, and if you bring adjacent atoms a little closer together than their normal stable relationship in a medium would allow, then you will begin to push the other atom away. If you set up an oscillating behavior in the atoms in a medium then they will all respond by oscillating at that frequency. In effect, the outer electron shells of the atoms in a medium are modulated with the surface characteristics of the atoms of all the objects within our field of view so long as there is a source of photonic energy stimulating their oscillations, like a lamp or the sun. This allows us to see things. Our retinas are electromagnetic wave detectors with their cones and rods tuned to the narrow range of frequencies in the visible part of the optical spectrum. Extreme brightness occurs when we look directly at the sun or at a bright light. This results in over-stimulation of the cones and rods by the high intensity EM waves emanating in a direct line from the source of light. Visibility is an interpretation of the brain.
The exchange of this information, which is what light is, via atomic or particle interaction can continue for perpetuity until it is obstructed or absorbed or when the nature of the particles change, as when they encounter the event horizon of a black hole. So we can conclude that photons are not particles which go scooting across the universe over incredible distances and that quanta of photonic energy are constantly being emitted and absorbed by the atoms interacting in a medium so long as normal stable electron orbitals exist around the nucleus of an atom to permit this. Physicists are routinely referring to photon wavelengths rather than photons to steer the reader away from the concept of photon particles originating at one point and ending up at another many light years away.
It follows that a transparent medium like water or glass contains many more particles over a given distance than does the atmosphere or space and since the propagation of an EM wave is a function of atomic interaction then we should observe the rate at which light is propagated to be different for different densities of mediums. That is indeed the case, as was observed by the celebrated French Physicist Leon Foucault in the nineteenth century. However, the rate of the atomic interaction of the particle for any medium is constant and is invariable for all frames of reference. Therefore the rate of light wave propagation is only an arbitrary number resulting from the calculation of the rate of particle interactions over a measured distance within a time frame of the medium represented by the components of the atmosphere found on Earth at about 1G and 1 atmosphere of pressure, and that this is not the case for all EM wave propagation in any medium because the distances over which light waves propagate for a given time frame are variable and a function of the density of the medium.
So what we think to be some kind of relativistic effect of light bending around a large object in space is really only refraction of the EM waves as they are passing through the denser medium of particles closer to a mass, the same way that our atmosphere refracts the sun’s rays. The denser medium slows down their propagation. Similarly, although Einstein was right in how we would perceive objects traveling at high velocity from a static frame of reference the effect is actually an optical illusion and does not actually apply to the person who is in motion but this is the way that light waves would behave in that scenario.
Now what does this have to do with relativity? Nothing. And that is the purpose of my critique. Simply understanding clearly how light waves propagate explains some logical and often bizarre effects as mere optical illusions when they originate from fast moving objects relative to a static observer.
Having said that, relativity is still very real and very strange. The effect of gravity actually slows time down. A wristwatch in space ticks faster than that same watch when brought back to the surface. Traveling at high rates of speed also slows time down. While these effects are negligible at the pace of our own existence on the Earth’s surface they can make a detectable difference in another context. The on board clocks of GPS satellites orbiting in space at a high rate of speed need to be adjusted by about 35 microseconds per day to make their locating capabilities more precise. That is a testament to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.