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Scientiae Studia

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Abstract

CASSINI, Alejandro  and  LEVINAS, Leonardo. The radical reinterpretation of Michelson-Morley’s experiment by special relativity. Sci. stud. [online]. 2005, vol.3, n.4, pp. 583-596. ISSN 1678-3166.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1678-31662005000400002.

We attempt to elucidate how different theoretical assumptions bring about radically different interpretations of the same experimental result. In order to do it, we analyze Einstein's special relativity as it was originally formulated in 1905. We then examine its singular relation with the result of the 1887 Michelson-Morley experiment. We point out that in diverse historical contexts one and the same experiment can be thought of as providing different - often incompatible - conceptualizations of phenomena. This permits us to show why special relativity prevailed over its rival theories. Einstein's theory made possible a new reinterpretation of Michelson-Morley experiment by relating it with a novel phenomenon, namely, the invariance of the speed of light, which was not the one originally investigated in that experiment. This fact enables us to answer the question about how this experiment could have been interpreted in a completely different historical context, such as seventeenth-century science, when Earth's orbital motion was still a questionable hypothesis.

Keywords : Michelson-Morley experiment; Postulates of special relativity; Historical context of the experiment; Assumptions and auxiliary hipotheses.

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