On the Meaning of the Constant “c” in Modern Physics

  • Peter MittelstaedtEmail author


In modern physics, the constant “c” plays a twofold role. On the one hand, “c” is the well known velocity of light in an empty Minkowskian space–time, on the other hand “c” is a characteristic number of Special Relativity that governs the Lorentz transformation and its consequences for the measurements of space–time intervals. We ask for the interrelations between these two, at first sight different meanings of “c”. The conjecture that the value of “c” has any influence on the structure of space–time is based on the operational interpretation of Special Relativity, which uses light rays for measurements of space–time intervals. We do not follow this way of reasoning but replace it by a more realistic approach that allows to show that the structure of the Minkowskian space–time can be reconstructed already on the basis of a restricted classical ontology (Mittelstaedt, Philosophie der Physik und der Raum-Zeit, Mannheim: BI-Wissenschaftsverlag, 1988 and Mittelstaedt, Kaltblütig: Philosophie von einem rationalen Standpunkt, Stuttgart: S. Hirzel Verlag, pp. 221–240, 2003), and that without any reference to the propagation of light. However, the space–time obtained in this way contains still an unknown constant. We show that this constant agrees numerically with “c” but that it must conceptually clearly be distinguished from the velocity of light. Hence, we argue for a clear distinction between the two faces of “c” and for a dualism of space–time and matter.


Special relativity Light signals Minkowskian space–time 



It is a pleasure to thank Friedrich Hehl for useful criticisms and suggestions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Theoretische PhysikUniversität zu KölnCologneGermany

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