Received: 28 February 2014 / Revised: 28 May 2014 / Accepted: 9 June 2014 / Published: 25 June 2014

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**Abstract**

The second-order differential equation for a damped harmonic oscillator can be converted to two coupled first-order equations, with two two-by-two matrices leading to the group Sp(2). It is shown that this oscillator system contains the essential features of Wigner’s little groups dictating the

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The second-order differential equation for a damped harmonic oscillator can be converted to two coupled first-order equations, with two two-by-two matrices leading to the group Sp(2). It is shown that this oscillator system contains the essential features of Wigner’s little groups dictating the internal space-time symmetries of particles in the Lorentz-covariant world. The little groups are the subgroups of the Lorentz group whose transformations leave the four-momentum of a given particle invariant. It is shown that the damping modes of the oscillator correspond to the little groups for massive and imaginary-mass particles respectively. When the system makes the transition from the oscillation to damping mode, it corresponds to the little group for massless particles. Rotations around the momentum leave the four-momentum invariant. This degree of freedom extends the Sp(2) symmetry to that of SL(2, c) corresponding to the Lorentz group applicable to the four-dimensional Minkowski space. The Poincaré sphere contains the SL(2, c) symmetry. In addition, it has a non-Lorentzian parameter allowing us to reduce the mass continuously to zero. It is thus possible to construct the little group for massless particles from that of the massive particle by reducing its mass to zero. Spin-1/2 particles and spin-1 particles are discussed in detail.
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(This article belongs to the Special Issue Physics based on Two-by-two Matrices)