This post is a response to a post by exchemist on another thread.
Quoting from Richard A Mould's book on Basic Relativity, Chapter 8, page 221:
"To anticipate things a bit, general relativity makes a statement about how the metrical properties of space-time are affected by the presence of matter in space-time. Until the relationship between matter and metric is explicitly stated, we cannot be said to have left the domain of special relativity, even when working with non-inertial frames of reference. The move from special relativity to general relativity is like the move from a two-dimensional flat plane to a two-dimensional curved surface such as the surface of a sphere.
Every time I read that statement I have the same reaction. "Come on man, speak English !"
The best way I can think of this is,
If you got mass in the problem, you are doing general relativity. Else, you are doing special relativity.
Space-time was invented for special relativity. Its default structure is "flat", meaning, if you plot x vs t for some object, the x and t axes are straight (flat) lines. They define a plane. A point object moving at constant relative velocity takes a straight line path in that x/t plane. If the point object has no relative velocity, it takes a straight vertical path. On the other hand, a point object with a uniform acceleration takes a curved path in the x/t plane. That can only happen if there is a force acting on it.
General relativity says that energy (including mass) curves space-time. In particular, if you plot x vs t, the t axis is curved. When I first read about general relativity, I went out and stared up at the sky looking for some indication of the curvature of space-time created by the earth. It's not out there. The curvature in on the graph.
Here's a trick. You can take the curved path of a uniformly accelerating point object in a flat x/t plane and exchange the t axis with it. Now the point object follows a straight path and the t axis is curved. You have converted from flat space-time to curved space-time. The straight object path means you took away the force. The curved t axis means you added gravity. Equivalence Principle.
You should see an image file here.
So you can describe the motion of an accelerating point object using either special or general relativity. But be forewarned. If you want to describe the motion using general relativity you have to know tensor calculus. Gulp.