How many scientists did it take to make the discovery of Relativity – Special and General Theories? x

 Albert Einstein? or Albert Einstein, Michele Besso, Marcel Grossmann?… Read my latest paper

Besso, Special Relativity: Einstein ends his 1905 relativity paper by saying that he is indebted to Besso for several valuable suggestions. What could Besso’s valuable suggestions have been? Einstein’s biographer, Carl Seelig, wrote: “Later Besso […] used the following analogy: Einstein the eagle has taken Besso the sparrow under his wing. Then the sparrow fluttered a little higher: ‘I could not have found a better sounding-board in the whole of Europe’, Einstein remarked when the conversation turned one day to Besso. This way Einstein and Besso became inseparable”. x

In 1952 Besso recounted, “Another little fairy tale of mine concerning my view that I had participated in [the formulation of] the special theory of relativity. It seemed to me, as an electrical engineer, I must have brought up, in conversations with you, the question, within the context of Maxwell’s theory, of what is induced in the inductor of an alternator […]”: the Magnet and Conductor thought experiment that opens Einstein’s 1905 Relativity Paper. Maxwell’s theory was not yet on the official program of the Polytechnic School ETH (Einstein’s and Besso’s collage). It was probably Einstein’s self-reading about Maxwell’s theory, who explained to Besso about this theory. Only after such explanation could Besso within the context of Maxwell’s theory refer to his technical work and speak with Einstein or remind him about induction of which Einstein had already read about in books

Einstein and his closest friend, Michele Besso

Grossmann, General Relativity: When Einstein came back to Zurich in 1912 Marcel Grossmann looked through the literature, and discovered that the mathematical problem was already solved by Riemann, Ricci and Levi-Civita. Einstein collaborated with Grossmann and this led to the Einstein-Grossmann theory published in two joint papers. Just before writing the first paper with Grossmann, Einstein had struggled with these new tools in the Zurich Notebook. Einstein wrote Grossmann’s name and considered candidate field equations he would come back to in the first 1915 paper on General Relativity

In this paper Einstein wrote in the introduction, “I completely lost trust in my established field equations [of the Einstein-Grossmann theory], […]. Thus I arrived back at the demand of a broader general covariance for the field equations, from which I parted, though with a heavy heart, three years ago when I worked together with my friend Grossmann. As a matter of fact, we then have already come quite close to the solution of the problem given in the following”. x

Marcel Grossmann, Albert Einstein, Gustav Geissler and Marcel’s brother Eugen
during their time as students at the ETH- here

Besso, General Relativity: During a visit by Besso to Einstein in Zurich in June 1913 they both tried to solve the Einstein-Grossmann theory field equations to find the perihelion advance of Mercury in the “Einstein-Besso manuscript”. Besso was inducted by Einstein into the necessary calculations. Besso collaborated with Einstein on the wrong gravitational Einstein-Grossmann theory, and their calculation based on this theory gave a wrong result. In October 1915 Einstein abandoned the Einstein-Grossmann theory; he transferred the basic framework of the calculation from the Einstein-Besso manuscript, and corrected it according to his new 1915 General Relativity Theory with which he got the correct precession so quickly, because he was able to apply the methods he had already worked out two years earlier with Besso. Einstein though did not acknowledge his earlier work with Besso, and did not mention his name in his 1915 paper that explains the anomalous precession of Mercury

Einstein considered his best friend Michele Besso as a sounding board and his class-mate from the Polytechnic Marcel Grossman – as his active partner. Yet, Einstein wrote that Grossman will never claim to be considered a co-discoverer of the Einstein-Grossmann theory – a theory very close to Einstein’s general theory of relativity that he published in November 1915. He only helped in guiding Einstein through the mathematical literature, but contributed nothing of substance to the results of the theory. Hence, Einstein neither considered Besso or Grossmann as co-discoverers or co-inventors of the relativity theory which he himself invented

Read also this paper, “How many scientists does it take to make a discovery? The era of the lone genius , as epitomised by Albert Einstein, has long gone”. Prof. Athene Donald, the author of the paper writes, “Ask people to conjure up an image of a scientist and Albert Einstein is most likely to pop into their head. The iconic image is of a lone genius beavering away in some secluded room until that familiar equation – E=mc2 – crystallised in his brain sufficiently to be written down. I very much doubt doing science was ever quite like that, but it is even more unlikely to apply now”. What do you think? x


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