My new paper on Einstein and Schwarzschild

My new paper on General Relativity: Einstein and Schwarzschild.

Sometime in October 1915 Einstein dropped the Einstein-Grossman theory. Starting on November 4, 1915, Einstein gradually expanded the range of the covariance of his field equations. On November 11, 1915 Einstein was able to write the field equations of gravitation in a general covariant form, but there was a coordinate condition (there are no equations here so I cannot write it down here).

On November 18, 1915, Einstein presented to the Prussian Academy his paper, “Explanation of the Perihelion Motion of Mercury from the General Theory of Relativity”. Einstein reported in this talk that the perihelion motion of Mercury is explained by his theory. In this paper, Einstein tried to find approximate solutions to his November 11, 1915 field equations. He intended to obtain a solution, without considering the question whether or not the solution was the only possible unique solution.

Einstein’s field equations are non-linear partial differential equations of the second rank. This complicated system of equations cannot be solved in the general case, but can be solved in particular simple situations. The first to offer an exact solution to Einstein’s November 18, 1915 field equations was Karl Schwarzschild, the director of the Astrophysical Observatory in Potsdam. On December 22, 1915 Schwarzschild wrote Einstein from the Russian front. Schwarzschild set out to rework Einstein’s calculation in his November 18 1915 paper of the Mercury perihelion problem. He first responded to Einstein’s solution for the first order approximation from his November 18, 1915 paper, and found another first-order approximate solution. Schwarzschild told Einstein that the problem would be then physically undetermined if there were a few approximate solutions. Subsequently, Schwarzschild presented a complete solution. He said he realized that there was only one line element, which satisfied the conditions imposed by Einstein on the gravitational field of the sun, as well as Einstein’s field equations from the November 18 1915 paper.

“Raffiniert ist der Herrgott, aber boshaft ist er nicht” (Einstein might have already said….), because the problem with Schwarzschild’s line element was that a mathematical singularity was seen to occur at the origin! Oh my, Einstein abhorred singularities.

Actually, Schwarzschild “committed another crime”: he did not satisfy the coordinate condition from Einstein’s November 11 or November 18, 1915 paper. Schwarzschild admitted that his coordinates were not “allowed” coordinates, with which the field equations could be formed, because these spherical coordinates did not have determinant 1. Schwarzschild chose then the non-“allowed” coordinates, and in addition, a mathematical singularity was seen to occur in his solution. But Schwarzschild told Einstein: Don’t worry, “The equation of [Mercury’s] orbit remains exactly as you obtained in the first approximation”! See my paper from 2012.

Einstein replied to Schwarzschild on December 29, 1915 and told him that his calculation proving uniqueness proof for the problem is very interesting. “I hope you publish the idea soon! I would not have thought that the strict treatment of the point- problem was so simple”. Subsequently Schwarzschild sent Einstein a manuscript, in which he derived his solution of Einstein’s November 18, 1915 field equations for the field of a single mass. Einstein received the manuscript by the beginning of January 1916, and he examined it “with great interest”. He told Schwarzschild that he “did not expect that one could formulate so easily the rigorous solution to the problem”. On January 13, 1916, Einstein delivered Schwarzschild’s paper before the Prussian Academy with a few words of explanation. Schwarzschild’s paper, “On the Gravitational Field of a Point-Mass according to Einstein’s Theory” was published a month later.


Karl Schwarzschild

In March 1916 Einstein submitted to the Annalen der Physik a review article on the general theory of relativity, “The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity”. The paper was published two months later, in May 1916. The 1916 review article was written after Schwarzschild had found the complete exact solution to Einstein’s November 18, 1915 field equations. Even so, in his 1916 paper, Einstein preferred NOT to base himself on Schwarzschild’s exact solution, and he returned to his first order approximate solution from his November 18, 1915 paper.

A comment regarding Einstein’s calculations in his November 18, 1915 paper of the Mercury perihelion problem and Einstein’s 1916 paper. In his early works on GTR, in order to obtain the Newtonian results, Einstein used the special relativistic limit and the weak field approximation, and assumed that space was flat (see my paper). Already in 1914 Einstein had reasoned that in the general case, the gravitational field was characterized by ten space-time functions of the metric tensor. g were functions of the coordinates. In the case of special relativity this reduces to g44 = c2, where c denotes a constant. Einstein took for granted that the same degeneration occurs in the static gravitational field, except that in the latter case, this reduces to a single potential, where g44 = c2 is a function of spatial coordinates, x1, x2, x3. 

Later that year David Hilbert (with a vengeance from 1915?…) arrived at a line-element similar to Schwarzschild’s one, and he concluded that the singularity disappears only if we accept a world without electricity. Such an empty space was inacceptable by Einstein who was apparently much attracted by Mach’s ideas! (later termed by Einstein “Mach’s Principle”). Okay, Einstein, said Hilbert: If there is matter then another singularity exists, or as Hilbert puts it: “there are places where the metric proves to be irregular”…. (See my paper from 2012).








Strange Days at Blake Holsey High: a student is sucked into the black hole…



Einstein, Gödel and Time Travel

In January 1940 Gödel left Austria and emigrated to America, to the newly founded Institute for Advanced Study, located in Princeton University’s Fine Hall. Princeton University mathematician, Oskar Morgenstein, told Bruno Kreisky on October 25 1965 that, Einstein has often told him that in the late years of his life he has continually sought Gödel’s company, in order to have discussions with him. Once he said to him that his own work no longer meant much that he came to the Institute merely to have the privilege to be able to walk home with Gödel (Wang, Hao Reflections on Kurt Gödel, MIT Press, 1987, 31).


Image of Einstein and Gödel.

Palle Yourgrau writes in his book A World Without Time:

“Within a few years the deep footprints in intellectual history traced by Gödel and Einstein in their long walks home had disappeared, dispersed by the harsh winds of fashion and philosophical prejudice. A conspiracy of silence descended on the Einstein-Gödel friendship and its scientific consequences. An association no less remarkable than the friendship between Michelangelo and Leonardo – if such had occurred – has simply vanished from sight”. (Yourgrau, Palle A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Gödel and Einstein, Basic Books, 2005, 7).

In fact, cinquecento Florence the cradle of renaissance art, led to competition among the greatest artists, Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci and Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. And in 1504 the two greatest artists of the Renaissance Leonardo and Michelangelo became direct rivals.


Scuola di Atene, Raphael. Plato (Leonardo) and Aristotle (not Michelangelo).

We can readily admit that, the comparison Yourgrau made between Leonardo’s “friendship” with Michelangelo and Gödel’s daily walk to and from the Institute of Advanced Studies with Einstein is a comparison between two very different things.


Picture of Gödel and Einstein

In Princeton, in 1949, Gödel found that Einstein’s theory of general relativity allows the existence of closed timelike curves (CTCs), paths through spacetime that, if followed, allow a time traveler to interact with his/her former self (Gödel, Kurt, “An example of a new type of cosmological solutions of Einstein’s field equations of gravitation, Reviews of Modern Physics 21, 1949, 447-450).

He explained (Gödel, Kurt, “A remark about the relationship between relativity theory and idealistic philosophy, in: Albert Einstein – Philosopher-Scientist, ed. Paul . A. Schilpp, 1949, pp. 555-562; pp. 560-561):

“Namely, by making a round trip on a rocket ship in a sufficiently wide curve, it is possible in these worlds to travel into any region of the past, present, and future, and back again, exactly as it is possible in other worlds to travel to distant parts of space. This state of affairs seems to imply an absurdity. For it enables one e.g., to travel into the near past of those places where he has himself lived. There he would find a person who would be himself at some earlier period of his life. Now he could do something to this person which, by his memory, he knows has not happened to him. This and similar contradictions, however, in order to prove the impossibility of the worlds under consideration, presuppose the actual feasibility of the journey into one’s own past”.


Einstein replied to Gödel (in: Albert Einstein – Philosopher-Scientist, ed. Paul. A. Schilpp, 1949, pp.687-688):

“Kurt Gödel’s essay constitutes, in my opinion, an important contribution to the general theory of relativity, especially to the analysis of the concept of time. The problem here involved disturbed me already at the time of the building up of the general theory of relativity, without my having succeeded in clarifying it. Entirely aside from the relation of the theory of relativity to idealistic philosophy or to any philosophical formulation of questions, the problem presents itself as follows:


If P is a world-point, a ‘light-cone’ (ds2= 0) belongs to it. We draw a ‘time-like’ world-line through P and on this line observe the close world-points B and A, separated by P. Does it make any sense to provide the world-line with an arrow, and to assert that B is before P, A after P?

Is what remains of temporal connection between world-points in the theory of relativity an asymmetrical relation, or would one be just as much justified, from the physical point of view, to indicate the arrow in the opposite direction and to assert that A is before P, B after P?

In the first instance the alternative is decided in the negative, if we are justified in saying: If it is possible to send (to telegraph) a signal (also passing by in the close proximity of P) from B to A, but not from A to B, then the one-sided (asymmetrical) character of time is secured, i.e., there exists no free choice for the direction of the arrow. What is essential in this is the fact that the sending of a signal is, in the sense of thermodynamics, an irreversible process, a process which is connected with the growth of entropy (whereas, according to our present knowledge, all elementary processes are reversible).

If, therefore, B and A are two, sufficiently neighbouring, world-points, which can be connected by a time-like line, then the assertion: ‘B is before A,’ makes physical sense. But does this assertion still make sense, if the points, which are connectable by the time-like line, are arbitrarily far separated from each other? Certainly not, if there exist point-series connectable by time-like lines in such a way that each point precedes temporally the preceding one, and if the series is closed in itself. In that case the distinction ‘earlier-later’ is abandoned for world-points which lie far apart in a cosmological sense, and those paradoxes, regarding the direction of the causal connection, arise, of which Mr. Gödel has spoken”.

Seth Lloyd suggests that general relativistic CTCs provide one potential mechanism for time travel, but they need not provide the only one. Quantum mechanics might allow time travel even in the absence of CTCs in the geometry of spacetime. He explores a particular version of CTCs based on combining quantum teleportation (and quantum entanglement) with “postselection”. This combination results in a quantum channel to the past. The entanglement occurs between the forward – and backward going parts of the curve. Post-selection replaces the quantum measurement, allowing time travel to take place: Postselection could ensure that only a certain type of state can be teleported. The states that qualify to be teleported are those that have been postselected to be self-consistent prior to being teleported. Only after it has been identified and approved can the state be teleported, so that, in effect, the state is traveling back in time. Under these conditions, time travel could only occur in a self-consistent, non-paradoxical way. The resulting post-selected closed timelike curves (P-CTCs) provide time-travel (Quantum time machine) that avoids grandfather paradox. Entangled states of P-CTCs, allows time travel even when no space-time CTC exists. Such quantum time travel can be thought of as a kind of quantum tunneling backwards in time, which can take place even in the absence of a classical path from future to past.


But on March 3 1947, Einstein wrote the famous lines to Max Born: “I cannot make a case for my attitude in physics which you would consider at all reasonable. I admit, of course, that there is considerable amount of validity in the statistical approach which you were the first to recognize clearly as necessary given the framework of the existing formalism. I cannot seriously believe in it because the theory cannot be reconciled with the idea that physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky actions at a distance”. (Einstein to Born March 3 1947, letter 84). And at about the same time Professor John Archibald Wheeler recounted the time he was presenting Einstein with a new method of looking at quantum mechanics. The aging Einstein listened patiently for 20 minutes. “Well, I still can’t believe God plays dice”, he replied, adding, “but may be I’ve earned the right to make my mistakes”…


A Century of General Relativity מאה שנה ליחסות הכללית

Hebrew University of Jerusalem celebrates the anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GTR) in a four-day conference:

Space-Time Theories: Historical and Philosophical Contexts

Monday-Thursday, January 5-8, 2015, in Jerusalem, the van Leer Jerusalem Institute. The conference brings together physicists, historians and philosophers of science from Israel and the world, all working from different perspectives on problems inspired by GTR. It is the first among three conferences planned to celebrate the centenary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, the last of which will take place in the Max Planck Institute in Berlin on December 5, 2015, my next birthday. I am not on the list of speakers of the conference, but it says that admission is free.

בין ה-5-8 לינואר 2015 יתקיים כנס לציון 100 שנה להולדת תורת היחסות הכללית של איינשטיין. הכנס יתקיים במכון ואן ליר בירושלים ליד בית הנשיא. בכנס יישאו דברים היסטוריונים ופילוסופים של המדע שעוסקים בתחום וכן פיסיקאים. הוא הכנס הראשון מבין שלושה שמאורגנים בתחום. הראשון מאורגן באוניברסיטה העברית והאחרון במכון מקס פלאנק: יתקיים בדיוק בעוד שנה ביום ההולדת הבא שלי ב-5 לדצמבר, 2015. אני אמנם לא ברשימת הדוברים של הכנס בירושלים, אבל המודעה מציינת שהכניסה חופשית. בכנס הקודם מ-2005, שציין מאה שנים להולדת תורת היחסות הפרטית של איינשטיין במכון ואן ליר, זכורים היטב דברי הפתיחה של הנשיא ד’אז משה קצב


Einstein wrote Max Born on May 12, 1952:

“The generalization of gravitation is now, at last, completely convincing and unequivocal formally unless the good Lord has chosen a totally different way of which one can have no conception. The proof of the theory is unfortunately far too difficult for me. Man is, after all, only a poor wretch… Even if the deflection of light, the perihelial movement or line shift were unknown, the gravitation equations would still be convincing because they avoid the inertial system (the phantom which affects everything but is not itself affected). It is really rather strange that human beings are normally deaf to the strongest arguments while they are always inclined to overestimate measuring accuracies”.

What did Einstein mean by saying “the gravitation equations would still be convincing…”? “In June 9, 1952 Einstein wrote an appendix to the fifteenth edition of his popular 1917 book Über die spezielle und die allgemeine Relativitätstheorie Gemeinverständlich (On the Special and the General Theory of Relativity). In this appendix he explained:

“I wished to show that space-time is not necessarily something to which one can ascribe a separate existence, independently of the actual objects of physical reality. Physical objects are not in space, but these objects are spatially extended. In this way the concept “empty space” loses its meaning”.

The centenary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity

Einstein’s first big project on Gravitation in Berlin was to complete by October 1914 a summarizing long review article of his Einstein-Grossmann theory. The paper was published in November 1914. This version of the theory was an organized and extended version of his works with Marcel Grossmann, the most fully and comprehensive theory of gravitation; a masterpiece of what would finally be discovered as faulty field equations.


On November 4, 1915 Einstein wrote his elder son Hans Albert Einstein, “In the last days I completed one of the finest papers of my life; when you are older I’ll tell you about it”. The day this letter was written Einstein presented this paper to the Prussian Academy of Sciences. The paper was the first out of four papers that corrected his November 1914 review paper. Einstein’s work on this paper was so intense during October 1915 that he told Hans Albert in the same letter, “I am often so in my work, that I forget lunch”.


In the first November 4 1915 paper, Einstein gradually expanded the range of the covariance of his field equations. Every week he expanded the covariance a little further until he arrived on November 25 1915 to fully generally covariant field equations. Einstein’s explained to Moritz Schlick that, through the general covariance of the field equations, “time and space lose the last remnant of physical reality. All that remains is that the world is to be conceived as a four-dimensional (hyperbolic) continuum of four dimensions” (Einstein to Schlick, December 14, 1915, CPAE 8, Doc 165) John Stachel explains the meaning of this revolution in space and time, in his book: Stachel, John, Einstein from ‘B’ to ‘Z’, 2002; see p. 323).

Albert Einstein as a Young Man

These are a few of my papers on Einstein’s pathway to General Relativity:

Stay tuned for my next centenary of GTR post!

Celebrating the centennial of Einstein’s general relativity. (next year)…

“Shaken to its depths by the tragic catastrophe in Palestine, Jewry must now show that it is truly equal to the great task it has undertaken. It goes without saying that our devotion to the cause and our determination to continue the work of peaceful construction will not be weakened in the slightest by any such set-back. But what has to be done to obviate any possibility of a recurrence of such horrors?

The first and most important necessity is the creation of a modus vivendi with the Arab people”.

Albert Einstein, August 1929. (here)


Einstein attends a concert with Helen Dukas at the Great Synagogue in Berlin, 1930.

On December 10, 1915 Einstein told his best friend Michele Besso that his wildest dreams have now come true: general covariance and the perihelion of Mercury. Einstein wished Besso best regards and signed “your satisfied kaput Albert”.

Sometime in October 1915 Einstein dropped his old Einstein-Grossman theory, but he realized that the key to the solution lies in his 1914 review article “The Formal Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity”. He was finally led to general covariance. Starting on November 4 1915, Einstein gradually expanded the range of the covariance of his field equations.

Between November 4 and November 11, 1915, Einstein simplified the field equations, and was able to write them in general covariant form in an addendum to the November 4 paper, published on November 11. But there still remained difficulties.

On Thursday, November 18, Einstein presented to the Prussian Academy his solution to the longstanding problem of the precession of the perihelion of Mercury, on the basis of his November 11 general theory of relativity. Today, exactly one year from now the world will celebrate one hundred years to this achievement. Mazal Tov.


Between November 18 and November 25 Einstein found that he could write the field equations with an additional term on the right hand side of the field equations involving the trace of the energy-momentum tensor, which now need not vanish. Hence, Einstein resolved the final difficulties of his November 11 1915 theory of gravitation in his final November 25 1915 paper. These were the November 25 1915 field equations.

How did Einstein do this? Read my two papers (one and two) and see how Einstein solved the problem.



In winter 1916 Einstein exchanged letters with his friend from Leiden Paul Ehrenfest and rederived the November 25, 1915 field equations. How did Einstein do this? Read my two papers (one and two) and find out.

Einstein elaborated his 1912 Disk thought experiment, and his 1914 thought experiment, originally suggested by Newton in the Principia, the Two Globes thought experiment. After presenting the 1905 magnet and conductor thought experiment, Einstein wrote, “Examples of this sort … lead to the conjecture that the phenomena of electrodynamics as well as those of mechanics possess no properties corresponding to the idea of absolute rest”. The globes thought experiment was intended to demonstrate that this could be extended to accelerated motions and to the theory of gravitation using Mach’s principle (still not defined as a principle).