Some of the topics discussed in my first book, Einstein’s Pathway to the Special Theory of Relativity

People ask questions about Einstein’s special theory of relativity: How did Einstein come up with the theory of special relativity? What did he invent? What is the theory of special relativity? How did Einstein discover special relativity? Was Einstein the first to arrive at special relativity? Was Einstein the first to invent E = mc2?

Did Poincaré publish special relativity before Einstein? Was Einstein’s special theory of relativity revolutionary for scientists of his day? How did the scientific community receive Einstein’s theory of special relativity when he published it? What were the initial reaction in the scientific community after Einstein had published his paper on special relativity?

In my book, Einstein’s Pathway to the Special Theory of Relativity, I try to answer these and many other questions.The topics discussed in my book are the following:

I start with Einstein’s childhood and school days.


I then discuss Einstein’s student days at the Zurich Polytechnic. Einstein the rebellious cannot take authority, the patent office, Annus Mirabilis, University of Bern and University of Zurich, Minkowski’s space-time formalism of special relativity.


Young Einstein, Aarau Class 1896

Additional topics treeated in my book are the following: Fizeau’s water tube experiment, Fresnel’s formula (Fresnel’s dragging coefficient), stellar aberration, and the Michelson and Michelson-Morley Experiments.


Albert Einstein at the Patent office

Mileva Marić and Einstein




Eduard Tete, Mileva Marić and Hans Albert


Einstein’s road to the special theory of relativity: Einstein first believes in the ether, he imagines the chasing a light beam thought experiment and the magnet and conductor thought experiment. Did Einstein respond to the Michelson and Morley experiment? Emission theory, Fizeau’s water tube experiment and ether drift experiments and Einstein’s path to special relativity; “The Step”.


Henri Poincaré’s possible influence on Einstein’s road to the special theory of relativity.


Einstein’s methodology and creativity, special principle of relativity and principle of constancy of the velocity of light, no signal moves beyond the speed of light, rigid body and special relativity, the meaning of distant simultaneity, clock synchronization, Lorentz contraction, challenges to Einstein’s connection of synchronisation and Lorentz contraction, Lorentz transformation with no light postulate, superluminal velocities, Laue’s derivation of Fresnel’s formula, the clock paradox and twin paradox, light quanta, mass-energy equivalence, variation of mass with velocity, Kaufmann’s experiments, the principles of relativity as heuristic principles, and Miller ether drift experiments.


The book also briefly discusses general relativity: Einstein’s 1920 “Geometry and Experience” talk (Einstein’s notion of practical geometry), equivalence principle, equivalence of gravitational and inertial mass, Galileo’s free fall, generalized principle of relativity, gravitational time dilation, the Zurich Notebook, theory of static gravitational fields, the metric tensor, the Einstein-Besso manuscript, Einstein-Grossmann Entwurf theory and Entwurf field equations, the hole argument, the inertio-gravitational field, Einstein’s general relativity: November 1915 field equations, general covariance and generally covariant field equations, the advance of Mercury’s perihelion, Schwarzschild’s solution and singularity, Mach’s principle, Einstein’s 1920 suggestion: Mach’s ether, Einstein’s static universe, the cosmological constant, de Sitter’s universe, and other topics in general relativity and cosmology which lead directly to my second book, General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries.


My books



My new book on Einstein and the history of the general theory of relativity

Here is the dust jacket of my new scholarly book on the history of general relativity, to be released on… my Birthday:

General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries: Einstein’s polemics with Physicists.


The book is illustrated by me and discusses the history of general relativity, gravitational waves, relativistic cosmology and unified field theory between 1905 and 1955:

The development of general relativity (1905-1916), “low water mark” period and several results during the “renaissance of general relativity” (1960-1980).


Conversations I have had more than a decade ago with my PhD supervisor, the late Prof. Mara Beller (from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem), comprise major parts of the preface and the general setting of the book. However, the book presents the current state of research and many new findings in history of general relativity.


My first book:

Einstein’s Pathway to the Special Theory of Relativity (April, 2015)

includes a wide variety of topics including also the early history of general relativity.


Review of Arch and Scaffold Physics Today

Arch and scaffold: How Einstein found his field equations” by Michel Janssen and Jürgen Renn. Physics Today 68(11), 30 (2015). The article is published in November 2015, which marks the centenary of the Einstein field equations. (Renn co-authored with Gutfreund The Road to Relativity, Princeton Press)

This is a very good article. However, I would like to comment on several historical interpretations. . Michel Janssen and Jürgen Renn ask: Why did Einstein reject the field equations of the first November paper (scholars call them the “November tensor”) when he and Marcel Grossmann first considered them in 1912–13 in the Zurich notebook?

They offer the following explanation: In 1912 Albert Einstein gave up the November tensor (derived from the Ricci tensor) because the rotation metric (metric of Minkowski spacetime in rotating coordinates) did not satisfy the Hertz restriction (the vanishing of the four-divergence of the metric). Einstein wanted the rotation metric to be a solution of the field equations in the absence of matter (vacuum field equations) so that he could interpret the inertial forces in a rotating frame of reference as gravitational forces (i.e. so that the equivalence principle would be fulfilled in his theory).

However, the above question – why did Einstein reject the November tensor in 1912-1913, only to come back to it in November 1915 – apparently has several answers. It also seems that the answer is Einstein’s inability to properly take the Newtonian limit.

Einstein’s 1912 earlier work on static gravitational fields (in Prague) led him to conclude that in the weak-field approximation, the spatial metric of a static gravitational field must be flat. This statement appears to have led him to reject the Ricci tensor, and fall into the trap of Entwurf limited generally covariant field equations. Or as Einstein later put it, he abandoned the generally covariant field equations with heavy heart and began to search for non-generally covariant field equations. Einstein thought that the Ricci tensor should reduce in the limit to his static gravitational field theory from 1912 and then to the Newtonian limit, if the static spatial metric is flat. This prevented the Ricci tensor from representing the gravitational potential of any distribution of matter, static or otherwise. Later in the 1920s, it was demonstrated that the spatial metric can go to a flat Newtonian limit, while the Newtonian connection remains non-flat without violating the compatibility conditions between metric and (affine) connection (See John Stachel).


Phys. Today 68, 11, 30 (2015).

As to the “archs and scaffolds” metaphor. Michel Janssen and Jürgen Renn demonstrate that the Lagrangian for the Entwurf field equations has the same structure as the Lagrangian for the source-free Maxwell equations: It is essentially the square of the gravitational field, defined as minus the gradient of the metric. Since the metric plays the role of the gravitational potential in the theory, it was only natural to define the gravitational field as minus its gradient. This is part of the Entwurf scaffold. The authors emphasize the analogy between gravity and electromagnetism, on which Einstein relied so heavily in his work on the Entwurf theory.

However, I am not sure whether in 1912-1913 Einstein was absolutely aware of this formal analogy when developing the Entwurf field equations. He first found the Entwurf equations, starting from energy-momentum considerations, and then this analogy (regarding the Lagrangian) lent support to his Entwurf field equations. Anyway, I don’t think that this metaphor (analogy between gravity and electromagnetism) persisted beyond 1914. Of course Einstein came back to electrodynamics-gravity, but I think that he discovered his 1915 field equations in a way which is unrelated to Maxwell’s equations (apart from the 1911 generally covariant field equations, influenced by Hilbert’s electromagnetic-gravitational unified theory, but this is out of the scope of this post and of course unrelated to the above metaphor).


As to the November 4, 1915 field equations of Einstein’s general theory of relativity: When all was done after November 25, 1915, Albert Einstein said that the redefinition of the components of the gravitational field in terms of Christoffel symbols had been the “key to the solution”. Michel Janssen and Jürgen Renn demonstrate that if the components of the gravitational field – the Christoffel symbols – are inserted into the 1914 Entwurf Lagrangian, then the resulting field equations (using variational principle) are the November tensor. In their account, then, Einstein found his way back to the equations of the first November paper (November 4, 1915) through considerations of physics. Hence this is the interpretation to Einstein’s above “key to the solution”.

I agree that Einstein found his way back to the equations of the first November paper through considerations of physics and not through considerations of mathematics. Mathematics would later serve as heuristic guide in searching for the equations of his unified field theory. However, it seems to me that Michel Janssen and Jürgen Renn actually iterate Einstein’s November 4, 1915 variational method. In November 4, 1915, Einstein inserted the Christoffel symbols into his 1914 Entwurf Lagrangian and obtained the November 4, 1915 field equations (the November tensor). See explanation in my book, General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries, pp. 139-140.

Indeed Janssen and Renn write: There is no conclusive evidence to determine which came first, the redefinition of the gravitational field (in terms of the Christoffel symbols) or the return to the Riemann tensor.

Hence, in October 1915 Einstein could have first returned to the November tensor in his Zurich Notebook (restricted to unimodular transformations) and only afterwards in November 1915, could he redefine the gravitational field components in terms of the Christoffel symbols. Subsequently, this led him to a redefinition of the Entwurf Lagrangian and, by variational method, to a re-derivation of the 1912 November tensor.


Van Gogh had nostrified Hilbert (Hilbert visited Van Gogh, closed time-like loops…. ….)

Finally, Michel Janssen and Jürgen Renn write: Despite Einstein’s efforts to hide the Entwurf scaffold, the arch unveiled in the first November paper (November 4, 1915) still shows clear traces of it.

I don’t think that Einstein tried to hide the Entwurf scaffold. Although later he wrote Arnold Sommerfeld: “Unfortunately, I have immortalized the last error in this struggle in the Academy-papers, which I can send to you soon”, in his first November paper Einstein had explicitly demonstrated equations exchange between 1914 Entwurf and new covariant November ones, restricted to unimodular transformations.

Stay tuned for my book release, forthcoming soon (out by the end of 2015) on the history of general relativity, relativistic cosmology and unified field theory between 1907 and 1955.

My book: Einstein’s Pathway to the Special Theory of Relativity

2015 marks several Albert Einstein anniversaries: 100 years since the publication of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, 110 years since the publication of the Special Theory of Relativity and 60 years since his passing.


What is so special about this year that deserves celebrations? My new book on Einstein: Einstein’s Pathway to the Special Theory of Relativity has just been returned from the printers and I expect Amazon to have copies very shortly.


The Publisher uploaded the contents and intro.


I hope you like my drawing on the cover:


Einstein, 1923: “Ohmmm, well… yes, I guess!”



The book is dedicated to the late Prof. Mara Beller, my PhD supervisor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who passed away ten years ago and wrote the book: Quantum Dialogue (Chicago University Press, 1999):


Have a very happy Einstein year!

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…


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!