The Formative Years of Relativity. Gravitational waves go in one ear and out the other

The purpose of this piece is to review Hanoch Gutfreund’s and Jürgen Renn’s new book The Formative Years of Relativity: The History and Meaning of Einstein’s Princeton Lectures, Princeton University Press and Oxford University Press. I have found two problems in the book the first of which is Poincaré’s influence on Einstein and the second problem is related to gravitational waves. The first part of the review deals with Poincaré’s influence on Einstein. In this part I discuss the problem related to gravitational waves.

Gravitational waves have won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. The prize is awarded to Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish for their work on Ligo experiment. Actually, Kip Thorne’s interesting work is on wormholes: the Einstein-Rosen bridges, the Schwarzschild (non-traversable) wormholes and traversable wormeholes converted into time machines. Wormholes spark our imagination because of the possibility of travelling backwards in time and sending signals through the throat in space-time with causality violation.

However, let us concentrate on gravitational waves.

I have ordered the book from Amazon together with The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People who Treat you Like Dirt written by Robert Sutton, a Stanford University professor:


It seems that the book, The Formative Years of Relativity has mistakes and also errors in English (the book needs proofreading). I therefore ask the second writer: Are you living in a fool’s paradise?

Right at the beginning Gutfreund argues that gravitational waves is the only major topic debated during the formative years that has no trace in Einstein’s book The Meaning of Relativity. He writes: “Had we restricted our commentaries to the contents of Einstein’s book, there would be no reason to mention gravitational waves; however, it would be inconceivable to talk about the formative years without thoroughly discussing them. What is worth emphasizing in this context is how Einstein’s predominant interest in this phenomenon which developed immediately after the completion of his general theory, had faded away completely by the time he delivered the Princeton lectures” (Gutfreund’s book, page 8):


And the above conclusion is mentioned in the New York Times book review section:


Gutfreund and Renn “note, however, a conspicuous absence. There is ‘no trace’ in Einstein’s lectures of what is today considered a key topic in relativity: gravitational waves”.

In fact quite the opposite is true. Einstein’s mathematical derivations in his 1916 and 1918 two gravitational waves papers play a central role in The Meaning of Relativity of 1922. It therefore appears that Einstein’s interest in this topic had not faded away by the time he delivered the Princeton lectures.

Consider Einstein’s gravitational waves paper of 1916:


And here is the same equation in his 1921 book, The Meaning of Relativity (Gutfreund’s book, page 240):


Equation (92) represents the metric of general relativity Picture1 - Copy, which is the sum of the Minkowski flat metric Picture1 - Copy - Copy of special relativity and Picture1 - Copy (2) a very small disturbance.

And again, Einstein’s gravitational waves paper of 1916:


And his book, The Meaning of Relativity (Gutfreund’s book, page 246):

Picture3 - Copy

We write the field equations in terms of Picture1 - Copy (2). Equation (96b) below is the linearized approximation of Einstein’s field equations. Then we can solve the field equations in the same way that we solve Maxwell’s electromagnetic field equations (Gutfreund’s book, page 247):


Equations (101) above from the book The Meaning of Relativity, which are exactly like equations (9) from the gravitational waves paper of 1916, are the method of retarded potentials.

In his review paper of 1916, The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity, Einstein’s field equations were valid for systems in unimodular coordinates, i.e. he chose the coordinates so that Picture1111.

However, in his gravitational waves paper of 1916, Einstein thanked de Sitter for sending him the following metric, the one below: “Herr [Willem] de Sitter sent me these values by letter”:


And in the book, The Meaning of Relativity he writes the the same metric (Gutfreund’s book, page 249):


Indeed, in the book, The Formative Years of Relativity, Gutfreund writes: “On 22 June 1916, Einstein wrote to Willem de Sitter […] ‘For I found that the gravitation equations in first-order approximation [i.e. equations (96b) the linearized approximation of Einstein’s field equations] can be solved exactly by means of retarded potentials, if the condition of Picture1111is abandoned. Your solution for the mass point is then the result upon specialization to this case'” (Gutfreund’s book, page 97):


Daniel Kennefick explains Einstein’s letter to de Sitter in his book, Traveling at the Speed of Thought: Einstein and the Quest for Gravitational Waves (page 51):


By the way I highly recommend Kennefick’s book.

That being said, Gutfreund begins the chapter on gravitational waves with Max Born. Born asked Einstein how fast does the effect of gravitation propagates according to his theory? Einstein replied to him that it is simple to write down the equation for the case where the disturbances one places into the field are infinitesimal. In that case the metric Picture1 - Copy differs only infinitesimally (Picture1 - Copy (2)) from the values (Picture1 - Copy - Copy) that would be present without that disturbance; and the disturbance propagates with the velocity of light (Gutfreund’s book, page 94):


I wrote in my 2015 book General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries and in other places as well that the first time Einstein mentioned gravitational waves was in the discussion after the Vienna lecture in 1913:


However, Gutfreund does not cite my 2015 book.

In 2016 Gutfreund wrote a blog post and added Jürgen Renn and Diana Buchwald as co-authors:


They told the story of the origin of gravitational waves:


They briefly summarize the history of gravitational waves: “The first debates about the existence of gravitational waves even preceded the completion of general relativity by Einstein in November, 1915”. They only mention Max Abraham but don’t write that the first time that Einstein had mentioned gravitational waves was after the Vienna lecture in 1913, in the discussion, Max Born asked Einstein how fast does the effect of gravitation propagates according to his Entwurf theory.

Finally, in the same book, General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries, of 2015 I wrote:


And I read in Gutfreund’s book of 2017 and discover that he writes exactly the same thing but does not cite my book (Gutfreund’s book, page 35):




The prediction of gravitational waves emerged as early as 1913

On February 11, 2016, The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin published the following announcement: “One Hundred Years of Gravitational Waves: the long road from prediction to observation”:

“Collaborative work on the historiography 20th century physics by the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science carried out over many years has recently shown that the prediction of gravitational waves emerged as early as February 1916 from an exchange of letters between Albert Einstein and the astronomer Karl Schwarzschild . In these letters Einstein expressed skepticism about their existence. It is remarkable that their significant physical and mathematical work was carried out in the midst of a devastating war, while Schwarzschild served on the Eastern Front”.

Collaborative work by experts on the physics of Einstein from the Einstein papers Project, from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin: Prof. Jürgen Renn, Roberto Lalli and Alex Blum; and from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem the only representative is Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund, the academic director of the Albert Einstein Archives. Their main finding is therefore:

The prediction of gravitational waves emerged as early as February 1916 from an exchange of letters between Albert Einstein and the astronomer Karl Schwarzschild. However, from a historical point of view this is not quite accurate because Einstein reached the main idea of gravitational waves three years earlier, as I demonstrate below. Any way the group published two summaries of the study.

A summary was published in German:

“Als Einstein dann seine abschließende Arbeit zur allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie am 25. November 1915 der Preussischen Akademie in Berlin vorlegte, war die Frage, ob solche Wellen tatsächlich aus seiner Theorie folgen, noch offen. Einstein erwähnte das Thema zum ersten Mal in einem Brief, den er am 19. Februar 1916 an Karl Schwarzschild schickte. Nach einigen obskuren technischen Bemerkungen, stellte er lakonisch fest: „Es gibt also keine Gravitationswellen, welche Lichtwellen analog wären”.”

“Gravitationswellen – verloren und wiedergefunden” von Diana K. Buchwald, Hanoch Gutfreund und Jürgen Renn.

and also in English:

“When Einstein presented his theory of general relativity on Nov. 25, 1915 in Berlin, the question of whether such waves would constitute a consequence of his theory remained untouched. Einstein mentioned gravitational waves for the first time in a letter of 19 February 1916 to Karl Schwarzschild, a pioneer of astrophysics. After some obscure technical remarks, he laconically stated: “There are hence no gravitational waves that would be analogous to light waves”.”

“Gravitational Waves: Ripples in the Fabric of Spacetime Lost and Found” by Hanoch Gutfreund, Diana K. Buchwald and Jürgen Renn.

And here as well.

Hence, according to the three above authors Einstein mentioned gravitational waves for the first time in a letter of 19 February 1916 to Karl Schwarzschild. However, this is wrong . Einstein reached the main idea of gravitational waves three years earlier, which is not when the above group of scholars had thought the gravitational waves were mentioned for the first time. As early as  1913, Einstein started to think about gravitational waves when he worked on his Entwurf gravitation theory.

In the discussion after Einstein’s 1913 Vienna talk on the Entwurf theory, Max Born asked Einstein about the speed of propagation of gravitation, whether the speed would be that of the velocity of light. Here is Einstein’s reply:



In 1916, Einstein followed these steps and studied gravitational waves.

See my papers on gravitational waves (one and two) and my book for further information.

A Historical Note on Gravitational Waves

Dr. Roni Gross (press conference) holds Einstein’s general relativity paper from May 1916, “The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity” (“Die Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie.” Annalen der Physik 49, 769-822). However, in this paper Einstein did not discover gravitational waves. Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund, the academic director of the Albert Einstein Archives, asked Dr. Rony Gross to present this document to the journalists.




Equations (52) and (53) from the original page on the right above:


are Einstein’s field equations for systems in unimodular coordinates. There are no gravitational waves here!

In his 1916 general relativity paper, “The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity”, Einstein imposed a restrictive condition on his field equations. This condition is called unimodular coordinates.

Einstein presented the gravitational waves later in 1916, in a paper published under the title, “Approximate Integration of the Field Equations of Gravitation” (“Näherungsweise Integration der Feldgleichungen der Gravitation.” Königlich Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin). Sitzungsberichte, 688–696).

After the 1916 general relativity paper, Einstein succeeded in relinquishing the restrictive unimodular coordinates condition and in his new gravitational waves paper his equations were not restricted to systems in unimodular coordinates.


How did Einstein predict the existence of gravitational waves?

Einstein’s Discovery of Gravitational Waves 1916-1918

Einstein and Gravitational Waves 1936-1938

For further details on Einstein predicting gravitational waves read Chapter 3, section 1 in my new book: General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries, Einstein Polemics with physicists.


Some of the topics discussed in my new book General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries


The back cover of my book:

General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries: Einstein’s Polemics with Physicists:


This book focuses on Albert Einstein and his interactions with, and responses to, various scientists, both famous and lesser-known. It takes as its starting point that the discussions between Einstein and other scientists all represented a contribution to the edifice of general relativity and relativistic cosmology. These scientists with whom Einstein implicitly or explicitly interacted form a complicated web of collaboration, which this study explores, focusing on their implicit and explicit responses to Einstein’s work.

This analysis uncovers latent undercurrents, indiscernible to other approaches to tracking the intellectual pathway of Einstein to his general theory of relativity. The interconnections and interactions presented here reveal the central figures who influenced Einstein during this intellectual period. Despite current approaches to history presupposing that the efforts of scientists such as Max Abraham and Gunnar Nordström,  which differed from Einstein’s own views, be relegated to the background, this book shows that they all had an impact on the development of Einstein’s theories, stressing the limits of approaches focusing solely on Einstein. As such, General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries proves that the general theory of relativity was not developed as a single, coherent construction by an isolated, brooding individual, but, rather, that it came to fruition through Einstein’s conflicts and interactions with other scientists, and was consolidated by his creative processes during these exchanges.


Grossmann and Einstein


From Zurich to Berlin

  1. Einstein and Heinrich Zangger (Einstein and Michele Besso)
  2. From Zurich to Prague.
  3. Back to Zurich (Einstein and Marcel Grossmann).
  4. From Zurich to Berlin (Einstein and Max Planck, Erwin Freundlich and others in Berlin) .

General Relativity between 1912 and 1916

  1. The Equivalence Principle.
  2. Einstein’s 1912 Polemic with Max Abraham: Static Gravitational Field
  3. Einstein’s 1912 Polemic with Gunnar Nordström: Static Gravitational Field
  4. Einstein’s 1912-1913 Collaboration with Marcel Grossmann: Zurich Notebook to Entwurf Theory.
  5. Einstein’s 1913-1914 Polemic with Nordström: Scalar Theory versus Tensor Theory (Einstein and Adriaan Fokker).
  6. Einstein’s Polemic with Gustav Mie: Matter and Gravitation.
  7. 1914 Collaboration with Grossmann and Final Entwurf Theory.
  8. Einstein’s Polemic with Tullio Levi-Civita on the Entwurf Theory.
  9. Einstein’s 1915 Competition with David Hilbert and General Relativity
  10. Einstein Answers Paul Ehrenfest‘s Queries: 1916 General Relativity.
  11. The Third Prediction of General Relativity: Gravitational RedShift
  12. Erich Kretschmann‘s Critiques of Einstein’s Point Coincidence Argument (Einstein and Élie Cartan).
  13. Einstein and Mach‘s Ideas.
  14. Einstein’s Reaction to Karl Schwarzschild‘s Solution (Einstein and Nathan Rosen and Leopold Infeld and others in Princeton).
  15. The Fourth Classic Test of General Relativity: Light Delay.

General Relativity after 1916

  1. Einstein’s 1916 Polemic with Willem de Sitter, Levi-Civita and Nordström on Gravitational Waves (Einstein and Nathan Rosen and Leopold Infeld and Howard Percy Robertson).
  2. Einstein’s Polemic with de Sitter: Matter World and Empty World.
  3. Bending of Light and Gravitational Lens: Einstein and Arthur Stanley Eddington
  4. Einstein’s Interaction with Hermann Weyl and the Cosmological Constant
  5. Einstein’s 1920 Matter World, Mach’s Ether and the Dark Matter
  6. Einstein’s 1920 Polemic with Eddington on de Sitter’s World.
  7. Einstein’s Reaction to the Aleksandr Friedmann Solution.
  8. Einstein’s Reaction to the Georges Lemaître Solution.
  9. Edwin Hubble‘s Experimental Results.
  10. The Lemaître-Eddington Model
  11. Einstein and the Matter World: the Steady State Solution.
  12. Einstein’s Collaboration with de Sitter.
  13. Einstein’s Reaction to Lemaître‘s Big Bang Model
  14. Einstein’s Interaction with George Gamow: Cosmological Constant is the Biggest Blunder
  15. Einstein, Gödel and Backward Time Travel



Einstein 1916

People ask many questions about Einstein’s general theory of relativity. For instance: How did Einstein come up with the theory of general relativity? What did he invent? What is the theory of general relativity? How did Einstein discover general relativity? How did he derive his theory? Why was Einstein the first to arrive at generally covariant field equations even though many lesser-known scientists worked on the gravitational problem?

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

Why did Einstein object so fiercely to Schwarzschild’s’ singularity (black holes)? Why did Einstein introduce the cosmological constant? Was it his biggest blunder? Why did Einstein suggest Mach’s principle? Is Mach’s principle wrong? And so forth.


In my book General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries: Einstein’s Polemics with Physicists I try to answer these and many other questions.


Between 1905 and 1907, Einstein first tried to extend the special theory of relativity and explain gravitational phenomena. This was the most natural and simplest path to be taken. These investigations did not fit in with Galileo’s law of free fall. This law, which may also be formulated as the law of the equality of inertial and gravitational mass, was illuminating Einstein, and he suspected that in it must lie the key to a deeper understanding of inertia and gravitation. He found “the happiest thought of my life”. He imagined an observer freely falling from the roof of a house; for the observer there is during the fall – at least in his immediate vicinity – no gravitational field. If the observer lets go of any bodies, they remain relative to him, in a state of rest or uniform motion, regardless of their particular chemical and physical nature. The observer is therefore justified in interpreting his state as being “at rest”. Newton realized that Galileo’s law of free fall is connected with the equality of the inertial and gravitational mass; however, this connection was accidental. Einstein said that Galileo’s law of free fall can be viewed as Newton’s equality between inertial and gravitational mass, but for him the connection was not accidental. Einstein’s 1907 breakthrough was to consider Galileo’s law of free fall as a powerful argument in favor of expanding the principle of relativity to systems moving nonuniformly relative to each other. Einstein realized that he might be able to generalize the principle of relativity when guided by Galileo’s law of free fall; for if one body fell differently from all others in the gravitational field, then with the help of this body an observer in free fall (with all other bodies) could find out that he was falling in a gravitational field.

In June 1911, Einstein published his paper, “On the Influence of Gravitation on the Propagation of Light”. An important conclusion of this paper is that the velocity of light in a gravitational field is a function of the place. In December 1911, Max Abraham published a paper on gravitation at the basis of which was Einstein’s 1911 conclusion about a relationship between the variable velocity of light and the gravitational potential. In February 1912, Einstein published his work on static gravitational fields theory, which was based on his 1911 June theory. In March 1912, Einstein corrected his static gravitational fields paper, but Abraham claimed that Einstein borrowed his equations; however, it was actually Abraham who needed Einstein’s ideas and not the other way round. Einstein thought that Abraham converted to his theory of static fields while Abraham presumed exactly the opposite. Einstein then moved to Zurich and switched to new mathematical tools, the metric tensor as representing the gravitational potential. He examined various candidates for generally covariant field equations, and already considered the field equations of his general theory of relativity about three years before he published them in November 1915. However, he discarded these equations only to return to them more than three years later. Einstein’s 1912 theory of static fields finally led him to reject the generally covariant field equations and to develop limited generally covariant field equations.


Max Abraham

The Finnish physicist Gunnar Nordström developed a competing theory of gravitation to Einstein’s 1912-1913 gravitation theory. The equivalence principle was valid in his theory and it also satisfied red shift of the spectral lines from the sun. However, it was unable to supply the advance of the Perihelion of Mercury, such as Einstein’s theory; it led to a Perihelion like the one predicted by Newton’s law of gravity, and, it could not explain the deflection of light near the sun, because in Nordström’s theory the velocity of light was constant. Einstein’s 1913-1914 Entwurf theory of gravitation, the field equations of which were not generally covariant, remained without empirical support. Thus a decision in favor of one or the other theory – Einstein’s or Nordström’s – was impossible on empirical grounds. Einstein began to study Nordström’s theory from the theoretical point of view and he developed his own Einstein-Nordström theory on the basis of his conception of the natural interval. Eventually, in a joint 1914 paper with Lorentz’s student Adrian Fokker, Einstein showed that a generally covariant formalism is presented from which Nordström’s theory follows if a single assumption is made that it is possible to choose preferred systems of reference in such a way that the velocity of light is constant; and this was done after Einstein had failed to develop a generally covariant formulation for his own Entwurf theory.


Gunnar Nordström

After arriving back to Zurich in summer 1912, Einstein was looking for his old student friend Marcel Grossmann, who had meanwhile become a professor of mathematics in the Swiss Federal Polytechnic institute. He was immediately caught in the fire. So he arrived and he was indeed happy to collaborate on the problem of gravitation. Einstein’s collaboration with Marcel Grossmann led to two joint papers, the first entitled, “Entwurf einer verallgemeinerten Relativitätstheorie und einer Theorie der Gravitation” (“Outline of a Generalized Theory of Relativity and of a Theory of Gravitation”) is called by scholars the Entwurf paper.


Marcel Grossmann

The Entwurf theory was already very close to Einstein’s general theory of relativity that he published in November 1915. The gravitational field is represented by a metric tensor, the mathematical apparatus of the theory is based on the work of Riemann, Christoffel, Ricci and Levi-Civita on differential covariants, and the action of gravity on other physical processes is represented by generally covariant equations (that is, in a form which remained unchanged under all coordinate transformations). However, there was a difference between the two theories, the Entwurf and general relativity. The Entwurf theory contained different field equations that represented the gravitational field, and these were not generally covariant.


Elwin Bruno Christoffel


Gregorio Curbastro Ricci


Bernhard Riemann

Indeed at first though – when Einstein first collaborated with Grossmann – he considered (in what scholars call the “Zurich Notebook) field equations that were very close to the ones he would eventually choose in November 1915:



(See visual explanation of the Zurich Notebook on John Norton’s website).

In 1913, Einstein thought for a while – or persuaded himself – that generally covariant field equations were not permissible; one must restrict the covariance of the equations. He introduced an ingenious argument – the Hole Argument – to demonstrate that generally covariant field equations were not permissible. The Hole Argument seemed to cause Einstein great satisfaction, or else he persuaded himself that he was satisfied. Having found the Hole argument, Einstein spent two years after 1913 looking for a non-generally covariant formulation of gravitational field equations.

Einstein’s collaboration with his close friends included Michele Besso as well. During a visit by Besso to Einstein in Zurich in June 1913 they both tried to solve the Entwurf field equations to find the perihelion advance of Mercury in the field of a static sun in what is known by the name, the Einstein-Besso manuscript. Besso was inducted by Einstein into the necessary calculations. The Entwurf theory predicted a perihelion advance of about 18” per century instead of 43” per century.


Michele Besso

Towards the end of 1915 Einstein abandoned the Entwurf theory, and with his new theory 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.

Levi-Civita (2)

Tulio Levi-Civita

Tullio Levi-Civita from Padua, one of the founders of tensor calculus, objected to a major problematic element in the Entwurf theory, which reflected its global problem: its field equations were restricted to an adapted coordinate system. Einstein proved that his gravitational tensor was a covariant tensor for adapted coordinate systems. In an exchange of letters and postcards that began in March 1915 and ended in May 1915, Levi-Civita presented his objections to Einstein’s above proof. Einstein tried to find ways to save his proof, and found it hard to give it up. Finally, Levi-Civita convinced Einstein about a fault in his arguments. Einstein realized that his Entwurf field equations of gravitation were entirely untenable. He discovered that Mercury’s perihelion’s motion was too small. In addition, he found that the equations were not covariant for transformations which corresponded to a uniform rotation of the reference system. Thus he came to the conviction that introducing the adapted coordinate system was a wrong path and that a more far-reaching covariance, preferably a general covariance, must be demanded.


Sometime in October 1915, Einstein dropped the Einstein-Grossman Entwurf theory. He adopted the postulate that his field equations were covariant with respect to arbitrary transformations of a determinant equal to 1 (unimodular transformations), and on November 4, 1915, he presented to the Prussian Academy of Sciences these new field equations. Einstein gradually expanded the range of the covariance of the field equations until November 25, 1915. On that day, Einstein presented to the Prussian Academy his final version to the gravitational field equations.

Einstein’s biographer Albrecht Fölsing explained: Einstein presented his field equations on November 25, 1915, but six days earlier, on November 20, Hilbert had derived the identical field equations for which Einstein had been searching such a long time. On November 18 Hilbert had sent Einstein a letter with a certain draft, and Fölsing asked about this possible draft: “Could Einstein, casting his eye over this paper, have discovered the term which was still lacking in his own equations, and thus ‘nostrified’ Hilbert?” Historical evidence support a scenario according to which Einstein discovered his final field equations by “casting his eye over” his own previous works. In November 4, 1915 Einstein wrote the components of the gravitational field and showed that a material point in a gravitational field moves on a geodesic line in space-time, the equation of which is written in terms of the Christoffel symbols. Einstein found it advantageous to use for the components of the gravitational field the Christoffel symbols. Einstein had already basically possessed the field equations in 1912, but had not recognized the formal importance of the Christoffel symbols as the components of the gravitational field. Einstein probably found the final form of the generally covariant field equations by manipulating his own (November 4, 1915) equations. Other historians’ findings seem to support the scenario according to which Einstein did not “nostrify” Hilbert.

Einstein and Hilbert


David Hilbert

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. In this paper Einstein presented a comprehensive general theory of relativity. In addition, in this paper Einstein presented the disk thought experiment. Einstein’s first mention of the rotating disk in print was in his paper dealing with the static gravitational fields of 1912; and after the 1912 paper, the rotating-disk thought experiment occurred in Einstein’s writings only in a 1916 review article on general relativity: He now understood that in the general theory of relativity the method of laying coordinates in the space-time continuum (in a definite manner) breaks down, and one cannot adapt coordinate systems to the four-dimensional space.

Further, Einstein avoided the Hole Argument quite naturally by the Point Coincidence Argument. The point being made in the 1916 Point-Coincidence Argument is, briefly, that unlike general relativity, in special relativity coordinates of space and time have direct physical meaning. Since all our physical experience can be ultimately reduced to such point coincidences, there is no immediate reason for preferring certain systems of coordinates to others, i.e., we arrive at the requirement of general covariance. In 1918 Einstein saw the need to define the principles on which general relativity was based. In his paper, “Principles of the General Theory of Relativity”, he wrote that his theory rests on three principles, which are not independent of each other. He formulated the principle of relativity in terms of the Point Coincidence Argument and added Mach’s principle.

On November 18, 1915 Einstein reported to the Prussian Academy that the perihelion motion of Mercury is explained by his new General Theory of Relativity: Einstein found approximate solutions to his November 11, 1915 field equations. Einstein’s field equations cannot be solved in the general case, but can be solved in particular situations. The first to offer such an exact solution was Karl Schwarzschild. Schwarzschild found 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. On December 22, 1915 Schwarzschild told Einstein that he reworked the calculation in his November 18 1915 paper of the Mercury perihelion. Subsequently Schwarzschild sent Einstein a manuscript, in which he derived his exact solution of Einstein’s field equations. On January 13, 1916, Einstein delivered Schwarzschild’s paper before the Prussian Academy, and a month later the paper was published. Einstein though objected to the Schwarzschild singularity in Schwarzschild’s solution.


Karl Schwarzschild

In 1917 Einstein introduced into his 1915 field equations a cosmological term having the cosmological constant as a coefficient, in order that the theory should yield a static universe. Einstein desired to eliminate absolute space from physics according to “Mach’s ideas”.


Ernst Mach

Willem De Sitter objected to the “world-matter” in Einstein’s world, and proposed a vacuum solution of Einstein’s field equations with the cosmological constant and with no “world-matter”. In 1920 the world-matter of Einstein’s world was equivalent to “Mach’s Ether”, a carrier of the effects of inertia.


Einstein, Paul Ehrenfest and De Sitter; Eddington and Hendrik Lorentz. Location: office of W. de Sitter in Leiden (The Netherlands). Date: 26 Sept. 1923

De Sitter’s 1917 solution predicted a spectral shift effect. In 1923 Arthur Stanley Eddington and Hermann Weyl adopted De Sitter’s model and studied this effect. Einstein objected to this “cosmological problem”. In 1922-1927, Alexander Friedmann and Georges Lemaitre published dynamical universe models.


Friedmann’s model with cosmological constant equal to zero was the simplest general relativity universe. Einstein was willing to accept the mathematics, but not the physics of a dynamical universe.


In 1929 Edwin Hubble announced the discovery that the actual universe is apparently expanding. In 1931 Einstein accepted Friedmann’s model with a cosmological constant equal to zero, which he previously abhorred; he claimed that one did not need the cosmological term anymore. It was very typical to Einstein that he used to do a theoretical work and he cared about experiments and observations.




Einstein in America.

In Princeton in 1949, Kurt Gödel found an exact solution to Einstein’s field equations. Gödel’s solution was a static and not an expanding universe. Gödel’s universe 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.



The book also discusses other topics: for instance,  gravitational lensing, gravitational waves, Einstein-Rosen bridge, unified field theory and so forth.

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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: The Cambridge Companion to Einstein

I recommend this recent publication, The Cambridge Companion to Einstein, edited by Michel Janssen and Christoph Lehner.

It is a real good book: The scholarly and academic papers contained in this volume are authored by eminent scholars within the field of Einstein studies.

The first paper introduces the term “Copernican process”, a term invented by scholars to study scientists’ and Einstein’s achievements. The Copernican process describes a complex revolutionary narrative and the book’s side of the divide.

First, Einstein did not consider the relativity paper a revolutionary paper, but rather a natural development of classical electrodynamics and optics; he did regard the light quantum paper a revolutionary paper.

Carl Seelig wrote, “As opposed to several interpreters, Einstein would not agree that the relativity theory was a revolutionary event. He used to say: ‘In the [special] relativity theory it is no question of a revolutionary act but of a natural development of lines which have been followed for centuries'”.

Why did Einstein not consider special relativity a revolutionary event? The answer was related to Euclidean geometry and to measuring rods and clocks. In his special theory of relativity Einstein gave a definition of a physical frame of reference. He defined it in terms of a network of measuring rods and a set of suitable-synchronized clocks, all at rest in an inertial system.

The light quantum paper was the only one of his 1905 papers Einstein considered truly revolutionary. Indeed Einstein wrote Conrad Habicht in May 1905 about this paper, “It deals with the radiation and energy characteristics of light and is very revolutionary”.

A few years ago Jürgen Renn introduced a new term “Copernicus process”: […] “reorganization of a system of knowledge in which previously marginal elements take on a key role and serve as a starting point for a reinterpretation of the body of knowledge; typically much of the technical apparatus is kept, inference structures are reversed, and the previous conceptual foundation is discarded. Einstein’s achievements during his miracle year of 1905 can be described in terms of such Copernican process” (p. 38).

For instance, the transformation of the preclassical mechanics of Galileo and contemporaries (still based on Aristotelian foundations) to the classical mechanics of the Newtonian era can be understood in terms of a Copernican process. Like Moses, Galileo did not reach the promised land, or better perhaps, like Columbus, did not recognize it as such. Galileo arrived at the derivation of results such as the law of free fall and projectile motion by exploring the limits of the systems of knowledge of preclassical mechanics (p. 41).

Einstein preserved the technical framework of the results in the works of Lorentz and Planck, but profoundly changed their conceptual meaning, thus creating the new kinematics of the theory of special relativity and introducing the revolutionary idea of light quanta. Copernicus as well had largely kept the Ptolemaic machinery of traditional astronomy when changing its basic conceptual structure.

Although Einstein did not consider his relativity paper a revolutionary paper, he explained the new feature of his theory just before his death: “the realization of the fact that the bearing of the Lorentz transformation transcended its connection with Maxwell‘s equations and was concerned with the nature of space and time in general. A further new result was that the ‘Lorentz invariance’ is a general condition for any theory. This was for me of particular importance because I had already previously recognized that Maxwell‘s theory did not represent the microstructure of radiation and could therefore have no general validity”.

Planck assumed that oscillators interacting with the electromagnetic field could only emit and/or absorb energy in discrete units, which he called quanta of energy. The energy of these quanta was proportional to the frequency of the oscillator.

Planck believed, in accord with Maxwell’s theory that, the energy of the electromagnetic field itself could change continuously. Einstein first recognized that Maxwell’s theory did not represent the microstructure of radiation and could have no general validity. He realized that a number of phenomena involving interactions between matter and radiation could be simply explained with the help of light quanta.

Using Renn and Rynasiewicz phraseology, Planck “did not reach the promised land”, the light quanta. Moreover, he even disliked this idea. Einstein later wrote about Planck, “He has, however, one fault: that he is clumsy in finding his way about in foreign trains of thought. It is therefore understandable when he makes quite faulty objections to my latest work on radiation”.

In an essay on Johannes Kepler Einstein explained Copernicus’ discovery (revolutionary process): Copernicus understood that if the planets moved uniformly in a circle round the stationary sun (one frame of reference), then the planets would also move round all other frames of reference (the earth and all other planets): “Copernicus had opened the eyes of the most intelligent to the fact that the best way to get a clear group of the apparent movements of the planets in the heavens was to regard them as movements round the sun conceived as stationary. If the planets moved uniformly in a circle round the sun, it would have been comparatively easy to discover how these movements must look from the earth”.

Therefore Einstein’s revolutionary process was the following: Einstein was at work on his light quanta paper, but he was busily working on the electrodynamics of moving bodies too. Einstein understood that if the equation E = hf holds in one inertial frame of reference, it would hold in all others. Einstein realized that the ‘Lorentz invariance’ is a general condition for any theory, and then he understood that the Lorentz transformation transcended its connection with Maxwell’s equations and was concerned with the nature of space and time in general.