My new paper on Einstein and general relativity

didMy new paper on Einstein and the general theory of relativity:


אודיסאת איינשטיין ליחסות הכללית Einstein’s Odyssey to General Relativity

מאמר שלי על דרכו של איינשטיין לתורת היחסות הכללית: אודיסאת איינשטיין ליחסות הכללית

סיינטיפיק אמריקן ישראל

“Einstein’s Odyssey to General Relativity”, Scientific American Israel

את המונח “אודיסאה” ליחסות הכללית טבע פרופ’ ג’ון סטצ’ל מאוניברסיטת בוסטון והוא מייצג את המסע המפרך של איינשטיין בדרכו ליחסות הכללית. ראו המאמר של סטצ’ל למטה

Odyssey to general relativity is John Stachel’s memorable phraseology. See:

Stachel, John (1979). “Einstein’s Odyssey: His Journey from Special to General Relativity”. In Einstein from B to Z, 2002.

I am sorry but this piece is in Hebrew. You can read my book General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries, my papers on Einstein and general relativity and a short summary below.


מפייסבוק: מארחים את ד”ר גלי וינשטיין לדבר על איינשטיין


My drawing of Einstein:      האיור שלי של איינשטיין

איינשטיין צעיר

And the original (I tried as hard as I could to draw a young Einstein…):       המקור


The article discusses the following topics:

1907. The Happiest thought of my life.


1907-1911. The equivalence principle and elevator experiments.


1911. Deflection of light and explaining deflection of light using an elevator thought experiment.


1911-1912 (1916). The disk thought experiment, gravitational time dilation and gravitational redshift.


1912. The disk thought experiment and non-Euclidean geometry.


1912. Einstein to Marcel Grossmann: “Grossmann, you must help me or else I’ll go crazy!”. Grossmann searched the literature, and brought the works of Bernhard Riemann, Gregorio Curbastro-Ricci, Tullio Levi-Civita and Elwin Bruno Christoffel to Einstein’s attention. With Grossmann’s help Einstein searched for gravitational field equations for the metric tensor in the Zurich Notebook.


1913-1914. The Entwurf theory. In 1913, Einstein and Michele Besso both tried to solve the new Entwurf field equations to find the perihelion advance of Mercury.

2October 1915. Einstein realizes there are problems with his 1914 Entwurf theory. November 1915. Einstein’s competition with David Hilbert.


November 1915. Four ground-breaking papers: Einstein presents the field equations of general relativity, finds the advance of the perihelion of Mercury and predicts that a ray of light passing near the Sun would undergo a deflection of amount 1.7 arc seconds.

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 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…


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!

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