The Formative Years of Relativity and a Prejudice on Poincaré’s Conventionalism

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 find two problems in the book the first of which is Poincaré’s influence on Einstein. This is the first part of the review which deals with Poincaré’s influence on Einstein. Since the book has mistakes and also errors in English and Jürgen Renn is considered a notable scholar, I assume that Gutfreund is probably responsible for the mistakes and for the errors in English.

Let us begin with page 26 of the book The Formative Years of Relativity. Gutfreund is apparently much attracted by “the painstaking analysis by the philosopher of science Yemima Ben-Menachem” in her book Conventionalism: From Poincaré to Quine. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2006):

Yemima 1921

Gutfreund writes that “Until 1921, Einstein did not mention Poincaré explicitly”.

Einstein obviously mentioned Poincaré before 1921. For instance, after the first Solvay congress in 1911, Einstein wrote to Heinrich Zangger (see the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, CPAE):




Einstein says that Poincaré was in general simply antagonistic and for all his acuity showed little understanding of the situation.

There was then great excitement among philosophers and historians of science when they discovered, as Gutfreund writes on page 26 above that “We know that he [Einstein] read Science and Hypothesis with his friends in the Akademie Olympia in 1902″.

Poincaré’s publisher Flammarion published La science et l’hypothèse (Science and Hypothesis) in Paris in 1902. How do we know that Einstein read this book in 1902 and not in 1903 or 1904? Take a look at Gutfreund’s words: “We know that he [Einstein] read Science and Hypothesis with his friends in the Akademie Olympia in 1902″. It means that Einstein rushed to the local bookstore in Bern the day the book was out, dodged people in the crowd waiting outside the bookstore and found the first French edition of Poincaré’s book. But maybe Einstein read the 1904 German translation of Poincaré’s 1902 book? This could be quite different from the original 1902 French edition.

Subsequently,  on page 26 Gutfreund writes: “Einstein’s biographer Abraham Pais quotes one of the members, Maurice Solovine, as saying: ‘This book profoundly impressed us and kept us breathless for weeks on end'”:


Gutfreund simply takes the Pais paragraph from Yemima Ben-Menahem’s book, Conventionalism, see footnote 80 below (page 134):


This is a mistake: We cannot cite Einstein’s biographer Abraham Pais quoting one of the members of the Akademie Olympia (Olympia Academy). The biography of Pais is not a primary source. We have to check a primary source and see whether Maurice Solovine himself said: “This book profoundly impressed us and kept us breathless for weeks on end”.

Here is the original primary source:


Lettres à Maurice Solovine. Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1956.

Here luck plays an important role because in the above book Solovine writes in French that Poincaré’s book “profoundly impressed us and kept us breathless for many weeks”. One should, however, check the original quote in French.

On page 30 Gutfreund tells the story of Einstein who explored “a famous example that goes back Poincaré”. There are several typos in the book.

Poincare typo

It is interesting, however, to look at the following sentence, several sentences below the above one on page 30:

He typo

“Without the distinction between axiomatic Euclidean geometry and practical rigid-body geometry, we arrive at the view advanced by Poincaré”. And then Gutfreund adds an end-note 15: “For an extensive analysis of Poincaré’s conventionalism, see Yemima Ben-Menachem, […]” Her book Conventionalism.

Yemima 1921-2

You might, of course, be tempted to suppose that Ben-Menahem has said the above words in her book. But this is by no means the case. Einstein says this in his 1921 talk, “Geometry and Experience” (see CPAE):

geometry and experience

After the words: “Without the distinction between axiomatic […]” Gutfreund writes: “He suggested that […]”

He typo

Who is “He”? Einstein or Poincaré?

Let us then examine Yemima Ben-Menahem’s book, Conventionalism.

I am quoting from Yemima Ben-Menahem’s book Conventionalism, page 84:

“… as both GR [general relativity] and the special theory of relativity originated in insights about equivalence, an element of conventionality might seem to be built right into the theory.  It is important to recognize, however, that Einstein’s use of equivalence arguments differs fundamentally from that of the conventionalist”.

And on page 134 Ben-Menahem writes: “The preceding discussion should alert us to the traces of Poincaré’s equivalence argument in Einstein’s work on GR as well. […] The centrality of equivalence arguments and their geometric implications is too obvious in Science and Hypothesis to be missed by a reader such as Einstein, who, we know, was familiar with the book. Beginning with the hypothesis of equivalence in 1907, Einstein makes use not only of the general idea of equivalent descriptions, but also of the types of examples Poincaré used”.


and on page 135, Yemima Ben Menahem argues that “Einstein was deeply influenced by the idea of equivalence, and to that extent could concede that Poincaré was right”:

page 135

I have found no historical evidence (primary documents, i.e. correspondence of Einstein with others, manuscripts, and also interviews with Einstein) supporting the claim that Einstein makes use of Poincaré’s equivalent descriptions.

In the 1920 unpublished draft of a paper for Nature magazine, “Fundamental Ideas and Methods of the Theory of Relativity, Presented in Their Development”, Einstein explained how he arrived at the principle of equivalence (see CPAE):

happiest happiest2

(Original in German). “When I (in Y. 1907) [in Bern] was busy with a comprehensive summary of my work on the special theory relativity for the ‘Jahrbuch für Radioaktivität und Elektronik’, I also had to try to modify Newton’s theory of gravitation in such a way that its laws fitted into the theory. Attempts in this direction showed the feasibility of this enterprise, but did not satisfy me, because they had to be based upon unfounded physical hypotheses. Then there came to me the happiest thought of my life in the following form:

The gravitational field is considered in the same way and has only a relative existence like the electric field generated by magneto-electric induction. Because for an observer freely falling from the roof of a house there is during the fall – at least in his immediate vicinity – no gravitational field. Namely, 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’.

The extremely strange experimental law that all bodies fall in the same gravitational field with the same acceleration, immediately receives through this idea a deep physical meaning. If there were just one single thing that fell differently in a gravitational field from the others, the observer could recognize with its help that he was in a gravitational field and that he was falling in the latter. But if such a thing does not exist – as experience has shown with great precision – then there is no objective reason for the observer to regard himself as falling in a gravitational field. Rather, he has the right to consider his state at rest with respect to gravitation, and his environment as field-free.

The experimental fact of independence of the material of acceleration, therefore, is a powerful argument for the extension of the relativity postulate to coordinate systems moving nonuniformly relative to each other”.

Isaac Newton had already recognized that Galileo’s law of free fall was connected with the equality of the inertial and gravitational mass. In approximately 1685, Newton realized that there was an (empirical) equality between inertial and gravitational mass (Newton 1726, Book I, 9). For Newton, however, this connection was accidental. Einstein, on the other hand, said that Galileo’s law of free fall could be viewed as Newton’s equality between inertial and gravitational mass, but for him the connection was not accidental.

Hence, Einstein made use of Newton’s equality (accidental equivalence) between inertial and gravitational mass and Galileo’s law of free fall and in his 1907 paper, “On the Relativity Principle and the Conclusions Drawn from It”, he invoked a new principle, the equivalence principle or hypothesis. He assumed the complete physical equivalence of a homogeneous gravitational field and a corresponding (uniform) acceleration of the reference system. Acceleration in a space free of homogeneous gravitational fields is equivalent to being at rest in a homogeneous gravitational field.

Ernst Mach criticized Newton’s bucket experiment. He said that we cannot know which of the two, the water or the sky, are rotating; both cases produce the same centrifugal force. Mach thus expressed a kind of equivalence principle: Both explanations lead to the same observable effect. Einstein could have been influenced by Mach’s idea that we cannot know which of the two, the water or the sky, are rotating. Indeed Charles Nordmann interviewed Einstein and wrote: “Perhaps even more than Poincaré, Einstein admits to have been influenced by the famous Viennese physicist Mach”.

On page 31, Gutfreund writes in his book:


“Had he [Einstein] instead accepted the conventionalist position […]” and then Gutfreund writes: “This in fact is exactly the situation in which Einstein introduced the mental model of a rotating disk, which he used as early as 1912 to show that the new theory of ravitation requires a new framework for space and time”.

Another typo: it should be the new theory of gravitation.

The rotating disk story starts with a problem in special relativity, with Max Born’s notion of rigidity and not with Poincaré! Einstein never mentioned any influence Poincaré had had on him when inventing the disk thought experiment.

At the annual eighty-first meeting of the German Society of Scientists and Physicians in Salzburg on 21-25 September 1909, Born first analyzed the rigid body problem and showed the existence of a class of rigid motions in special relativity.

John Stachel describes this state of affairs in his seminal paper of 1980: “The Rigidly Rotating Disk as a ‘Missing Link’ in the History of General Relativity”. It seems that Gutfreund is unacquainted with Stachel’s paper.

On September 29, 1909 the Physikalische Zeitschrift received a short note from Paul Ehrenfest. In his note Ehrenfest demonstrated that according to Born’s notion of rigidity, one cannot bring a rigid body from a state of rest into uniform rotation about a fixed axis. Ehrenfest had pointed out that a uniformly rotating rigid disk would be a paradoxical object in special relativity; since, on setting it into motion its circumference would undergo a contraction whereas its radius would remain uncontracted.

Born noted: “Mr. Ehrenfest shows that the rigid body at rest can never be brought into uniform rotation; I have discussed the same fact with Mr. Einstein in the meeting of natural scientists in Salzburg”. Born discussed the subject with Einstein and they were puzzled about how the rigid body at rest could never be brought into uniform motion. Born and Einstein discovered in that discussion that setting a rigid disk into rotation would give rise to a paradox: the rim becomes Lorenz-contracted, whereas the radius remains invariant. This problem was discussed almost simultaneously by Ehrenfest in the above short note.

Later in 1919, Einstein explained to Joseph Petzoldt why it was impossible for a rigid disk in a state of rest to gradually set into rotation around its axis:


On page 32 Gutfreund mentions the 10th German edition of Einstein’s popular book Relativity the Special and General Theory. He says that in a copy of this book there is a sheet of paper in the handwriting of Einstein’s stepdaughter containing a remark:


As you can see this remark is quite similar to Einstein’s letter to Petzoldt. Thus, it is preferable to quote Einstein’s own words, his letter to Petzhold. It seems that Gutfreund is unacquainted with the history of the rotating disk, because according to his book he is unaware of Stachel’s paper and the letter to Petzhold.

At the end of October 1909 Born submitted an extended version of his Salzburg talk to Physikalische Zeitschrift. In December 1909 Gustav Herglotz published a paper in which he noted that according to Born’s notion of rigidity, a “rigid” body with a fixed point can only rotate uniformly about an axis that goes through it, like an ordinary rigid body. Several months later, Einstein mentioned Born’s and Herglotz’s papers in a letter from March 1910 to Jakob Laub, in which he said that he was very much interested in their then recent investigations on the rigid body and the theory of relativity.  A month later, in conversations with Vladimir Varičak Einstein explained that the great difficulty lies in bringing the “rigid” body from a state of rest into rotation. In this case, each material element of the rotating body must Lorentz contract. See my new book Einstein’s Pathway to the Special Theory of Relativity 2Ed for full details.

In his paper from February 1912, Einstein considered a system K with coordinates x, y, z in a state of uniform rotation (disk) in the direction of its x-coordinate and referred to it from a non-accelerated system. Einstein wrote that K‘s uniform rotation is uniform “in Born’s sense”, namely, he considered a rotating disk already in a state of uniform rotation observed from an inertial system and reproduced his conversations with Varičak. Einstein then extended the 1907–1911 equivalence principle to uniformly rotating systems as promised in conversations with Sommerfeld in 1909.

All we know according to primary sources is that the origin of the rotating disk story is in a problem in special relativity, Max Born’s notion of rigidity and Ehrenfest’s paradox, which Einstein mentioned many times before 1912. Einstein never mentioned any influence Poincaré had had on him when inventing the disk thought experiment. Writing that Einstein was influenced by Poincaré’s conventionalism and equivalent arguments is speculating about the influence of the later on the former.

Gutfreund’s mistake about Poincaré’s influence on Einstein and Einstein’s so-called failure to acknowledge Poincaré’s work in connection with the equivalence principle and the rotating disk thought experiment in general relativity comes from Yemima Ben-Menahem’s book, Conventionalism. However, this misconception or prejudice on the part of Ben-Menahem comes from my PhD thesis which was submitted to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem back in 1998. I was a PhD student in the program for the history and philosophy of science and Yemima Ben-Menahem was a professor there. Here for example are several paragraphs from my PhD thesis:




And Poincaré’s disk thought experiment:








I have thus written in my thesis about Poincaré’s disk thought experiment and the equivalence of Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries. I then mentioned Einstein’s rotating disk thought experiment and said that we eliminate absolute motion of the disk by assuming the equivalence of gravity and inertia. I then spoke about conventionalism and Einstein’s equivalence principle.

After the PhD I corrected and edited my PhD but then I was horrified to discover what looked like a magnification of the prejudice of Poincaré’s conventionalism and equivalence argument and his disk thought experiment influencing Einstein when creating general relativity: In 2006 Yemima Ben-Menahem said exactly the same thing in her book, Conventionalism. You might say that it is even a more unfortunate instance to write about Poincaré’s influence on Einstein in connection with the equivalence principle and the disk thought experiment in general relativity over and over again in a single book… (see now for instance her book, pages 64-65):






Going on to Hanoch Gutfreund, in his new book of 2017, The Formative Years of Relativity, he has simply brought this incidence to the surface when he told the whole story of this prejudice all over again.








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 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!

June 30. Ether is superfluous: Faraday and Einstein

On this day in 1905 Albert Einstein’s paper, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” arrived at the editorial offices of the journal Annalen der Physik. The paper was published three months later, and the theory later became known as special relativity. Physics Today.


On April 15, 1846 Faraday gave a lecture at the Royal Institution. The talk was delivered under the title “Thoughts of Ray Vibrations”.  

Faraday began saying: “I incline to believe that when there are intervening particles of matter (being themselves only centers of force), they take part in carrying on the force through the line, but when there are none, the line proceeds through space… we can at all events affect these lines of force in a manner which may be conceived as partaking of the nature of a shake or lateral vibration…
It may be asked, what lines of force are there in nature which are fitted to convey such an action and supply for the vibrating theory the place of the aether?” The lines of force could be electrical, magnetic or gravitational. “…all I can say is, that I do not perceive in any part of space, whether (to use the common phrase) vacant of filled with matter, anything but forces and the lines in which they are exerted…
The view which I am so bold to put forth considers, therefore, radiation as a high species of vibration in the lines of force which are known to connect particles and also masses of matter together. It endeavours to dismiss the aether, but not the vibrations”.
In addition, Faraday explains that the vibrations that occur on the surface of disturbed water, or the waves of sound in gases or liquids, are “direct or to and fro from the centre of action”, whereas the (radiant) vibrations are “lateral”.
Faraday then explains the problem that is inherent in an ether model. He writes that it seems to him, “that the resultant of two or more lines of force is an apt condition for that action which may be considered as equivalent to a lateral vibration; whereas a uniform medium, like the ether does not appear apt, or more apt than air or water”.

Faraday’s lines of force inspired Maxwell in developing electric and magnetic field theory, but Maxwell did not follow Faraday in rejecting the ether. Maxwell developed mechanical models for the ether.


Michael Faraday

Einstein, apparently not knowing about Faraday’s 1846 rejection of the ether, started his 1905 relativity paper with the problematic asymmetries that were inherent in the electrodynamical explanation of the phenomenon of induction by Faraday. Hence, Einstein started with Faraday.

According to Faraday, when a magnet and a closed electric circuit are in relative motion, an electric current is induced in the electric circuit. This current is actually a result of the relative motion between the magnet and the conductor.
If the conductor is at rest in the ether and the magnet is moved with a given velocity, a certain electric current is induced in the conductor. If the magnet is at rest, and the conductor moves with the same relative velocity, a current of the same magnitude and direction is in the conductor. The ether theory gives a different explanation for the origin of this current in the two cases. In the first case an electric field is supposed to be created in the ether by the motion of the magnet relative to it (Faraday’s induction law). In the second case, no such electric field is supposed to be present since the magnet is at rest in the ether, but the current results from the motion of the conductor through the static magnetic field.

This asymmetry of the explanation is foreign to the phenomenon, because the observable phenomena (the current in the conductor) depend only on the relative motion of the conductor and the magnet.

Parts of Faraday’s talk are also quoted in “Fields of Force: The Development of a World View from Faraday to Einstein”,  By William Berkson, pp. 97-99.

איינשטיין ותורת הקוונטים Einstein and the Light Quantum

In 1905 Planck, a coeditor of the Annalen der Physik, accepted Einstein’s paper on light quanta for publication, even though he disliked the idea of “light quanta”. Einstein’s relativity paper was received by the Annalen der Physik at the end of June 1905 and Planck was the first scientist to notice Einstein’s relativity theory and to report favorably on it. In the 1905 relativity paper Einstein used the notion, “light complex”, and he did not invoke his novel quanta of light heuristic with respect to the principle of relativity. He chose the language “light complex” for which no clear definition could be given. But with hindsight, in 1905 Einstein made exactly the right choice not to mix concepts from his quantum paper with those from his relativity paper. He focused on the solution of his relativity problem, whose far-reaching perspectives Planck already sensed. x

In the Electrodynamical part of the Relativity paper Einstein considers the system K. Very far from the origin of K, there is a source of electromagnetic waves. Let part of space containing the origin of coordinates 0 be represented to a sufficient degree of approximation by plane waves. Einstein asks: What characterizes the waves when they are examined by an observer at the same point 0, but at rest in the system k, moving relatively to K with constant speed v? x

Einstein applies the Lorentz transformation and transformation equations for electric and magnetic fields to the equations of the plane electromagnetic wave with respect to K. He obtains the Doppler principle, i.e., the frequency of electromagnetic waves as it appears in the system k and K: f’/f.   x

Einstein then finds the amplitude of the waves as it appears in the system k; the amplitude of the electric or magnetic waves A or A’, respectively, as it is measured in the system K or in the system k. Einstein gives the equation for the square of amplitude, Pointing vector. x

We expect that the ratio of the square of the amplitude of a given light complex “measured in motion” and “measured at rest” would be the energy if the volume of a light complex were the same measured in K and k. However, says Einstein, this is not the case.  x

Einstein thus instead considers a spherical surface of radius R moving with the velocity of light. He is interested in the light energy enclosed by the light surface. No energy passes outside through the surface of the spherical light surface, because the surface and the light wave both travel with the velocity of light. He calculates the amount of energy enclosed by this surface as viewed from the system k, which will be the energy of the light complex relative to the system k. The spherical surface – viewed in the system k – is an ellipsoidal surface. If we call the energy of the light enclosed by this surface E when it is measured in system K, and E’ when measured in system k, we obtain the equation that relates between E and E’.  x

Einstein realizes that, “It is noteworthy that the energy and the frequency of a light complex vary with the observer’s state of motion according to the same law”. x

Namely, E’/E = f’/f.     x

John Stachel read my manuscript and said that this formula corresponds to that of the light quantum hypothesis, and in hindsight this supplies extra evidence for the later hypothesis. Einstein’s aim is to show that the equation E = hv that he uses in the quantum paper takes the same form in any inertial frame. That is, E = hv is transformed to E’ = hv’ and thus the relativity postulate is not violated.  x

I wrote in my manuscript that Rynasiewicz wrote in 2005 (and even before that) that, “Einstein wraps up his derivation with what is clearly an allusion to the light quantum hypothesis”. Rynasiewicz adds that “What he does not draw attention to there is the intimate relation of this result to the relative character of simultaneity”.  x

However, Stachel told me that he was the first to notice that in his relativity paper Einstein implicitly referred to the light quantum hypothesis and he told me to delete Rynasiewicz’s comment. x

Then in light of my manuscript Stachel wrote the following paragraph, which reflects my manuscript, and also the collected papers of Einstein, which he edited

Before submitting his 1905 special relativity paper, Einstein had submitted the light quantum paper – the only one of his 1905 papers he considered truly revolutionary. “On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Generation and Transformation of Light”, sent to the Annalen on March 17th, 1905, and received by the Annalen a day afterwards. Indeed Einstein wrote Habicht in May 1905 about this paper, “It deals with the radiation and energy characteristics of light and is very revolutionary”.  x

This paper extended the range of application of Planck’s 1900 quantum hypothesis. In order to explain his law of black body radiation, which had been well-verified empirically, Planck was forced to assume 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: E = hv. But Planck believed, in accord with Maxwell’s theory, that the energy of the electromagnetic field itself could change continuously. x

Einstein now showed that, if this formula were extended to the electromagnetic field energy itself, a number of phenomena involving interactions between matter and radiation, otherwise inexplicable classically, could now be simply explained with the help of these light quanta. x

But, he was at work on his relativity paper too; so the question naturally arose, if the equation E = hv holds in one inertial frame of reference, will it hold in all others. If not, then Einstein’s relativity principle would be violated. Since h, the so-called quantum of action, is a universal constant, the question reduces to: Do the energy and frequency of a light quantum transform in the same way in passing from one inertial frame to another. And this is just what he demonstrates in his paper. x

Hence, not wanting to introduce a discussion of his still-quite-speculative light quantum hypothesis into a paper which he regarded as simply an extension of well accepted classical ideas from mechanics to electromagnetism and optics, he confined his proof to the classical level. x

Instead of “light quanta”, in his proof he introduced the rather awkward term “light complex”, a term that he soon dropped. x

In my paper discussing relativity and light quanta I bring both opinions and I also refer to Einstein’s Collected Papers. x

HUJI, Lucien Chavan

paper abstract

איינשטיין ותורת היחסות הפרטית: איינשטיין במשרד הפטנטים Einstein and Relativity: Patent Office

Einstein’s business card, Princeton  כרטיס ביקור

In the Patent Office Einstein hatched his most beautiful ideas, and there he spent his “Happy Bern Years”. These wonderful ideas led to his miraculous year works of 1905. Einstein was not an expert in academic matters, and he was out of academic world. Neither did he meet influential professors, or attend academic meetings. He discussed his ideas with his close friends and colleagues from the Patent Office. In 1907 he finally got his foot into the academic doorway; Einstein became a privatdozent and gave lectures at the University of Bern. However, his first students consisted again of his two close friends and another colleague from the Patent Office. Read my papers in the link below

Einstein and the Theory of Relativity

Helge Kragh Writes in his paper “A Sense of Crisis: Physics in the fin-de-siecle Era”:

If mass is of electromagnetic origin it will increase with the speed or kinetic energy of the body in question, such as shown by Abraham, Lorentz and other electron theorists in the early twentieth century. It followed that the concepts of mass and energy could not be strictly separate, but that they must be connected by an equivalence relation of the same kind that Einstein famously proposed in 1905 (namely, E = mc2). According to this point of view, matter was not really dead, it had merely metamorphosed into energy. Proposals of a mass-energy relationship predated Einstein’s theory of relativity, and they added to the feeling that the entire foundation of physics had to be reconsidered. Young Einstein agreed, but for very different reasons. He saw no merit in the fashionable electromagnetic research program”. x

I don’t agree with Kragh. Einstein was the first to propose the inertial mass-energy equivalence (namely, E0 = m0c2). Abraham, Lorentz, and Poincaré (fin-de-siecle scientists) did not explore the inertial mass-energy equivalence, “an equivalence relation of the same kind that Einstein famously proposed in 1905”. In 1908 Einstein wrote the German physicist Johannes Stark: “I was a little surprised to see that you did not acknowledge my priority regarding the relationship between inertial mass and energy”. See my paper. x

איינשטיין פקיד במשרד פטנטים.

נתחיל בשתי תובנות קלאסיות של חבריו של איינשטיין, שהן אופייניות מאוד לעולם האינטיליגנציה:

מקס תלמוד כתב ב-1932: “מצאתי את חברי [איינשטיין בברן]. סביבתו העידה על מידה רבה של עוני. הוא גר בחדר קטן ומרוהט בעוני. למדתי שהיה לו מאבק חיים קשה עם משכורת דחוקה של פקיד במשרד הפטנטים. קשייו הועצמו בגלל אנשים שקינאו בו והניחו בדרכו מכשולים. כבונוס חברי נתן לי עותק של פרסומו הראשון [על קפילאריות]”.

פרידריך אדלר [חברו של איינשטיין לספסל הלימודים בפוליטכניון] כתב לאביו ב-19 ליוני 1908 לאחר שזכה בתחרות מול איינשטיין על משרת פרופסורה באוניברסיטת ציריך ובסוף ויתר לאיינשטיין על המשרה: “איש בשם איינשטיין, שלמד באותו הזמן בו אני למדתי. אפילו שמענו כמה הרצאות יחד. התפתחותנו נראתה מקבילה: הוא התחתן עם סטודנטית בערך באותו הזמן כמוני ויש לו ילדים. אבל אף אחד לא תמך בו ולמשך זמן הוא כמעט גווע ברעב. כסטודנט הפרופסורים התייחסו אליו בבוז, הספרייה פעמים רבות הייתה סגורה בפניו, ועוד. לא הייתה לו כל הבנה כיצד להסתדר עם האנשים החשובים… לבסוף, הוא מצא משרה במשרד הפטנטים בברן, ובמהלך כל התקופה הוא המשיך בעבודתו התיאורטית למרות כל ההפרעות”.

איינשטיין במשרד הפטנטים

ב-23 ליוני 1902, בשמונה בבוקר בדיוק איינשטיין התייצב לעבודה במשרד הפטנטים הפדראלי השווצרי. הוא עלה למשרדו בבנין הדואר והטלגרף שליד מגדל השעון המפורסם מעל שער העיר ברן. תפקידו היה עורך פטנטים; מומחה טכני זמני בדרגה 3 והוא הרוויח משכורת של 3500 פרנקים לשנה. הוא העריך פניות פטנטים, כתב שוב את הפניות שהתקבלו במשרד, כדי להגן על הממציא כנגד השגות גבול אפשריות. הוא בדק המצאות מקוריות והשלמות להמצאות שהוגשו למשרד; ניסח בבהירות את מהותן והיה צריך לבדוק בזהירות רבה האם הן מקוריות או לא. העבודה דרשה ידיעה של חוק הפטנטים ויכולת לקרוא ספציפיקציות טכניות, וידע בהנדסה ובפיזיקה, למעשה פיזיקה מאוד מעשית. בסירובו לפניות פטנטים מסוימות לא פעם הוא כתב: “פניית פטנט זו היא בלתי נכונה, בלתי מדויקת וכתובה לא ברור”. כאשר שאלו את איינשטיין כיצד פועל משרד הפטנטים? הוא הסביר, שיותר מכל, צריך להיות מסוגל לבטא בבהירות ונכון את הפטנט המקורי מתוך התיאור של התגלית והטיעונים של מגיש הפטנט.

אינשטיין הרגיש בבית במשרד הפטנטים ובין ערימות הפטנטים. כילד הוא הביט בדודו יעקב המהנדס והממציא במפעל המשפחתי, שהגיש ששה פטנטים על המצאותיו. במעבדה של פרופסור הינריך פרידריך וובר הוא לבטח גם כן בא במגע עם המצאות חדשות עליהן הוגשו פטנטים. חרף ניסיונות אלה, נדרשה מאיינשטיין רמת דיוק ואובייקטיביות, שהרי הקריטריונים לפיהם נבדקו הפטנטים לא פעם יכלו להיות נדונים בבית המשפט. איינשטיין היה פיסיקאי והיה לו מעט ניסיון בקריאה ובפירוש של איורים טכניים ובטח היה חסר ניסיון הנדסי, ולכן מנהל משרד הפטנטים פרידריך האלר הדריכו בקפדנות.

באקדמיה לעומת זאת, המקוריות והיצירתיות לא היו הקריטריון הראשי לטיפוס בסולם האקדמי, בייחוד בעולם דובר הגרמנית. לו איינשטיין היה מתקבל לאקדמיה הוא היה חש לחץ להתאים עצמו לדעות הקדומות או לממסד ולדעה המקובלת של פטרוניו, להתקבל כאסיסטנט לפרופסור, “קריירה אקדמית שבה אדם מאולץ ליצור כתבים מדעיים בכמויות עצומות יוצרת סכנה של שטחיות אינטלקטואלית”, אינשטיין אמר פעם מאחור יותר. כתוצאה יד המקרה שהביאה לו את משרד הפטנטים בברן, במקום משרה באקדמיה היוקרתית, כנראה שעודדה כמה מהתכונות שנועדו לגרום לו להיות מוצלח: עצמאות חשיבה יצירתית ושיפוט שאפשרו לו לערער על הנחות היסוד הבסיסיות. לא היה לחץ ודחיפה מצד בוחני הפטנטים להתנהג אחרת.

העבודה במשרד הפטנטים הייתה יצירתית למדי וכנראה שסיפקה לאיינשטיין חומר למחשבה בכיוונים חדשים בפיסיקה. הוא קיבל שכר קבוע ולכן הוא היה פטור מהדאגות החומריות. כעבור שלוש שנים במשרד הפטנטים, האלר הודיע לאיינשטיין בסוף שנת 1905 על העלאתו בדרגה. ומה הייתה תגובתו של אינשטיין? “אבל מה אני אעשה עם כל הכסף הזה?”

בזאת הצליח אינשטיין להתפנות לעבודה האמיתית – העבודה היצירתית המדעית הפיסיקאלית. כך החלה תקופת ברן במשרד הפטנטים של אינשטיין מ-1902 ועד 1909, שבמהלכה אינשטיין השתחרר מדאגות היומיום כדי להפיק את עבודתו היוצרת הטובה ביותר שלו. אינשטיין אהב לתאר את משרד הפטנטים לחבריו כ”מנזר החילוני” שלו.

ניתן ללמוד על תקופת שהותו של אינשטיין במשרד הפטנטים ממכתבו לחברו הטוב קונרד הביכט מספטמבר 1905. אינשטיין כותב להביכט, “אם תצוץ הזדמנות אתן לך דחיפה אצל האלר. אולי נצליח להבריח אותך בין נערי הפטנט. תגלה עדיין שזה נעים למדי. האם למעשה תהיה מוכן לבוא? תחשוב שמלבד שמונה שעות עבודה כל יום, בכל יום ישנן שמונה שעות של שעשועים, ואחר כך ישנו גם יום ראשון. אני מאוד אשמח אם תהיה כאן […] אינך צריך להיות מוטרד מזמני היקר, לא תמיד ישנו נושא רגיש להרהר עליו. לפחות לא כזה מרגש”.

במשרד פטנטים זה איינשטיין בילה את שבע השנים היצירתיות ביותר של חייו – אפילו אחרי שכתב את המאמרים ששינו את פני הפיזיקה. הוא היה מגיע כל יום בשמונה בבוקר, ששה ימים בשבוע ובודק בקשות לפטנטים. הוא בילה שמונה שעות במשרד ולפחות שעה אחת בשעורים פרטיים. אחר כך, בנוסף, הוא עשה עבודה מדעית כלשהי. אבל בדיקת בקשות לפטנטים לא הייתה עבודת פרך. איינשטיין עד מהרה למד שהוא יכול לעבוד על בקשות פטנטים כה מהר שזה הותיר לו זמן לחשוב על המדע במהלך היום.

אנטון רייזר, חתנו של אינשטיין מספר בביוגרפיה שלו, “הוא מהר מאוד גילה שהוא יכל למצוא זמן כדי להקדיש למחקריו המדעיים של עצמו במידה ועשה את עבודתו בפחות זמן. אבל שיקול דעת היה נחוץ, כי למרות שהממונים יכלו להיות מרוצים מהעבודה האיטית, החיסכון בזמן לעיסוקים אישיים היה אסור רשמית. אינשטיין המודאג הקפיד, שגיליונות הנייר הקטנים עליהם כתב ושרטט, ייעלמו לתוך מגירת שולחנו מיד כאשר הוא שמע צעדים מתקרבים מאחורי הדלת. אילו היו מגלים אותו, היו לועגים לו וגם פוגעים בו; המנהל היה צוחק בנוסף לכך שהיה כועס. הוא היה יותר מידי פוזיטיביסט מכדי שיחשוב על מדע ספקולטיבי”.

חמישים שנה אחרי משרד הפטנטים – פרינסטון תמונות של LIFE Ralph Morse

 fifty years after the patent Office – Einstein’s desk

בזמן שגיליונות ניירות מחקריו הזעירים היו נעלמים לתוך מגירת שולחן עבודתו במשרד הפטנטים בעת שהאלר היה מסתובב ושומר, איינשטיין כתב את מאמריו הגדולים ביותר של שנת 1905 ואלה גרמו בסוף למהפכה במאה ה-20.

האם יש לחוש צער על זה שאיינשטיין עבד בהתגנבות, בעודו מנודה מהאכסדרות של האקדמיה? אינשטיין עצמו האמין להפך, שמצב זה היה דווקא יתרון למדע שלו. שם במשרד הפטנטים הרעיונות הטובים ביותר שלו נבטו, כפי שהעיד בפני חברו מיקל’ה בסו מאוחר יותר.

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