Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein

By Abraham Pais | Go to book overview

13
Field Theories of Gravitation: the First Fifty Years

13a. Eintein in Vienna

It did not take Einstein long to realize that the collaboration with Grossmann [E1] had led to some conclusions that defeated the very task he had set himself. Let us briefly recapitulate the developments in his thinking about gravitation up to the spring of 1913. Late in 1907 he discovered the singular position of gravitation in the theory of relativity. He realized that the question was not how to incorporate gravitation into the special theory but rather how to use gravitation as a means of breaking away from the privileged position of covariance for uniform relative motion to covariance for general motion. In his Prague days, the analysis of the motion of light in an inhomogeneous gravitational field taught him that the light velocity depends on the gravitational potential and that therefore the framework of the special theory of relativity was too narrow [E2]. Toward the end of his stay in Prague, the technical concept of general covariance took shape in his mind and the fundamental role of the metric tensor as the carrier of gravitation became clear. The first steps toward the tensor theory of gravitation, taken with Grossmann, led him to conclude that the gravitational field equations can be covariant only with respect to linear transformations.

By August 1913, it had become clear to him that this last result spelled disaster. He expressed this in a letter to Lorentz: . . .'My faith in the reliability of the theory still fluctuates. . . . The gravitational equations unfortunately do not have the property of general covariance. Only their covariance for linear transformations is assured. However, the whole faith in the theory rests on the conviction that acceleration of the reference system is equivalent to a gravitational field. Thus, if not all systems of equations of the theory . . . admit transformations other than linear ones, then the theory contradicts its own starting point [and] all is up in the air' (sie steht dann in der Luft) [E3].

Thoughts such as these must have been on Einstein's mind when he traveled to Vienna, where on September 23 he had to present a paper before the Naturforscherversammlung.* He was going to report not only on his own work but also

____________________
*
At that meeting, Einstein met and complimented Friedrich Kottler, who had been the first to write the Maxwell equations in generally covariant form, though not in connection with a theory of gravitation [K1]. Kottler's later involvement with general relativity was less successful [E3a].

-228-

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Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • To the Reader vii
  • Contents (entries in Italics Are Almost Entirely Biographical) xi
  • I- Introductory 3
  • 1- Purpose and Plan 5
  • 2- Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory 26
  • 3 - Portrait of the Physicist as a Young Man 49
  • II- Statistical Physics 53
  • 4- Entropy and Probability 55
  • 5- The Reality of Molecules 79
  • III- Relativity, the Special Theory 109
  • 6- ''subtle is the Lord . . .'' 111
  • 7- The New Kinematics 138
  • 8- The Edge of History 163
  • IV- Relativity, the General Theory 175
  • 9- ''The Happiest Thought of My Life'' 177
  • References 184
  • 10- Herr Professor Einstein 190
  • 11- The Prague Papers 192
  • 12- The Einstein-Grossmann Collaboration 208
  • 12- The Einstein-Grossmann Collaboration 208
  • References 228
  • 13- Field Theories of Gravitation 237
  • 14- The Field Equations of Gravitation 239
  • 15 - The New Dynamics 292
  • V- The Later Journey 297
  • 16- ''The Suddenly Famous Doctor Einstein'' 299
  • 17- Unified Field Theory 325
  • VI - The Quantum Theory 355
  • 18 - Preliminaries 363
  • 19- The Light-Quantum 364
  • 20- Einstein and Specific Heats 389
  • 21- The Photon 402
  • 22- Interlude- The Bks Proposal 416
  • 23- A Loss of Identity 423
  • 24- Einstein as a Transitional Figure 435
  • 25- Einstein''s Response to the New Dynamics 440
  • 26- Einstein''s Vision 460
  • VII- Journey''s End 471
  • 27- The Final Decade 473
  • 28- Epilogue 479
  • VIII- Appendices 481
  • 29- Of Tensors and a Hearing Aid and Many Other Things 483
  • 30- How Einstein Got the Nobel Prize 502
  • 31 - Einstein''s Proposals for the Nobel Prize 518
  • 32- An Einstein Chronology 520
  • Name Index 531
  • Subject Index 539
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