The Reign of Relativity: Philosophy in Physics 1915-1925

The Reign of Relativity: Philosophy in Physics 1915-1925

The Reign of Relativity: Philosophy in Physics 1915-1925

The Reign of Relativity: Philosophy in Physics 1915-1925

Synopsis

Universally recognized as bringing about a revolutionary transformation of the notions of space, time, and motion in physics, Einstein's theory of gravitation, known as "general relativity," was also a defining event for 20th century philosophy of science. During the decisive first ten years of the theory's existence, two main tendencies dominated its philosophical reception. This book is an extended argument that the path actually taken, which became logicalempiricist philosophy of science, greatly contributed to the current impasse over realism.

Excerpt

The theories of special and general relativity have been essential components of the physical world picture for now more than eight decades, longer than a generous span of human life. Among physicists, familiarity has not bred contempt. Both theories continue to challenge implicitly held notions in ways that even adepts can yet find surprising. The change in outlook occasioned by relativity theory thus has something of the character of “permanent revolution”, continually turning up things new, interesting and possibly disturbing. On the other hand, its revolutionary image would appear to be considerably dulled among philosophers of science, excepting, of course, certain philosophers of physics and others interested in space-time theories. To be sure, Einstein retains the halo of universal genius among the public at large. But today one can easily acquire the impression that it is the quantum theory, the other principal component of the current physical world-view, which has largely captured the contemporary philosophical imagination. No knowledgeable person would seriously question its revolutionary character or inherent philosophical interest. But while philosophers are generally aware of the vigorous epistemological debate that accompanied the quantum theory’s rise, was epitomized in the Einstein-Bohr dialogues, and still continues, recognition seems altogether lacking that a corresponding controversy worthy of present philosophical scrutiny occurred in the early years of general relativity. In part this ignorance is traceable to a false, but understandable, impression that such philosophical engagement as took place principally involved supporters and . . .

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