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

By Abraham Pais | Go to book overview

4
Entropy and Probability

4a. Einstein's Contributions at a Glance

Einstein's activities related to thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and kinetic theory begin with his very first paper, completed at the end of 1900, and span a quarter of a century, during which time he wrote close to forty articles bearing in varying degree on these subjects. The first of the vintage years was 1905, when he developed theoretically three independent methods for finding Avogadro's number.

In an autobiographical sketch published in 1949, Einstein's comments on his contributions to statistical physics are relatively brief. The main message is contained in the following phrases: 'Unacquainted with the investigations of Boltzmann and Gibbs which had appeared earlier and which in fact had dealt exhaustively with the subject, I developed statistical mechanics and the molecular-kinetic theory of thermodynamics based on it. My main purpose for doing this was to find facts which would attest to the existence of atoms of definite size' [E1]. Here he is referring to his three papers published* in the period 1902-4, in which he made 'a rediscovery of all essential elements of statistical mechanics' [B1]. At that time, his knowledge of the writings of Ludwig Boltzmann was fragmentary and he was not at all aware of the treatise by Josiah Willard Gibbs [G1]. In 1910, Einstein wrote that had he known of Gibbs's book, he would not have published his own papers on the foundations of statistical mechanics except for a few comments [E2]. The influential review on the conceptual basis of statistical mechanics completed in that same year by his friends and admirers Paul Ehrenfest and Tatiana Ehrenfest-Affanasjewa refers to these Einstein articles only in passing, in an appendix [E3]. It is true that Einstein's papers of 1902-4 did not add much that was new to the statistical foundations of the second law of thermodynamics. It is also true that, as Einstein himself pointed out [E4], these papers are no pre- requisite for the understanding of his work of 1905 on the reality of molecules. Nevertheless, this early work was of great importance for his own further scientific development. In particular, it contains the germ of the theory of fluctuations which he was to apply with unmatched skill from 1905 until 1925.

It would be entirely beside the mark, however, to consider Einstein's main con-

____________________
*
In 1901, he had sent the first of these papers to Zürich in the hope that it might be accepted as his doctoral thesis; see Chapter 3.

-55-

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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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