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

By Abraham Pais | Go to book overview

6
'Subtle is the Lord . . .'

6a. The Michelson-Morley Experiment

Maxwell's article Ether, written for the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica [M1], begins with an enumeration of the 'high metaphysical . . . [and] mundane uses to be fulfilled by aethers' and with the barely veiled criticism that, even for scientific purposes only, 'all space had been filled three or four times over with aethers.' This contribution by Maxwell is an important document for numerous reasons. To mention but three, it shows us that, like his contemporaries, Maxwell was deeply convinced of the reality of some sort of aether: 'There can be no doubt that the interplanetary and interstellar spaces are not empty but are occupied by a material substance or body, which is certainly the largest, and probably the most uniform, body of which we have any knowledge'; it tells us of an unsuccessful attempt by Maxwell himself to perform a terrestrial optical experiment aimed at detecting the influence of an aether drag on the earth's motion; and it informs us of his opinion that effects of the second order in v/c (v = velocity of the earth relative to the aether, c = velocity of light) are too small to be detectable. This last comment was prompted by his observation that 'all methods . . . by which it is practicable to determine the velocity of light from terrestrial experiments depend on the measurement of the time required for the double journey from one station to the other and back again,' leading to an effect at most of O((v/c)2) = O(10-8).

However, Maxwell still hoped that first-order effects might be astronomically observable. The example he gave was the determination of the velocity of light from the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites when Jupiter is seen from the earth at nearly opposite points of the ecliptic. If one defines the aether* in the sense of Maxwell, or, which is the same thing, in the sense of Augustin Jean Fresnel--a medium in a state of absolute rest relative to the fixed stars, in which light is propagated and through which the earth moves as if it were transparent to it-- then one readily sees that the Jupiter effect, if it exists at all, is of first order in the velocity of the solar system relative to this aether.

____________________
*
For a review of aether theories and aether models, see especially [L1] and [S1]. Some speak of aether, others of ether. I prefer the former. In quotations I follow the predilections of the original authors, however.

-111-

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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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