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

By Abraham Pais | Go to book overview

7
The New Kinematics

7a. June 1903: Special Relativity Defined, Lorentz Transformations Derived

1. Relativity's Aesthetic Origins . Without a carrying medium, light can as little be seen as sound can be heard. Such was the sensible prejudice of nineteenth century physics. The better light was understood, the more circumscribed became the properties of its medium, the aether. The best of all possible aethers, it appeared, was one which blows through man and his planet as they speed through this absolutely immobile medium. When light turned out to be a transverse wave phenomenon, the aether had to be declared quasi-rigid.

The special theory of relativity divested the aether of its principal mechanical property, absolute rest, and thereby made the aether redundant. As Einstein put it in the introduction to his June 1905 paper (referred to in this chapter as the June paper), 'the introduction of a "light-aether" will prove to be superfluous since, according to the view to be developed [here], neither will a "space in absolute rest" endowed with special properties be introduced nor will a velocity vector be associated with a point of empty space in which electromagnetic processes take place' [E1].* Special relativity represents the abandonment of mechanical pictures as an aid to the interpretation of electromagnetism. The one preferred coordinate system in absolute rest is forsaken. Its place is taken by an infinite set of preferred coordinate systems, the inertial frames. By definition, any two of these are in uniform motion with respect to each other. The preference for uniformity of relative motion makes this version of relativity a special one.

In the spring of 1905, even before the completion of the relativity paper, Einstein had written to his friend Conrad Habicht, 'The fourth work [i.e., E1, the fourth paper Einstein published in 1905] is available only in draft form and is an electrodynamics of moving bodies in which use is made of a modification of the tenets about space and time; the purely kinematic part of this work will surely interest you' [E2]. Small wonder that Einstein would draw his friend's attention to the kinematic part. In its entirety, the June paper consists of an introduction, five sections on kinematics followed by five sections on electrodynamics, no references, and one acknowledgment. The kinematic part contains the complete first principles of the special relativity theory.

____________________
*
For an English translation of this paper, see [S1].

-138-

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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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