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

By Abraham Pais | Go to book overview

26
Einstein's Vision

26a. Einstein, Newton, and Success

Einstein's lasting conviction that quantum mechanics was not a theory of principle did not impede him from recognizing that this theory was highly successful. As early as 1927, he publicly expressed his judgment that wave mechanics is 'in amazing agreement with the facts of experience' [E1]. In 1936 he wrote, 'It seems clear . . . that the Born statistical interpretation of the quantum theory is the only possible one' [E2], and in 1949 declared, 'The statistical quantum theory [is] the most successful theory of our period' [E3]. Then why was he never convinced by it?

I believe Einstein indirectly answered this question in his 1933 Spencer lecture--perhaps the clearest and most revealing expression of his way of thinking in later life. The key is to be found in his remarks on Newton and classical mechanics. In this lecture [E4], Einstein noted that ' Newton felt by no means comfortable about the concept of absolute space, . . . of absolute rest . . . [and] about the introduction of action at a distance.' Then he went on to refer to the success of Newton's theory in these words: 'The enormous practical success of his theory may well have prevented him and the physicists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from recognizing the fictitious character of the principles of his system.' It is important to note that by fictitious Einstein meant free inventions of the human mind. Whereupon he compared Newton's mechanics with his own work on general relativity: 'The fictitious character of the principles is made quite obvious by the fact that it is possible to exhibit two essentially different bases [Newtonian mechanics and general relativistic mechanics] each of which in its consequences leads to a large measure of agreement with experience.' (Remember that these words were spoken long before it was realized how markedly the predictions of Newtonian mechanics differ from those of general relativity when strong grativational fields come into play.)

In the Spencer lecture, Einstein mentioned the success not only of classical mechanics but also of the statistical interpretation of quantum theory. 'This conception is logically unexceptionable and has led to important successes.' But, he added, 'I still believe in the possibility of giving a model of reality which shall represent events themselves and not merely the probability of their occurence.'

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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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