Sunday, December 03, 2006

More on Einstein

A couple of people commented on my Einstein criticism. Let me clarify.

I am not denying that Einstein deserved a Nobel Prize for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. I am also not particularly interested in blaming Einstein for plagiarism. Einstein's work would be considered ethical if he had properly credited his sources. There is overwhelming evidence that he relied crucially on papers by Lorentz, Poincare, and Hilbert, and that he dishonestly failed to cite those sources. There are also accusations that he failed to credit his first wife, who was also a physicist.

But that is not what interests me. A lot of great work has been done by egomaniacs who don't give proper credit. What is striking to me is that we have a consensus that Einstein is the greatest genius who has ever lived, and that reputation is based almost entirely on his creation of the Theory of Relativity.

Now if it turns out that Einstein did not create Relativity, then that raises the question about why people idolize him so much.

Copyrights have expired, so you can read Poincare's popular 1905 book and You can find Einstein's Annus Mirabilis Writings for yourself.

My tentative conclusion is that Lorentz and Poincare had already worked out and published the essence of what we know now as the special theory of relativity. Einstein's contribution was to give a description of the Lorentz-Poincare theory without dependence on the luminiferous aether, and to clarify some of the physical consequences of the theory. For that he deserves credit for writing a brilliant paper, but not for being a genius. Surely Poincare was a much greater genius.

George writes:
You understate Einstein's achievement. He was the first one to declare that the ether does not exist. Until Einstein, scientists clung to their superstitious belief in the ether. They were as unscientific as those before Galileo who believed in the Ptolemaic (geocentric) solar system. It took a true genius to think outside the box and overthrow the shackles that confined lesser men into thinking that Man was at the center of the universe. Galileo proved that the Sun was really at the center, and Einstein showed that we are not grounded in a motionless ether either. People just couldn't grasp that empty space was really empty and that there are no preferred inertial frame. It turned out that Einstein and that there is no ether.
This is nonsense on so many levels that I don't know where to start.

First of all, Einstein didn't completely deny the aether. He merely said that it was "superfluous" to his derivation. He certainly wasn't the only one to question the necessity of the aether. Others had attempted to experimentally observe it and failed. People openly doubted whether it could ever be seen.

According to our best scientific theories, empty space is not empty. Quantum electrodynamics (since 1950) requires that even a vacuum has a structure where virtual electron-positron pairs are being created and destroyed. Modern cosmology (since 2000) requires that a vacuum also includes a mysterious dark energy everywhere. In general relativity, there are no inertial frames anyway, but some model have some preferred frames. So all this emphasis on the aether is misguided.

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