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Did Einstein Discover the Theory of Relativity

  1. Oct 10, 2013 #1
    I read somewhere recently that Einstein did not discover the Theory of Relativity. If he didn't, who did? And why is Einstein given credit for the Theory of Relativity?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 10, 2013 #2
  4. Oct 10, 2013 #3


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    Einstein was the first one to point out the futility of relegating the propagation of light to a fixed ether. He realized that we could assume that light propagates at c in any Inertial Reference Frame. As a result, time and space become relative in his theory. No one else was quite ready to promote those concepts. Who knows if anyone else would have if Einstein hadn't!
  5. Oct 10, 2013 #4


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    It's always helpful to give the source, so people can address specific points that it makes.
  6. Oct 10, 2013 #5


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    I would also like to point out that, in the truest sense, the idea that "velocity is relative to some external frame of reference" goes back to Gallileo. He demonstrated that any force felt by a person riding inside a carriage depends upon acceleration. In a closed carriage moving a perfectly constant velocity, a rider would not be able to determine his speed not whether he was moving at all.

    Einstein extended that to include electro-magnetic forces, that Gallileo did not know about.
  7. Oct 10, 2013 #6

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    I don't think we want to go there. Dollars to doughnuts the OP read that from some anti-Einstein crackpot website.

    nauj, there are legitimate priority concerns with respect to who discovered special relativity. Lots of people were working on the problem; it was after all one of the most central issues in physics at the end of the 19th century. The name for the transformation that relates time and velocity to two different observers is the Lorentz transformation, not the Einstein transformation.

    That said, none of those other people working on the problem came anywhere close to Einstein's elegant and simple formulation. That work is his and his alone. The only place you'll see that disputed is at anti-Einstein, anti-relativity crackpot websites. We don't countenance such websites here.
  8. Oct 10, 2013 #7
    For special relativity, Lorentz came pretty close. Einstein was the first to describe how the observations made by Lorentz and others fit into coherent overall theory.
  9. Oct 10, 2013 #8

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    From the article Jorriss cited in post #2, here's what Lorentz himself had to say:
    I considered my time transformation only as a heuristic working hypothesis. So the theory of relativity is really solely Einstein's work. And there can be no doubt that he would have conceived it even if the work of all his predecessors in the theory of this field had not been done at all. His work is in this respect independent of the previous theories.

    What Einstein did was to completely overturn the conventional view on space and time. All of those others working on the problem at the same time just couldn't give up the idea of absolute Euclidean space and absolute time. They looked at the problem as being one of somehow explaining how the speed of light appears to be the same to all observers. Einstein's simple assumption that the speed of light is the same to all observers wasn't simple at all. It meant taking on a radically different geometric view of the very nature of space and time.
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