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Early history of gauge theory-a science history paper

  1. Sep 14, 2005 #1


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    Early history of gauge theory---a science history paper

    one way to enrich one's understanding of scientific theories is to
    learn about the people who discovered them and what they were thinking about at the time, and how other scientists reacted etc.

    gauge theory apparently got started in 1918 - 1929 by Hermann Weyl
    he corresponded with Einstein and Pauli about it and got some interesting reactions

    it gradually became a prevalent style in theoretical physics. I guess the main theories from 1950 onwards are gauge theories, the ones that have proven useful----and some of the one's that havent yet too.

    maybe you could call the gauge way of doing things a 20th century paradigm or a "mental habit" among theorists---one that has had great success.

    So what about the HISTORY of this invention?

    I am not an expert about this so I would like to ask what other people think about this RECENT PAPER on gauge history.

    Gauge principle and QED
    Norbert Straumann
    Invited talk at PHOTON2005, 31.8-04.09, 2005, Warsaw, 19 pages

    "One of the major developments of twentieth century physics has been the gradual recognition that a common feature of the known fundamental interactions is their gauge structure. In this talk the early history of gauge theory is reviewed, emphasizing especially Weyl's seminal contributions of 1918 and 1929."

    "The history of gauge theories begins with GR,which can be regarded as a nonAbelian gauge theory of as pecial type. To a large extent the other gauge theories emerged in a slow and complicated process gradually from GR. Their common geometrical structure–best expressed in terms of connections of fiber bundles – is now widely recognized..."

    Is this a good History of Science paper? Can one learn anything new, or get to understand the gauge way of doing business any better, by reading it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 14, 2005 #2


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    You can get good physical insight by going back and considering previously known theories like EM and GR as gauge theories, which indeed they are. I remember comments when I was young - pre Yang-Mills - that large scale solutions of GR were not available because the structure of the diffeomorphism group restricted to spacetime was not understood, which shows that the gauge nature of GR was not completely latent. But I think that scientists have a tendency to write techologically Whig history, reading today's categories back into the past, which makes real historians smile. Did Einstein or Hilbert (or anybody but Weyl) think of GR in 1916 in a gauge way? I don't think so. So a legitimate question would be, who first stated in a journal or book that Weyl's gauge principle applied to GR?

    Note that Weyl's gauge theory was not GR, it was a conformal generalization of GR in which (since it was conformal) length was just a local concept and then Weyl had to "Fix a gauge", in just the sense a railroad engineer would use the phrase, in order to have local GR-like equations.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2005
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