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Einstein as a boy

  1. Jan 13, 2004 #1
    I read somewhere that the roots of SR can be traced back to Einstein's childhood.
    I wish I could remember where I read it, but I can't.
    (for some reason I am leaning towards "The Universe in a Nutshell")

    It said that when he was a boy (11 years old, I believe) he went to the beach with his mother.
    If he would run along at the same speed as the waves, he noticed that they appeared to stand still.
    This observation is what he attributes to his eventual discovery of Relativity.

    Does anyone know if there is any truth to this?
    Any more details, maybe?
    *crosses fingers* A source, perhaps?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 21, 2006 #2
    Though this question was posed two years ago, no one seemed to have anything to say about it, so I give a reference...http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/einstein/light/index.php, but a much better one is: http://www.pitt.edu/~jdnorton/Goodies/Chasing_the_light/

    When Einstein was 16 he imagined he was riding on a beam of light and wondered about things. While the first reference above does not say anything about WHAT Einstein imagined, I am under the impression that he understood at speeds less than light that if he looked into a mirror in front of him, he would see his reflection exactly as it appeared if he was at rest.

    From the second reference I see that Einstein thought that as a surfer he would see only oscilatations, quote*: "I should observe such a beam of light as an electromagnetic field at rest though spatially oscillating. There seems to be no such thing, however,neither on the basis of experience nor according to Maxwell's equations..."

    Yet, the author argues that Maxwell's equations would predict frozen light, but
    Einstein goes on to say: "...From the very beginning it appeared to me intuitively clear that, judged from the standpoint of such an observer, everything would have to happen according to the same laws as for an observer who, relative to the earth, was at rest.
    For how should the first observer know or be able to determine, that he is in a state of fast uniform motion?

    The belief is that Einstein came up with something really great at the time, and it became the basis of Special Relativity. (This story is sometimes told about the frozen beam of light and sometimes considered regarding speeds below c; Clearly, the last quoted statements above are closest to the theory.)

    *Einstein gives these quotes in his Autobiographical Notes.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
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