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Einstein's method

  1. Apr 15, 2006 #1
    i am writing a paper and was wondering if its valid to say that einstein's method was very different from most other scientists in that he deduced theories from postulates whereas other scientists used induction more.

    further, is this what allowed him to make predictions about things that have never been observed before (time dilation, length contraction, etc.)?

    Last edited: Apr 15, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 20, 2006 #2
    As far as I know the fact the speed of light is constant for all observers had already been experimentally shown before he started his theory. But he did predict alot from theory that was later experimentally proved in GR.
  4. Apr 21, 2006 #3

    Meir Achuz

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    I don't think Albert was qualitatively different from a large number of other physicists. If anything, he used induction more than most.
    Only educators and philosophers of science think new theories arise deductively. The notion to look at the transformation of time was an inductive leap, unsupported by any previous theory.
    Maybe we have different meanings for induction and deduction.
  5. Apr 21, 2006 #4
    I am not sure what you mean by this. Lorentz and Poincare had the Lorentz transformations well before Einstein introduced relativity.

    Einsteins contribution was to restate the work as coming from two simple postulates.
  6. Apr 21, 2006 #5
    I would say the deduction vs induction mechanism is not what made Einstein differ from other scientists, it is just that he involked "thinking" more than most.
  7. Apr 22, 2006 #6
    "Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence."

    -Albert Einstein
  8. Apr 22, 2006 #7
    Now, isn't thought the only form of induction and deduction?:biggrin: If one isn't thinking, what can one induct and deduct?
  9. Apr 22, 2006 #8


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    I think all this business about Einstein's method is too much focussed on Einstein alone. Why not contrast him with Bohr, or Heisenberg, or Feynmann? Or with some experimental physicist like Rutherford? How do all their methods differ, the one from the other? Was there anything noticably unique about Einstein's way?
  10. Apr 28, 2006 #9


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    All you are really saying is that there is a difference in point of view between theoretical physicists and experimental physicists. That has been true as long as there have been physicists. And why do you say that such things as time dilation and length contraction had never been observed before? They certainly had- they just hadn't been recognized as such. Dr. Einstein's orginal paper was written specifically to address experimental results- the null result of the Michaelson-Morley experiment.

    Certainly, in his other great papers of 1905, Dr. Einstein, focused on specific experimental results, the photo-electric effect and Brownian motion.
  11. Apr 29, 2006 #10
    Reading Popper's autobiograhy, I think most people have misconceived what his philosophy of deductive reasoning was actually about.

    Popper never stated that we always deduce our theories - he only said that the method of induction is no method for reliable knowledge.

    Popper's idea was more like: we conjecture theories, in a trial & error way (one could say this is a process of induction, what Popper called dogmatic thinking). Then, we critically examine our theories. Popper focused on two aspects: falsificability/testability (one can think of counter-examples against my theory, and if these counter-examples ever turn out to exist, my theory is refuted), and information content (the more information content my theory has, the more concrete it is, and so, the more easily it is to find counter-examples).

    Now, Popper used Einstein's method as an inspiration for his ideas. This is because Einstein stressed himself which counter-examples would refute his theory. So, yes, I think that Einstein was a clear example of deductive methodology.

    (Which doesn't mean that deductive methodology is the best way for science... but in the battle induction vs deduction, I believe there is only one clear answer)
  12. Apr 30, 2006 #11
    When we support things such as time dilation and length contraction, what we are really proving is not the existence of these things, but instead we are proving the existence of their consequences, for example:

    "If time dilation exists, then event X must happen under the circumstances of experiment E."

    When event X happens under the circumstances of experiment E, time dilation is confirmed.

    Another example is this:

    "If the Big Bang Nucleosynthesis is true, then events X, Y, Z must happen under the circumstances of experimental procedure E with the use of instrument I."

    Explanations are not the things we are observing, but they are "why's" as to why a certain event happened, is happening, or will happen. They are our under-lying understanding of these events, but they are not the events themselves.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2006
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