Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Einstein's real importance to relativity theory

  1. Oct 9, 2008 #1
    Hi guys,
    I hope this is the right place to post this, given it's not a technical question, but it certainly is related to science.
    Lately I've been interested in knowing about the history of relativity, how both the special and the general theory came to be, what was Einstein's real input into it. I've heard and read a lot saying that special relativity wasn't really Einstein's idea and that he is given more credit for it than he deserves. I've read that Lorentz and Poincaré had the ideas of special relativity before him. I found this quote on wikipedia: "A few years before his death Einstein commented on Poincaré as being one of the pioneers of relativity, saying 'Lorentz had already recognised that the transformation named after him is essential for the analysis of Maxwell's equations, and Poincaré deepened this insight still further...' " What do you guys think/know about all this?
    Anyway, I've heard that Einstein's real gem is his general theory of relativity. Did he receive much help for the development of this theory too, or was this more of an individual work of his own?
    Thanks for your input and sharing,
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 9, 2008 #2
    Try wikipedia. Lots of info about the history of relativity.

  4. Oct 9, 2008 #3
  5. Oct 11, 2008 #4
    It's true that especially in special relativity Einstein put many exisitng pieces together...I've read Lorentz already had concocked length contraction to possibly account for Michaelson Morely experiments...he liked the aether theory apparently. His particular genius, I think, was combining Maxwell's theories with the ones you cite and recognizing that time was not invariant as everybody else took for granted.

    Likewise, General relativity was made possible when Einstein realized accelerationwas like gravity...that gave him the insight and foundation to formulate his theory. But he did not know what math to use!! His friend Grossman searched and found the necessary mass for curved spaces had been developed and lay dormant...Riemann mathematics!!!

    In contrast Einstein failed to unite gravity with the other forces, in part because so little was known about the atomic forces during much of his work...QCD (strong force) came into its own I think in the 1970's, maybe 1980's....and in part because even when strong/weak/electromagnetic were developed and unified nobody ever did figure out how to include gravity....
  6. Oct 11, 2008 #5

    George Jones

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The American Journal of Physics article "Dismissing renewed attempts to deny Einstein the discovery of special relativity" offers a defence of Einstein. For general relativity, no defence is needed; Hilbert and Grossman notwithstanding, general relativity is almost entirely the work of one person.

    This article was published in the American Journal of Physics (AJP), a peer-reviewed journal on pedagogical matters that is read widely within the physics community. Before publication, articles submitted to this journal undergo intense scrutiny. In 2000, AJP was looking for a new editor, and, in the March issue, the outgoing editor wrote about what the job entailed, and what the new editor would have to be and do: "For one reason or another, AJP turns down 75% of the manuscripts received, and this unfortunately means that you will have to say "No" with some frequency."

    Below, I have appended the Conclusions of the article.

  7. Oct 13, 2008 #6
    An amendment to my post #4: I believe Fitzgerald actually formulated length contraction, shortly thereafter Lorentz did the same for time dilation...so Einstein had both concepts sitting there but not yet unified. In addition, Einsteins' friend Grossman researched math and found Reimann formulations for curvature from maybe 20 years earlier had been sitting around....Einstein also adopted that to descibe gravitational curvature in general relativity.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook