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List of people who understand relativity

  1. Jul 28, 2010 #1
    Back when Einsteins theory was very new I think there was a small list of people who understood relativity. For example Freeman Dyson wasn't on it, so when he wrote a book about Einstein the publishers were skeptical and it ended up with him meeting Einstein and all went well.. and there are other accounts of this list too I suppose.

    So where can I read more about this list in the historical context and what sort of events circulated around it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 28, 2010 #2

    Doc Al

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    Sounds like an 'urban legend' to me. Do you have a reference for this list?
  4. Jul 28, 2010 #3


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    The meeting of 6 November 1919 of the Royal Society also originated a myth that persists even today (though in a very much diluted version):' Only three persons in the world understand relativity'. Eddington explained the origin of this myth during the Christmas-recess conversation with which I began this account.

    Sir J.J. Thomson, as President of the Royal Society at that time, concluded the meeting with the statement', I have to confess that no one has yet succeeded in stating in clear language what the theory of Einstein's really is'. And Eddington recalled that as the meeting was dispersing, Ludwig Silberstei (the author of one of the early books on relativity), came up to him and said,' Professor Eddington, you must be one of three persons in the world who understands general relativity'. On Eddington demuring to this statement, Silberstein responded, 'Don't be modest Eddington'. And Eddington's reply was, 'On the contrary, I am trying to think who the third person is!'

    Verifying the Theory of Relativity
    S. Chandrasekhar
    Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Jan., 1976), pp. 249-260
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2010
  5. Jul 28, 2010 #4


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  6. Jul 28, 2010 #5

    George Jones

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    Today, tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands of people have a quantitative understanding of general relativity.
  7. Jul 28, 2010 #6
    It seems to me that this was Buckminster Fuller (though perhaps the same thing happened to Freeman Dyson):

    From: http://www.bfi.org/?q=node/129
  8. Jul 28, 2010 #7
    I am certain that you have been misinformed about Freeman Dyson’s involvement. Firstly, when Freeman Dyson first became involved with the American Physics community, he was a young British mathematician brought to America by the Commonwealth Fund of New York, in the late 1940s, when Einstein was already in the twilight of his career. So Freeman Dyson was certainly not there ‘when the theory was new’. I know nothing of any book about Einstein by Freeman Dyson, what I do know about is the account that Freeman Dyson himself gives of his career on the Web of Stories website. He gives several wonderful character portraits of many of the men he did work with, men like Hans Bethe and Edward Teller. But when the interviewer mentions Einstein, he is dismissive and makes it clear that he never worked with him and barely knew him. You’ll see that in the link I have provided Dyson is actually talking about Oppenheimer, but the point where they discuss Einstein is toward the end of the clip.

  9. Jul 29, 2010 #8
    In one of those spooky coincidences ( I honestly was not specifically looking for it) , after I made my previous post last night, I happened to read something about Sir Arthur Eddington and his expeditions to view the solar eclipse of 1919, with its subsequent paper that is credited as being the very thing that catapulted Einstein to international fame. One of Eddington’s co-conspirators was Astronomer Royal Sir Frank Watson Dyson. I have to wonder if that is the source of your misunderstanding about the involvement of Freeman Dyson.
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