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Poincaré's 1900 paper on Lorentz's theory

  1. Feb 14, 2008 #1


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    In case anyone's interested, I've put an English translation of Poincaré's 1900 paper, "La Théorie de Lorentz et Le Principe de Réaction", here:


    It's a moderately interesting paper which occasionally comes up in discussions of the history of relativity. (I did the translation for a friend, who couldn't find the paper in English on line and wanted to read it.)

    If this is an inappropriate forum in which to post this, well, apologies to all.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 15, 2008 #2


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    Thank you. You have performed a useful service. I will try to make time to read it.
    If there is not a copyright problem, you should consider placing it on arxiv.com in the physics section.
  4. Feb 15, 2008 #3


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    The appropriate place on arXiv appeared to be history of science. However, when I tried submitting it there, it turned out that, since I'm an "unknown" on arXiv, I need to be endorsed to do so. The "endorser" must be someone who's submitted at least two papers to the history of science section more than a month ago and less than five years ago.

    My list of contacts in the physics world is pretty short, and doesn't include anyone who's done that. I considered just digging around in the archives there and emailing people at random to try to get endorsed, but that didn't seem like a lot of fun, and that's where it stands.
  5. Feb 15, 2008 #4
    Thank you from me too. I'm also looking for an English version of another Poincare' paper from 1900 where the ether is mentioned (ref.24 in wiki entry for Lorentz Ether Theory). is that available somewhere?
  6. Feb 16, 2008 #5
    sal , surfing online i have seen this journal www.wbabin.net i think you could put your paper there in .pdf format and then include the link to this forum.

    There was a rumour in scientific community that Poincare actually knew that space and time were relative , and derived the Lorentz transforms and Hamiltonian before Einstein.
  7. Feb 16, 2008 #6


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    I'm not sure what you mean by "Hamiltonian" in this context, but the Lorentz transforms were surely derived -- or at least written down -- first by Lorentz. That's why they're called "Lorentz" transforms, rather than "Einstein" transforms.

    Einstein doesn't name the transformation in the main text of his 1905 electrodynamics paper, as far as I can recall, but in the footnotes, which he added in 1923, he calls it the "Lorentz transformation".

    Certainly, relativity of simultaneity is mentioned in the Poincaré paper from 1900. However, that paper as a whole does not present a clear, coherent picture of how it all should hang together; it stands in stark contrast to Einstein's paper of 5 years later, which presents a solid edifice in which everything fits. In 1900, Poincaré was still trying to see how to fit the pieces into an aether theory. (Poincaré's 1905 paper, which I've only just started looking at, seems to take it a lot farther, but since it was apparently only published in 1906 it's hard to see how anyone could claim it predates Einstein's 1905 SR paper.)

    My general impression is that the thing Einstein "brought to the table" was a powerful intuition which allowed him to see what the mathematics meant. The mathematical machinery for relativity was already largely in place by 1900 or so, but it was Einstein who first realized what to do with it. This seems to be particularly true in the case of general relativity, where Riemannian geometry had been known since -- well, since Riemann invented it -- but what had been lacking was the insight to see how to apply it to the problem of gravitation. It's often mentioned that Hilbert derived the field equations about the same time as Einstein, or perhaps slightly sooner, and did it more elegantly than Einstein, but what isn't always mentioned is that Hilbert got the inspiration to look for the equations from Einstein. In other words, it was Einstein who first stated the problem clearly enough so that others could see where to look for the solution. Or at least that's what I've read. (Sorry, can't cite a reference on it.)
  8. Jul 27, 2008 #7
    thank you. It was very useful - I searched for this translation after reading about it in lorentz's wikipedia page. which says poincare discussed synchronising clocks using light here [before Einstein]
  9. Aug 2, 2008 #8
    As I can see (p. 24 and 25) Poincaré used Galilean transformation

    t'=t-vx/V² (equivalent to x'=x-vt because t'V=x' and tV=x)

    to receive an expression for mass

    m=J/V² and momentum of radiation p=J/V (J is energy of radiation).
  10. Aug 2, 2008 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    You might send email to the admins. The endorsement requirement is there to keep the crackpottery to a minimum. If you explained the situation that you were translating a famous paper, they will be more inclined to waive the endorsement than if you had a paper explaining why the reason the world switched from tinfoil to aluminum foil is a conspiracy - aluminum doesn't block the telepathy rays of the Crab Men of Pluto as well as tin.
  11. Aug 2, 2008 #10


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    sal, do you also have the original version? Since French is my mother tongue I'd appreciate to read it in French.
  12. Aug 3, 2008 #11
    (La théorie de Lorentz et le principe de réaction)

  13. Aug 3, 2008 #12


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    Thank you so much Histspec!
  14. Aug 4, 2008 #13
    See for many other scientific papers of Poincaré:

    The most important papers of Poincaré on relativity were:
    Sur la dynamique de l'électron. In: Comptes Rendus. 140, 1905, S. 1504–1508)
    (June 5, 1905, published in the same week)
    English translaton at http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0210005, pp. 241–253

    and the extended version from July (published January 1906)
    Poincaré, H.: Sur la dynamique de l'électron. In: Rendiconti del Circolo matematico 21, 1906, S. 129-176
    Incomplete English translation at http://www.univ-nancy2.fr/poincare/bhp/

    More information can be found at:

  15. Aug 4, 2008 #14


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    Very interesting, thank you.
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