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Quote from Einstein

  1. Apr 28, 2015 #1
    “Hence it is clear that the space of physics is not, in the last analysis, anything given in nature or independent of human thought. It is a function of our conceptual scheme [mind].”

    It is true that Einstein said it? What does this means?

    Last edited: Apr 28, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 28, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Sounds like something he would say.

    Its means something utterly obvious and no where near as deep an insight as philosophy types would like to read into it. Its simply a theory is a human construct, like a map is a human construct, like money is a human construct yada yada yada. Big deal.

    Last edited: Apr 28, 2015
  4. Apr 28, 2015 #3
  5. Apr 28, 2015 #4


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    I think it means that we are unable as human beings to perceive an objective understanding of the physical reality and the universe. Our perception of the physical reality is through the prism of our human brain which destorts the objective elements.
  6. Apr 28, 2015 #5
    because I read somewhere, a comment from a guy saying that "space may not exist outside an observer" [solipcism maybe?], and he used this quote from Einstein... and I asked if it was true, because you know, there are a lot of quotes from einstein which he didn't said
  7. Apr 28, 2015 #6


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    Hm, this sounds not like Einstein, if you ask me, but one can never know.

    For Einstein, it was very important that physics is about Nature's inner workings independent of us (or any observers) and objective. Also in General Relativity space and time (or better said space-time) itself is a dynamical object to a certain extent. The gravitational field is reinterpreted as the metric of the pseudo-Riemannian space-time manyfold, and depends in a universal way on the energy-momentum tensor of the matter (i.e., all other fields describing matter, including the gauge fields describing the interaction) via the Einstein-Hilbert equations of the gravitational field. So in GR space-time is part of the dynamics of all physical entities, which according to Einstein have an objective reality.

    This went so far that Einstein objected the validity of quantum theory as a fundamental theory, because of its probabilistic nature, which for Einstein brought in a subjective aspect to the desription of physics, which he did not like at all.

    But as I said above, you can never know, whether Einstein said/wrote something like the above at some time in his life, and if so, it's also important to look for the larger context, it was said or written.
  8. Apr 28, 2015 #7
    Where do you get this idea about Einstein's attitude to physics?

    I have a book called, "The Evolution of Physics," by Einstein and a co-author named Leopold Infield. It is quite clear from this book that Einstein doesn't believe we can ever ultimately know "Nature's inner workings," and that, in his view, physics is relegated to being an evolving attempt by the mind of man to grasp what is going on in Nature. In other words, bhobba, above in post #2, got it.
  9. Apr 28, 2015 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    Its the view of this source which I have:

    Einstein also said things along the lines you cant know natures inner workings etc, but overriding all that was what Vanhees said. Also it changed throughout his life. He disliked the probabilistic nature of QM, but later in life his deepest objection was along the lines of EPR.

    That said, this sub-forum discusses quantum physics and a detailed discussion of exactly what Einstein thought about the world and physics in general belongs elsewhere. The title of the above source sums it up pretty well - Subtle Is The Lord - and his views were indeed that.

    Last edited: Apr 28, 2015
  10. Apr 28, 2015 #9
    There's obviously two separate aspects of the same thing being discussed here and conflated. Einstein may have wished that physics was about Nature, independent of the human mind, but he recognized that it wasn't and that physics had to constantly be corrected. In view of the latter, it does not strike me that the quote in the Opening Post is unlike Einstein. The way Vanhees put it, however, it sounds like Einstein thinks there's a perfect match between Nature and man's conception of Nature. Therefore, to him, the quote in the OP does not sound like something Einstein would say.

    We are elsewhere.
  11. Apr 28, 2015 #10


    Staff: Mentor

    I thought Vanhees was fairly careful in what he said.

    Its been a while since I read that tome, but my recollection is - yes the quote the OP gave is a correct attribution to Einstein - he did say things like that - but overriding it all was this belief in an objective reality. This can easily be seen in his EPR paper for example.

    There is also confusion on his view of QM. At first he thought it wrong - but later on came to accept it as correct - but incomplete because it didn't gel with his view of nature. Interesting fact - he a kept a copy of Dirac's Principles Of QM near at all times saying 'Dirac, to whom, in my opinion, we owe the most logically perfect presentation of this theory'. He even became at ease with probabilities being one of the early proponents of the ensemble interpretation. However he never accepted Bohrs view that QM was complete - there was some deeper theory underlying it that conformed to how he viewed the world.

    Another interesting fact - Ballentine in his 1970 article on the Ensemble Interpretation wasn't as careful in explaining it as he should have been, and it was really a hidden variable interpretation in disguise - which undoubtedly was one reason Einstein championed it. Ballentine however has corrected that in his textbook.

    Last edited: Apr 28, 2015
  12. Apr 29, 2015 #11
    But this misses my point. You can believe in an objective reality, yet fear man can't bring his mind in line with that reality. Obviously Einstein couldn't assess anything as wrong or incomplete unless he believed there was an objective truth being missed. So, a person can firmly believe there is an objective reality outside the mind of man, while simultaneously believing that man can't ultimately be sure he has figured it out. The study of physics is therefore, not the study of nature, but the study of human constructs made in the attempt to understand Nature.
  13. Apr 29, 2015 #12
    I did a quick search on google and found that quote here, in a book called Concepts of Space: The History of Theories of Space in Physics by Max Jammer. When I read the section it seems to me that the quote we are talking about is the words of Jammer, not Einstein, since there's no indication that it is a direct quote, and furthermore, Jammer clearly quotes Einstein later, just a bit further down. That is my impression...
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2015
  14. Apr 29, 2015 #13
    I read it the same way as you. The part quoted by the OP is not a quote from Einstein, but a quote of Jammer describing Einstein's view.
  15. Apr 30, 2015 #14


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    Could be about "Einstein's Hole Argument". See Rovelli's book "Quantum Gravity".
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