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Why isn't the mathematician Henri Poincaré acknowledged as the true discoverer of SR?

  1. Aug 3, 2005 #1
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 3, 2005 #2


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    This is an interesting question. (I have also wondered if the mathematician Felix Klein (with his Erlangen program) could have discovered / formulated the mathematics of special relativity.)

    Clearly, others (Lorentz, Larmor, Poincare, etc...) had pieces of the puzzle, so to speak. However, it could probably be argued (as in http://www.mathpages.com/rr/s8-08/8-08.htm ) that the others didn't put it all together physically, appreciate what they had, and believed it,... and it was Einstein who did.
  4. Aug 3, 2005 #3


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    robphy: While looking at the link you posted, it suddenly occurred to me that the pseudo metric (d[itex]\tau[/itex])2 = (dt)2 - (dx)2 - (dy)2 - (dz)2 can be < 0 in principle. Is this why it is "pseudo"?

    Mine is a math. perspective only -- although I am guessing that [itex]\tau[/itex] stands for "true time," I know neither that it does, nor what it means.
  5. Aug 3, 2005 #4


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    Yes, that is the reason. The "signature" of this metric is not ++++.

    Related to your question and my question about Klein, I found this discussion of Felix Klein (and briefly Poincare) in the comments of this blog entry http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/blog/archives/000140.html#comment-2153 (start with the comment by Lunsford).
  6. Aug 3, 2005 #5


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    From the first link:
    But this isn't the same thing as what Einstein did, because Poincaré was only calculating an answer for a very specific situation involving recoil from incoming radiation, which is very different from the general relation between mass and energy that Einstein found. This page describes a little more about the problem Poincaré was looking at:
    The link from the first post also says:
    Without more detail it's hard to know what this means...did Poincaré ever explain how the coordinate systems used in the Lorentz transformation would be related to measurements made on actual physical rulers and clocks, for example? I would guess the answer is no, since this was really the central insight of Einstein's 1905 paper.
  7. Aug 4, 2005 #6
    Perhaps you've missed this poignant allegation from both links: "The Relativity principle as well as the method for synchronizing clocks are borrowed [by Einstein] from Poincaré published papers (1898-1902)."

    If the non-mathematician Einstein could understand Poincaré's clock synchronization procedure---Albert having appropriated it without acknowledging the source---then it's relatively certain that Poincaré communicated his thoughts with sufficient simplicity and clarity to deserve full credit for being the true originator of Einstein's famous clock synchronization method.

    That answers the issue about clocks. What about the meaning of measuring space? Recall that the first link discusses Poincaré's very modern derivation of the Lorentz transformation. Notice this step (I assume it's an accurate translation):

    "Let O'x' be one inertial frame sliding on Ox"

    That's remarkably vivid and physical to me. Clear, modern, present-day explanations of special relativity use language that's virtually identical to that. See <S> for one example. Sure, there's no doubt that physicists need a more physical explanation, such as Einstein's explanation that inertial frames are composed of physical measuring rods. Do you really think that mathematicians need that degree of physicality? That degree of literalism is irrelevant to mathematicians. Only they can see all too easily that those niceties are devoid of mathematical structure.

    Remember that Poincaré was a genius mathematician and geometer, who taught physics, not math. In his book “La science et l’hypothèse” (1902), Poincaré devoted a full chapter to the relativity principle. How could Poincaré not know what an inertial frame is?

    Read this link on Poincaré's accomplishments, note that Poincaré enjoyed writing popular scientific articles, and then try to prove that Poincaré was incoherent in what he wrote about physics, which is what you actually allege.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2005
  8. Aug 4, 2005 #7
    the actual einstein equation was m=L/c^2. later he changed his equation into L=mc^2
    and then e=mc^2. (he took energy as L)
  9. Aug 4, 2005 #8
    And why Newton chemical work was ignored?

    And why first prediction of neutron ignored?

    And why Lewis' first formulation of superposition principle ignored?

    And why...

    On www.canonicalscience.com there is a scientific program exclusively devoted to last historic research that rewrites many outcomes of physics as "fraud" or manipulation of mass media (somewhat in the spirit of recent string theory scandal).

    Probably the most surprising historical manipulation was done in Newtonian epoque when chemical work by Newton was hidden and partially burn and Newton presented like physicist when he was not. Fortunately, it has been discovered recently by historians and history begins to be rewriten.

    There are well documented recent examples of van Brakel statement.

    Van Brakel, J. Foundations of Chemistry 1999, 1, 111–174.


    Last edited: Aug 4, 2005
  10. Aug 4, 2005 #9


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    So would it be fair to say one of Einstein's main contributions to Relativity is that he made people believe it?

    I'm a mechanical engineer. When people ask me what the most important skill I use in my job is, I say communication.
  11. Aug 4, 2005 #10


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    You may be right, but I'd like to see exactly what Poincaré actually wrote.
    Is there evidence that Einstein had read this paper?
    I'm not saying he was "incoherent", any more than Lorentz was--after all, Lorentz came up with the equations of the Lorentz transform without apparently realizing the complete physical significance of the different coordinate systems, so it's not inconceivable that Poincaré also failed to realize the full physical significance. After all, you have to acknowledge there were plenty of physical consequences of special relativity Poincaré never came up with, like the detailed kinematics or the general application of E=mc^2 (or E^2 = m^2*c^4 + p^2*c^2).
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2005
  12. Aug 4, 2005 #11


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    In 1905, yes Eintein's annus mirablis, Poincare published a careful definition of what is now called the Poincare group in the Comptes Rendus. I can't be sure had was in possession of the key quadratic form [tex]-c^2t^2 + x^2 + y^2 + z^2[/tex] but it boggles the mind that somebody who truly understood those group symmetries could miss it. But I agree that he didn't fully understand the physical consequences until he read Einstein's paper.
  13. Aug 4, 2005 #12
    Or maybe Einstein's main contribution to special relativity was that he believed it himself. Most accounts say Lorentz, Poincare, and Larmor weren't willing to accept time dilation and the relativity of simultaneity as the way the world actually is.

    Of course, whether or not Einstein should be given as much credit as he is for special relativity, he undoubtedly deserved the credit he got for general relativity. Although Hilbert beat Einstein to a complete form of general relativity, Einstein's role in the discovery severely overshadowed Hilbert's contribution.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2005
  14. Aug 4, 2005 #13


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    Attribution always has a subjective element. Everyone is influenced by others. So the true question is: who's contribution made the difference to acceptance of SR?

    Objectively, that would have to be Einstein. Please recall that at the beginning of 1905, he was an unpublished nobody who didn't even teach/work at a university. Poincare was already established and had published his relevant papers several years earlier. Yet it was Einstein's ideas that were debated, not Poincare's. Einstein was crowned by his contemporaries as the father of SR. That was solely on the merit of his ideas, as he had no reputation to trade upon! So clearly it was Einstein's efforts that ushered in SR, and no one else's.

    Aussi, Poincare est Francais et chacun sait que les Francais sont les victimes d'une conspiracy. :biggrin:
  15. Aug 4, 2005 #14
    I suspect that an accurate response is probably the media with at least one super-salesman, as hinted at in the following exchange:

    Last edited: Aug 4, 2005
  16. Aug 4, 2005 #15


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    Just to quote from the URL I posted in #2 (the highlighting of Poincare-specific sentences is mine)

    The details provide look specific enough that it could be checked in the published literature. (In addition, it might be useful to check references made in the URLs posted in the first post)

    It seems to me that further discussion is constructive
    if references to the literature, especially the original sources [or translations] and peer-reviewed papers, are quoted and cited.

    My $0.02.
  17. Aug 5, 2005 #16
    I agree with you (and with thanks to Elliot)

    I completely agree with your assessment, which you have stated well.

    I was en route to meet Einstein when I heard of his death earlier that morning.

    You do his memory proud.

    Love your signature; but your thoughts first caught my attention. The signature was a pleasant cigar, Einstein the aperitif; and your thoughts the meal.

    Korzybski's, "Science and Sanity, third edition" 1948, which I read in 1951, and still peruse, probably influenced my life more than any other book that I have read. (Even, the Fountainhead and ‘Round the Bend.)

    Today few are even aware of the importance of General Semantics to all the disciplines of academia.

    Other giants in my day were Tarski, Carnap, and Gödel; I suspect they all could have learned a bit from Korzybski.

    Thanks for bringing back memories of life before the Pomo elitists, led by Oppenheimer, took charge shortly after Einstein's death.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2005
  18. Aug 5, 2005 #17

    Love your epsilon ellipse.

    Einstein's main contribution to SR and GR is that to his death he was well aware that neither were correct.

    Unfortionately this has been lost on the Pomo elitists, beginning with Oppenheimer, that now set policy.
  19. Aug 5, 2005 #18
    Thanks. :biggrin:

    :surprised Source?
  20. Aug 5, 2005 #19

    Even the idea of c is a limit for physical velocities is not original from him. Decades before Einstein's work, physicist Weber showed that there was a maximum velocity for transmision of signals in electrodynamics. The problem with Weber formula is that is approximate one and maximum velocity cW = sqrt(2) c. But idea of maximum velocity was not new to Einstein. From Phipps generalization of Weber one obtains correct maximum velocity cP = c.

    It is surprising the relevance of Einstein when almost all of his special theory receives names by others: Lorentz transformation, lenght contraction, Minkowski diagrams, constancy of c, etc.

    Equivalence of frames is not a original idea of Einstein, in fact the idea of laws of nature may be equal in each frame of reference is already present in Galilean-Newtonian theory, where equations are invariant on Galilean transformation.

    In fact, Newtonian physics is relativistic, because verify Galileo relativity, but are not exact because does not very Lorentz relativity. The idea of Eintein physics is relativistic and Newtonian are not is an abbuse of language, i.e. of communication :biggrin:

    In many aspects Einstein is like string theorists. One heard of them and think that are heroes, but when one take original literature from Witten, Grenee, Vafa, etc one remains very deceptionated.

    Initially Eintein was a heroes for me. I heard that his domain of math was so great that when visited Spain he was received by mathematicians because physicists could not understand him.

    Those days i am preparing a critical work on special relativity, due to a recent failure on the description of mu-mesons. I was forced to revised Einstein original literature and the mith disappeared. Einstein math capabilities are not good, in fact, i have found at least 6 sound mathematical errors on his original proof of Lorentz transformation.

    Now i understand why Einstein considered that Dirac formulation of QM was too difficult...
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2005
  21. Aug 5, 2005 #20
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