Saturday, August 25, 2012

Claiming Poincare believed in true time

LionAxe defends Einstein's prioriy on another forum. I responded to his previous arguments here.

Even if everything he said were correct, and Poincare were a senile old fool who constantly babbled nonsense, believed in astrology, and prayed to Satan, it would not matter to my argument. Poincare published the essential ideas and proofs that turned Lorentz's theory into the modern theory special relativity. Einstein did not even understand those ideas.

Einstein was wrong about many things. Hans Ohanian wrote a whole book on Einstein's Mistakes. Nobody denies Einstein credit because he made mistakes. People get credited for what they do right.

LionAxe says that Poincare believed that electromagnetism requires a non-vacuum medium for wave propagation and that the universe has a preferred frame that defines motion. If so, Poincare was right, because today's physics textbooks say that both of these are correct. Electromagnetic waves are explained by quantum electrodynamics (QED), and that requires a nontrivial vacuum state different from the vacuum. And observations of the cosmic microwave background have shown a preferred frame for motion.

The QED vacuum state (ie, modern aether) is Lorentz invariant. If LionAxe could find a quote showing that Poincare believed otherwise, then I would agree that he said something that was eventually determined to be wrong. However, LionAxe's quotes show that Poincare believed that it was impossible to detect absolute motion, and therefore his ideas were consistent with the modern idea of Lorentz invariance of QED.

As quoted, Poincare explained "the reason why we believe in an aether is simple." Poincare argued that the aether was a useful convention, but not essential. He correctly explains the reasons for the belief. He is correct.

Poincare also explained Lorentz's theory, using Lorentz's terminology. Lorentz explained in 1895 why the evidence was against the aether drag hypothesis, and used the term aether at rest as a shorthand for rejecting that hypothesis. Poincare correctly describes that argument. Einstein avoids the issue because he just postulates Lorentz's conclusions while ignoring the analysis that went into those conclusions (and not citing Lorentz).

The Einstein scholars like to say that Poincare believe in true time, and hence he must have also believed in the aether because only clocks in the aether frame would show the true time. Their proof is Poincare's 1904 St. Louis Worlds Fair lecture where he gives a completely correct description of relativistic time and clock synchronization and then says:
The watches adjusted in that manner do not mark, therefore, the true time; they mark what one may call the local time, so that one of them goes slow on the other.
If Poincare were claiming that were a true time, then he would be consistent with modern cosmology. The leading model, the Lambda-CDM model, does in fact have a true time defining the age of the universe.

But Poincare is not asserting a true time; he is denying one. It is as if I said, "I went camping and I did not see bigfoot", and then someone accused me of believing in bigfoot. It is hard to argue with such illogical nonsense. But defense of Einstein's priority is usually based on reversing the meaning of simple sentences like this. The Einstein scholars adamantly and relentlessly defend the idea that he wrote the most original science paper ever written, but they can never explain what was original about it, or how all the truly original ideas were published by Lorentz and Poincare.


  1. It seems to me that what you're doing is reinterpreting Poincarés work 'then' through a strong hindsight bias of what you yourself can extrapolate it to have ment 'today'. That excercise is easy, especially with someone like Poincaré who considered almost everything of being a convention and said a "maybe" and "possibly" to pretty much any future conclusion. As it is, or were rather, it missed out on some vital and badly needed, decisive, steps and clarifications. You're extremely generous with your "filling in the blanks"-hindsight of Poincaré, while having the exact reversed attitude toward Einstein's work. And... perspectives like that enlight us more about your emotional bias and bone to pick as oppposed to a clear and balanced recognition of the science as presented.

  2. If you have some specific disagreement with my interpretation of Poincare or Einstein, go ahead and post it. I just follow what they said. Poincare's work was understood by some people at the time, even if most people misunderstood it.

  3. Looking at the discussion, you previously said that there were no ether/privileged medium purported by Poincaré. Now, you are arguing that the conceptualization is independant of that as we can shoe-horn in most musings of Poincaré to not only apply but to have directly intended and predicted other ideas in more modern theories. Expectedly, this is a necessary manuveour if we're going to credit Poincaré with "all of it" and zero to Einstein, nevertheless it is certainly a warranted measure. He (Poincaré) had priority on a lot of aspects that would define Special Relativity, allthough most of his conceptualization were fuzzy due to his appeal for conventionalism unlike Einstein, and... his Palermo paper of 1905 came out after Einstein's. The shorter precursor came a bit before Einstein's, yes, still his notable work was in the one which came two weeks after Einstein. In terms of SR, it favoured the kinematical physics of Einstein over conventionalism and dynamic explanations of Poincaré. All in all the issue of contribution to the body of SR goes, chiefly, to Lorentz and Poincaré, with Einstein making a small yet in its part significant deliverence. Einstein's main feat though, in this context, would be the work he did on General Relativity.

  4. note of correction:
    *nevertheless it is certainly not a warranted nor reasonable measure.

  5. In this blog and my book, I have tried to carefully attribute which relativity ideas are due to Einstein, and which due to Lorentz, Poincare, and others.

    Yes, the Palermo paper was published after Einstein's 1905 paper, but it was submitted beforehand, and Poincare had many original ideas that were not present in Einstein's paper. So those ideas are unequivocally attributable to Poincare.

  6. See my question here: