Sunday, November 10, 2013

Einstein was wrong about light

Science Friday interviewed the author of a new book, Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian, by A. Douglas Stone.
Einstein and the Quantum reveals for the first time the full significance of Albert Einstein's contributions to quantum theory. Einstein famously rejected quantum mechanics, observing that God does not play dice. But, in fact, he thought more about the nature of atoms, molecules, and the emission and absorption of light -- the core of what we now know as quantum theory -- than he did about relativity.

A compelling blend of physics, biography, and the history of science, Einstein and the Quantum shares the untold story of how Einstein--not Max Planck or Niels Bohr--was the driving force behind early quantum theory. It paints a vivid portrait of the iconic physicist as he grappled with the apparently contradictory nature of the atomic world, in which its invisible constituents defy the categories of classical physics, behaving simultaneously as both particle and wave. And it demonstrates how Einstein's later work on the emission and absorption of light, and on atomic gases, led directly to Erwin Schrödinger's breakthrough to the modern form of quantum mechanics. The book sheds light on why Einstein ultimately renounced his own brilliant work on quantum theory, due to his deep belief in science as something objective and eternal.
Max Planck proposed a quantum theory of light in 1900, and Einstein proposed to extend it by saying that light was fundamentally composed of particle. Stone says that Planck and Lorentz argued with that, saying that Einstein had gone too far.

Stone is wrong where he says that Einstein's view of light was ultimately proved correct 20 years later. It was not. Planck's view is closer to the modern view that light is quantized when absorbed or emitted (ie, observed), but has wave properties otherwise.

There are modern textbooks that say that light is composed of particles, but then they say that they are a very funny kind of particle that can be in two places at once, obey probabilistic laws for existence, and show interference patterns like a wave. To me this is like saying that a dog is a cat, if you suitably redefine dog and cat. Light is not composed of particles, as the words were understood in Einstein's day.

People like to credit Einstein, but the fact is that he stubbornly refused to accept quantum mechanics his whole life. An essential part of the theory is that light and matter have wave properties that are quantized when observed. Planck brilliantly stumbled on that idea in 1900, and Einstein always rejected it.

Stone says:
Why is Einstein’s role in quantum theory important and interesting?
It is important because a careful examination of the historical record shows that Einstein was responsible for more of the fundamental new concepts of the theory than any other single scientist. This is arguably his greatest scientific legacy, despite his fame for Relativity Theory. He himself said, “I have thought a hundred times more about the quantum problems than I have about Relativity Theory”. It is interesting because he ultimately refused to accept quantum theory as the ultimate truth about Nature, because it violated his core philosophical principles.

So you are saying that Einstein is famous for the wrong theory?
In a certain sense, yes. All physicists agree that the theory of relativity, particularly general relativity, is a work of staggering individual genius.
No relativity was not individual genius. Nearly all of the good ideas came from Lorentz, Poincare, Grossmann, and others. And Einstein contributed very little to quantum mechanics.

Update: Stone says:
I was absolutely staggered to discover that the most famous scientist in human history actually wasn't getting as much credit as he deserved.
This is crazy. Einstein did recognize discoveries by Planck and Bose, but did not add much.


  1. Roger, you can't possible be a real physicist. You clearly do not know very much about physics, or if you purport to actually do then you must be an amateur or an undergrad still struggling with euclidean geometry. You do realize that saying Lorentz and Poincare came up with General Relativity is like saying that Wilhem Wien came up with Planck's law (Wien was Planck's colleague and, most of the equation that ultimately comprised Plancks law was derived directly from the back of Wien's work; but Wien did NOT come up with the final law). They didn't really even do much to contribute to the actual formalism of relativity (the geometry of GR invokes Riemann and Ricci tensors and must subsume the special theory for universal CFRs; neither Poincare, Lorentz, or whomever you've decided to name-drop formalized the geometrical curvature of 4-D space-time). Grossman's role was that of peer reviewer (something that happens everyday in today's world of science) but the field equations were einstein's. (See: Walter Isaacson reference). Your antipathy towards Einstein is absurd. As late as 1908 Planck was STILL saying that light was not a particle, as was Lorentz and Poincare haha, and yet you attribute them with the work of Einstein? Planck didn't even understand his own law for goodness sakes; that's essentially what Einstein's paper on the photoelectric effect helped remedy and STILL Planck was skeptical. Read the book you cited, this is uninformed best.

    Do you even have any sources for the nonsense you've written? I don't mean to be disrespectful but people read your blogs and yet don't bother to cite your assertions, ironically committing the same sin you accuse Einstein of committing. The funny thing about your scribble is that Lorentz and Einstein were great friends, as were Grossman and Einstein, Planck and Bose, and they all are in unison: Einstein is the greatest mind of the 20th century. (I would cite that but since you don't, why should I?) Did you even read Douglas Stone's book? You must realize that Bose didn't even realize that he had derived a novel, and therefore reproducible, statistical approach to determining quantum tastes at low temperatures (i.e. superconductivity)? You must realize that were it it not for Einstein's recognition of this important work it would almost certainly have been lost to history? Did you even read the definitive biography of Einstein written by Walter Isaacson? Have you read ANYTHING on early 20th century physics by Harvard professor of science history Gerald Holton, or T.S. Kuhn? You haven't read any of it because if you did you would realize Lorentz, for example, simply used the equations found in Special Relativity purely as a mathematical formulation with no actual physical reference. It's quite simple, if he did he would have drawn the next conclusive step and expressed time as relatively to moving inertial reference frames, and the equivalency principle. But he didn't and stated so in the surviving corresponse (e.g. letters etc) of his private archive.

    Read before your write. I expected more from you.

  2. Last but not least, on whose authority do you accuse Professor Stone of being "wrong when he says that Einstein's view of light was ultimately proved correct 20 years later "? So you're telling me that you know MORE about the "real" history of Quantum Mechanics than one of the top 10 condescend matter quantum physicists on the planet who spent the last 8 years researching this very topic? Planck, I repeat, since you don't know your physics, did not write about what his OWN "law" signified until einstein published the photoelectric effect explaining it. Planck wrote (and there are many sources for this info) that he did NOT believe that light was truly a particle! I give up. Where is the source that repudiates Stone's EXHAUSTIVE research into the matter? Mind you, as he asserts in the introduction of the book to which this blog post refers, he knew very little of Einstein's contributions prior to his research. Dude are you some kind of neo-nazi or anti-semite? You must have been one of the deluded few who bought that anti-semitic hogwash falsely accusing Einstein of grand plagiarism, even though most of his sources were firmly discredited. Can you even explain how GR predicts blackholes, and why? Do you even understand the theory? LOL this is a joke....albeit a bad one.

    What is your recrimination to the FACT that einstein basically came up with quantization rules for choatic states, the wave-particle duality (not simply assert it, but explain why it remains true for intial, and non-initial conditions), the A and B coefficients, the size of atoms from statistical mechanics, etc.? I await your lies. Schrodinger in fact credits Einstein for inspiring him in work that contributed directly to his formulation of his wave equations.

  3. If you check the archives, you will see that I address Isaacson, Holton, Kuhn, etc. None of them ever said that "Grossman's role was that of peer reviewer", and you are incorrect about that.

    Yes, Stone is wrong when he says that Einstein's view of light was ultimately proved correct 20 years later. I explain above why Planck's view was closer to what quantum mechanics teaches. Light has some particle-like properties, but is not "truly a particle".

    You are quite wrong when you say, "Lorentz, for example, simply used the equations found in Special Relativity purely as a mathematical formulation with no actual physical reference." Just read <a href=">Lorentz's 1895 paper</a> where he explicitly uses those equations to explain the Michelson-Morley experiment and other experiments.