Friday, March 14, 2014

Pi Day and Einstein

Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson celebrates Pi Day with a podcast about the genius of Einstein.

His main point is that Einstein's 1905 papers on light and relativity were each a revolutionary quantum leap that was independent of previous work and not properly understood or appreciated by experts at the time. The truth is more nearly the opposite.

The podcast credits Einstein with the original notion that light is both a wave and a particle. [at 6:07] No, it was Planck in 1900 who proposed that light was a wave, but emitted and absorbed discretely, and that is much closer to the modern view in quantum mechanics. Einstein opposed that modern view at every opportunity.

Then it says Planck, Lorentz, and Poincare were all working on physics related to relativity, and Einstein makes the big disconnected leap. Furthermore he says the other guys read the paper, and still don't quite get it.

Nonsense. Planck understood Einstein's paper, and immediately wrote a paper on it. Lorentz lectured on relativity in 1906, and correctly explained how Einstein's paper was just a minor embellishment on his own ideas.

What we know as special relativity today comes mainly from Lorentz's 1895-1904 work and Poincare's 1905 paper. Poincare had the spacetime geometry and Einstein did not. Einstein did not understand Poincare's paper until at least 1908.

These points are all detailed in How Einstein Ruined Physics, and on this blog.

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