Monday, May 29, 2017

Early work did not credit Einstein

An anonymous commenter credits Einstein for relativity, largely based on the opinions of Lorentz, Minkowski, Born, etc. at the time.

The truth is that neither these ppl nor anyone else at the time thought that Einstein had any significance advance over Lorentz and Poincare.

Lorentz was generous to Einstein (and to FitzGerald, Voigt, and others), but he credited Poincare more. A I noted:
Lorentz published his 1906 Columbia U. lectures on relativity, where he described Einstein's work without expressing any disagreement with it. That is where Lorentz says, "Einstein simply postulates what we have deduced". After praising Einstein's simplicity, he says, "Yet, I think, something may also be claimed in favor of the form in which I have presented the theory." Lorentz was saying that he and Einstein had different ways of presenting the same theory, with advantages and disadvantages to each approach.
Walter Kaufmann wrote something similar in 1906.

This is exactly correct, as I explain here. The core of Einstein's 1905 paper was to give an exposition of Lorentz theory, with the main simplification being postulating what Lorentz (and Poincare) proved.

Bucherer wrote a 1908 paper on The Experimental Confirmation of the Lorentz-Einstein Theory. His mild credit for Einstein is "The relativity principle is clearly emphasized in Einstein's version."

In crediting for the Lorentz transformations, Lorentz wrote:
These were the considerations published by me in 1904 which gave place to Poincaré to write his paper on the dynamics of the electron, in which he attached my name to the transformation to which I will come to speak. I must notice on this subject that the same transformation was already present in an article of Mr. Voigt published in 1887, and that I did not draw from this artifice all the possible parts. Indeed, for some of the physical quantities which enter the formulas, I did not indicate the transformation which suits best. That was done by Poincaré and then by Mr. Einstein and Minkowski.
Einstein gave only limited credit, as he spent his whole life trying to cheat ppl out of credit for their work.

Minkowski is not much better, as noted here, but at least he credited Lorentz and Poincare more than Einstein.

Perhaps Max Born found relativity easier if the relativity principle is postulated, instead of deduced from Michelson-Morley. Or maybe Born just liked Einstein better, as they were life-long friends. But he never explained how Einstein's work was any better than that of Lorentz and Poincare.


  1. You say Lorentz credited Poincare more then he credited Einstein, but this is contradicted by the facts. Even in 1910 Lorentz gave a lecture in Gottingen on "Einstein's Principle of Relativity", and in his entire book he speaks extensively about Einstein's theory of relativity, but mentions Poincare only once, for the "Poincare pressure".

    It's also well known that Lorentz mis-spoke when he said he had derived what Einstein assumed. Read Lorentz's papers and book... he simple assumed, one by one, the individual features of phenomena necessary for his "theorem of corresponding states" to be satisfied. He derived things for electromagnetism (from Maxwell's equations, which were already Lorentz invariant thanks to Maxwell, not Lorentz), but for everything else he simply assumed. And he never fully embraced the relativity principle, and Poincare even in 1908 was writing about a non-viscious fluid ether that he believed created the appearance of relativity. This is a far cry from what you wish to believe, which is the fully relativistic Minkowski spacetime metric of the vacuum. Even Minkowski said his work realized the fully electromagnetic world view.

    You simply cannot read Einstein's 1905 papers and fail to see the enormous conceptual advance over anything that Lorentz or Poincare had written. And even in later years, neither Lorentz nor Poincare ever embraced the ideas that you credit them for creating.

    1. Poincare died in 1912, you idiot! Poincare was even proven right regarding flat vs curved space as convention. Both mathematics now official exists. He understood mathematics and nature better. His theory predicted all the same things and earlier. No one can even argue that, including the sycophants on Stack Exchange. They just try to make false statements about Poincare not understanding what he derived. It's factually wrong. Poincare treated ether as a convention and it's basically back in modern physics (metric tensor, field theories, vacuum energy, casimir effect, etc...). Fuck off troll. What people said about him DOESN'T MATTER!

  2. If Lorentz failed to credit Poincare in a 1910 German lecture, he corrected that by crediting Poincare in the 1914 paper cited above.

    Lorentz was accurate when he said that Einstein postulated what others proved. That is mainly what ppl liked about Einstein's paper. It is easier to read postulates than proofs.

    The papers by Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski are on a much higher intellectual level. They have the genius of original work. Einstein's paper is like a watered-down expository paper. Nothing is clearly original. It may have been easier to read for physicists unfamiliar with the previous literature, but it did not advance the field. All of the important work followed the Lorentz-Poincare-Minkowski chain of papers.

  3. You misunderstand Lorentz's 1914 comment, appearing in a talk specifically to honor the recently deceased Poincare. He was referring to Poincare's correction of the charge transformation that Lorentz got wrong in 1904 (illustrating the clunky state of Lorentz's ideas). This is the single correction to Lorentz's work that appears in Poincare's Palermo paper (1906), but of course it also is given correctly in Einstein's 1905 paper, so the word "then" was in error (albeit understandable on the occasion).

    Your mistake about Lorentz or others proving relativity has already been explained. Again, read Lorentz's "proof" of his theorem of corresponding states. It consists of one huge assumption after another, which together amount to simply assuming Lorentz invariance, but in a clunky and disjointed way.

    It is well known among scholars of this subject that Poincare's Palermo paper had almost no effect on the development of the subject (as shown by dearth of citations), partly because it was not widely read, and partly because even those who read it could see that it had been completely superseded (even before it appeared) by Einstein's 1905 papers. Your claim that Einstein's paper did not advance the field is, of course, utterly absurd.

  4. It is true that there are not many citations to Poincare's Palermo paper, but there aren't many to Einstein's 1905 paper either in the next couple of years. The relativity research papers only exploded after Minkowski's 1907-08 papers, and they mainly cited Minkowski.

    Minkowski relied very heavily on Poincare's paper for a spacetime theory, for 4-vectors, for covariance, for the Lorentz group, for the metric, for causality, and for ideas about gravity. Minkowski did not rely on Einstein for anything.

    So yes, Poincare's Palermo paper was vastly more influential than Einstein's.

    Sure, Lorentz's 1895 proof is hard to follow, but it was pioneering work and it was 10 years ahead of Einstein. Einstein's job was easier because he 10 years of hindsight, and because he was postulating what Lorentz was proving.

  5. "The relativity research papers only exploded after Minkowski's 1907-08 papers..."


    "...and they mainly cited Minkowski."

    Once Einstein's relativity theory of popularized by Minkowski, many papers were written, and references to Einstein (and Lorentz) were abundant. For example, in 1910, Wilhelm Wein proposed Lorentz and Einstein jointly for the Nobel prize for relativity. Einstein was famous among physicists as the originator of special relativity and the "ether slayer" long before he became a popular celebrity. Poincare's paper was nearly forgotten (Pauli had to be prompted by Klein to mention it in a footnote in his 1921 encyclopedia article) until the 1950's when historians of science started to notice it.

    "Minkowski relied very heavily on Poincare's paper for a spacetime theory, for 4-vectors, for covariance, for the Lorentz group, for the metric, for causality, and for ideas about gravity."

    I think you have just made that up. According to Minkowski's assistant, Minkowski already had his ideas in 1905 that he published a couple of years later. Also, please note that he refers to Poincare only for coining the name "Lorentz transformations", and in another place to say he proceeds differently. He references Einstein by crediting him for making the crucial step of recognizing the relativity of time, which forms the foundation for Minkowski's entire work, which he acknowledges.

    More fundamentally, your list is wacky:

    spacetime theory - Correct reference is Einstein 1905, where the invariant spacetime interval is defined, the ether is discarded, the Lorentz transformation identified as a group, relativity of simultaneity, complete reciprocity, relativistic electrodynamics and mechanics described in detail, time dilation (which Poincare didn't believe was real), etc., etc.

    Poincare 1906 and to the end of his life still talking ether, non-viscous fluid, violations of momentum, etc.

    4-vectors: obvious mathematical formalism

    covariance: Einstein, 1905

    the Lorentz group: Einstein 1905

    the metric: Einstein 1905 identifies the invariant x^2 + y^2 + z^2 - c^2t^2 = s^2, which is the metric line element for flat spacetime.

    causality: huh?

    ideas about gravity: Poincare's ideas about gravity, treating it just like electromagnetism, were obvious but wrong. The correct relativistic theory of gravity was developed by Einstein 1915.

    "Minkowski did not rely on Einstein for anything."

    You know that is not true, by his citations and by his own words. ("But Einstein did the work. I would not have though the lazy dog capable of it.")

    "So yes, Poincare's Palermo paper was vastly more influential than Einstein's."

    You know that is not true. Poincare's greated contribution to relativity was probably his earlier popular writings studied by the "Olympia academy", that could have planted seeds regarding the epistemology of time. But there is no way of knowing how subtle comments may later influence someone's thinking. Einstein said he was heavily influenced by Hume's skeptical attitude toward accepted beliefs. Should we credit Hume for special relativity?

    "Sure, Lorentz's 1895 proof is hard to follow..."

    No, you missed the point. I was not saying Lorentz's work his hard to follow (it isn't). I was saying it consists of a series of fully acknowledged *assumptions* that, taken together, amount to simply assuming Lorentz invariance. He did not derive Lorentz invariance (and could not have), he simply assumed it. So it is wrong to say Einstein assumed what Lorentz proved. They both just assumed, i.e., they discerned that the only reliable guide was the relativity principle itself. This is all well known, and can be found in any good book on the foundations of special relativity.

  6. Einstein does not actually say that the Lorentz metric is preserved. He only says that light cone points are transformed to light cone points, or that metric zero points transform to metric zero points. Poincare discovered the importance of the metric, and Minkowski got it from him, not Einstein. Einstein later said he got it from Minkowski.

    Wein may not have read or appreciated Poincare's paper, for all I know. Maybe Wein did not read French. In just a couple of more years, physicists learned special relativity from textbooks, not original papers, and so they might have no idea who did the original work.

    It is pretty clear that Minkowski (like Einstein) was not properly crediting his sources in order to get greater credit for himself. Yes, Minkowski credited Poincare for naming the Lorentz group. Is that really all Minkowski got out of the Palermo paper? And not 4-vectors, the metric, and everything else? That is too silly to believe.

    Minkowski probably did not know that Einstein got his ideas about the relativity of time from Poincare. Historians mostly agree that Einstein did, even tho Einstein never credited Poincare for it. So it means nothing for Minkowski to have credited Einstein for the relativity of time.

    You can criticize Lorentz all you want, but that 1895 went from Maxwell's equations, Michelson-Morley, other experiments, and some inspired reasoning, and he got to an essentially correct theory about transformations of space and time. Had he been wrong, everyone would say that he did not prove anything. But he was right.

    There are lots of stupid reasons for not crediting Poincare. Maybe German physicists liked to credit other German physicists. Maybe some, like you, think that Poincare somehow discovered relativity without understanding what he was doing. There is even one historian who says that Poincare should not be credited because he admitted that the theory could be proved wrong by experiments! Regardless, the essential facts about who did what are not in dispute.

  7. It's true that Einstein didn't explicitly mention (until about 1909) that x^2 - c^2t^2 is preserved under Lorentz transformations, but this is a direct consequence of the transformations with L=1, which Einstein proved and Poincare simply assumed. Also, noting this invariance is not the same as "discovering the importance of the metric". Minkowski was the first to actually write the metric line element, i.e., dtau^2 = -dx^2 - dy^2 - dz^2 + dt^2, and was the first to show the importance of this. You claim he got this from Poincare, but it isn't in Poincare.

    You say "Wein may not have read Poincare's paper... maybe Wein did not read French." But you assured me a few days ago that every single German physicist with an interest in the subject was fully acquainted with Poincare's paper in the Italian math journal. It was inconceivable that a patent examiner in Bern would not have read it. This reveals a fundamental difficulty of your thesis. You claim (1) everyone was fully familiar with Poincare's papers, and (2) Poincare did not receive due recognition for his papers.

    You say "it's pretty clear" that Einstein and Minkowski hid their sources, but it really isn't clear at all. You have no evidence to support your claim, and you obviously can't claim that Einstein's 1905 stole from Poincare's 1906. Sure, some of the things in Minkowski 1907 (sqrt(-1)t, hyperbolic rotation, 6-vectors) can be found in Poincare 1906, but these are obvious formalistic things obvious to any mathematician when presented with the Lorentz transformations.

    "Is that really all Minkowski got out of the Palermo paper? And not 4-vectors, the metric, and everything else? That is too silly to believe."

    The metric is not in Poincare, and it forms the backbone of Minkowski's paper. Also, Poincare was still describing Lorentz's (i.e., Ptolemy's) ether theory.

    "Minkowski probably did not know that Einstein got his ideas about the relativity of time from Poincare."

    And you don't know it either. And no, historians do not mostly agree that he did. You are fantasizing.

    "So it means nothing for Minkowski to have credited Einstein for the relativity of time."

    It wasn't just Minkowski, it was Lorentz and Poincare too. At the end of his life, Poincare was snidely deprecating the relativity of simultaneity "convention" of "certain physicists" (i.e., Einstein).

    You can criticize Lorentz all you want...

    You continue to miss the point (or at least pretend that you are missing it). The point is that Lorentz merely assumed (not derived) what Einstein assumed, the difference being that Einstein dispensed with the ether and created a theory not about an ether in Galilean space and time but about the measures of space and time in spacetime where inertial coordinate systems are not related by Galilean transformations, but by Lorentz transformations. Lorentz never said this. Poincare never said this.

  8. I don't know how many physicists read Poincare's papers. Einstein considered himself an expert on the relativity literature, so I don't know how he could have missed it, but I do know that Minkowski cited Poincare.

    Poincare's Palermo paper, section 9, has a discussion starting with "To go further we must look for the invariants of the Lorentz group." It then gives the 4-metric and imaginary time.

    Minkowski's long 1907 paper gives very little credit to Poincare, but cites the Palermo paper twice in the 12 footnotes.

    Einstein's 1916 book, credits Minkowski strongly for the metric and imaginary time, even tho it looks as if it is plagiarized from the Palermo paper. Section 17 says: "These inadequate remarks can give the reader only a vague notion of the important idea contributed by Minkowski. Without it the general theory of relativity, of which the fundamental ideas are developed in the following pages, would perhaps have got no farther than its long clothes."

    From this I conclude that Poincare discovered the 4-metric, Minkowski got it from Poincare, and Einstein got it from Minkowski.

    Possibly Minkowski independently rediscovered it, but then he would have credited Poincare with independently discovering it. That would have been the way to be fair to Poincare as well as grab some credit for himself. He did not. I assume that Minkowski knew that he could not get away with claiming credit for something he stole from Poincare, but he could just bury Poincare in a footnote and hope most people don't notice.

    You can also say that the 4-metric is obvious, once finding L=1, but Einstein sure doesn't think it was obvious. (I assume "long clothes" is some sort of German idiom that does not translate well.)

    Thus I say that even if Minkowski was the only one to read and understand the Palermo paper, it was still crucial to all subsequent developments in relativity.

    As for Lorentz, his assumptions about the aether were essentially the same as Einstein's, as explained here. The chief difference is that Lorentz relied on Michelson-Morley while Einstein relied on postulates taken from conclusions by Lorentz and Poincare.

    Tell me this: Why do all my textbooks describe special relativity as a consequence of Michelson-Morley? Lorentz was the one who derived the essence of relativity from Michelson-Morley. Einstein never mentioned it. If I make a list of the important steps in the textbook history of special relativity, Einstein played no role in any of them.

  9. "I don't know how many physicists read Poincare's papers."

    That's correct.

    Poincare's Palermo paper (in French), appearing in 1906 in an Italian mathematics journal,

    "Einstein considered himself an expert on the relativity literature..."

    That's not true at all. Please re-read page 165 of Pais's biography.

    You say Poincare's 1906 gives the metric, even after I pointed out that it doesn't. The invariant is not the same as the metric. As I said in the previous message(not sure if you read it), Minkowski was the first to write the metric, i.e., (dtau)^2 = -dx^2, etc.

    Again, the Copernican step was to recognize that inertial coordinate systems are related by Lorentz transformations, and then see all the consequences of this. Lorentz explicitly and Poincare implicitly admitted that they never made this step (even to the end of their lives).