The resolution of this conflict is that the geometric operations actually act infinitesmally. The Lorentz transformations do not actually act on spacetime, but on the tangent space at a given point.

Here “infinitesimal” is a mathematical shorthand for the limits used in computing derivatives and tangents. Locality allows a point to be related to an infinitesimally close point in its light cone, and that is really a statement about the derivatives at the point.

In general relativity, matter curves spacetime, and spacetime does not necessarily have rotational or other symmetries. But locally, to first order in infinitesimals, a point looks like the Minkowski space described earlier. That is, the tangent space is linear with the metric

*−dx*, in suitable coordinates.

^{2}−dy^{2}−dz^{2}+c^{2}dt^{2}A causal path in a curved spacetime is one that is within the light cones at every point. As the light cones are in the tangent space, this is a statement about the tangents to the curve. In other words, the velocity along the path cannot exceed the speed of light.

There is a mathematical theory for curved spaces. A manifold has a tangent space at each point, and if also has a metric on that, then one can take gradients of functions to get vector fields, find the shortest distance between points, compare vectors along curves, and calculate curvature. All of these things can be defined independently of coordinates on the manifold.

Spacetime (Riemann) curvature decomposes as the Ricci plus Weyl tensors. Technically, the Ricci tensor splits into the trace and trace-free parts, but that subtlety can be ignored for now. The Ricci tensor is a geometric measure of the presence of matter, and is zero in empty space.

There are whole textbooks explaining the mathematics of Riemann curvature, so I am not going to detail it here. It suffices to say that if you want a space that looks locally like Minkowski space, then it is locally described by the metric and Riemann curvature tensor.

The equations of general relativity are that the Ricci tensor is interpreted as mass density. More precisely, it is a tensor involving density, pressure, and stress. In particular, solving the dynamics of the solar system means using the equation Ricci = 0, as the sun and planets can be considered point masses in empty space. Einstein's calculation of the precession of Mercury's orbit was based studying spacetime with Ricci = 0.

Next we look at electric charges.