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Thread: Einstein's Debt to Hume

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    Einstein's Debt to Hume

    Over on Freethought Blogs Mano SDingham has an interesting article on the importance of philosophy to science, and in particular, Einstein’s debt to Hume with regards Special Relativity.

    Singham links to and quotes at length from an article by Matias Slavov to that effect. Although the insights of Special Relativity were very much “in the air” when Einstein was formulating his theory, he credits reading Hume’s theories of time as an important catalyst.

    However, Singham adds some additional thoughts about Einstein’s genius. In contrast to Special Relativity, the concepts of General Relativity were not “in the air” before Einstein. Singham writes:

    But this is not the case for Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Of the three tests of general relativity (the gravitational red shift, the bending of light by gravitational fields, and the rate of precession of the perihelion of Mercury) only the last was known as a problem and it was not seen as an insurmountable one within classical physics. His insight as to what things might look like to someone falling freely in a gravitational field led to his formulation of the Equivalence Principle and later to his General Theory that explained the Mercury problem. This insight was not obvious.
    He ends his essay by speculating:

    How long might we have gone without realizing that a new theory was needed if Einstein did not have his insight? We now know that if GPS satellites do not make corrections due to the gravitational red shift, then after a day or two they will be off by about 6 miles! So that would definitely have told us that we had a problem. But would we have even reached the stage of putting satellites in space without the General Theory?
    Altogether I found it an interesting read.

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    I generally downplay the role of philosophy in science.

    Most of the issues AE dealt with were around for a long time. Relative motion and its problems were well known.

    In AE's own words, 'I stood on the heads of giants'. Mostly meaning science and especially Maxwell.

    Attributing relativity to Hume sounds like a stretch. The general ideas leading to AE were in general circulation. Same can be said of Newton.

    Sounds like a case of philosophy claiming science.

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    SR would have happened even without Einstein but I agree that GR would have been much later. There really wasn’t a need for him to explore that.

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    Maxwell's prediction of C fed into SR. Maxwell predicted and modeled light as traveling without a medium.

    Seems like SR would naturally follow Maxwell. The consequences of the finite speed of light between inertial frames.

    From a recent show AE had a serious competitor and he was rushing to publish first.

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    A lot fed into AE

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_relativity

    In physics, special relativity (also known as the special theory of relativity) is the generally accepted and experimentally confirmed physical theory regarding the relationship between space and time. In Albert Einstein's original pedagogical treatment, it is based on two postulates:
    1.the laws of physics are invariant (i.e. identical) in all inertial frames of reference (i.e. non-accelerating frames of reference); and
    2.the speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers, regardless of the motion of the light source or observer.

    Some of the work of Albert Einstein in special relativity is built on the earlier work by Hendrik Lorentz.

    Special relativity was originally proposed by Albert Einstein in a paper published on 26 September 1905 titled "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".[p 1] The inconsistency of Newtonian mechanics with Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism and, experimentally, the Michelson-Morley null result (and subsequent similar experiments) demonstrated that the historically hypothesized luminiferous aether did not exist. This led to Einstein's development of special relativity, which corrects mechanics to handle situations involving all motions and especially those at a speed close to that of light (known as relativistic velocities). Today, special relativity is proven to be the most accurate model of motion at any speed when gravitational effects are negligible. Even so, the Newtonian model is still valid as a simple and accurate approximation at low velocities (relative to the speed of light), for example, the everyday motions on Earth.

    Special relativity has a wide range of consequences. These have been experimentally verified,[1] and include length contraction, time dilation, relativistic mass, mass–energy equivalence, a universal speed limit, the speed of causality and relativity of simultaneity. It has, for example, replaced the conventional notion of an absolute universal time with the notion of a time that is dependent on reference frame and spatial position. Rather than an invariant time interval between two events, there is an invariant spacetime interval. Combined with other laws of physics, the two postulates of special relativity predict the equivalence of mass and energy, as expressed in the mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2 (c is the speed of light in a vacuum).[2][3]

    A defining feature of special relativity is the replacement of the Galilean transformations of Newtonian mechanics with the Lorentz transformations. Time and space cannot be defined separately from each other (as was earlier thought to be the case). Rather, space and time are interwoven into a single continuum known as "spacetime". Events that occur at the same time for one observer can occur at different times for another.

    Until Einstein developed general relativity, introducing a curved spacetime to incorporate gravity, the phrase "special relativity" was not used. A translation sometimes used is "restricted relativity"; "special" really means "special case".[p 2][p 3][p 4][note 1]

    The theory is "special" in that it only applies in the special case where the spacetime is "flat", i.e., the curvature of spacetime, described by the energy-momentum tensor and causing gravity, is negligible.[4][note 2] In order to correctly accommodate gravity, Einstein formulated general relativity in 1915. Special relativity, contrary to some historical descriptions, does accommodate accelerations as well as accelerating frames of reference.[5][6]

    Just as Galilean relativity is now accepted to be an approximation of special relativity that is valid for low speeds, special relativity is considered an approximation of general relativity that is valid for weak gravitational fields, i.e. at a sufficiently small scale (for example, for tidal forces) and in conditions of free fall. General relativity, however, incorporates noneuclidean geometry in order to represent gravitational effects as the geometric curvature of spacetime. Special relativity is restricted to the flat spacetime known as Minkowski space. As long as the universe can be modeled as a pseudo-Riemannian manifold, a Lorentz-invariant frame that abides by special relativity can be defined for a sufficiently small neighborhood of each point in this curved spacetime.

    Galileo Galilei had already postulated that there is no absolute and well-defined state of rest (no privileged reference frames), a principle now called Galileo's principle of relativity. Einstein extended this principle so that it accounted for the constant speed of light,[7] a phenomenon that had been observed in the Michelson–Morley experiment. He also postulated that it holds for all the laws of physics, including both the laws of mechanics and of electrodynamics.[8]

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    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    I generally downplay the role of philosophy in science.

    Most of the issues AE dealt with were around for a long time. Relative motion and its problems were well known.

    In AE's own words, 'I stood on the heads of giants'. Mostly meaning science and especially Maxwell.

    Attributing relativity to Hume sounds like a stretch. The general ideas leading to AE were in general circulation. Same can be said of Newton.

    Sounds like a case of philosophy claiming science.
    I think you’re being too abrupt in your dismissal. The reality may be more nuanced. For example, Einstein tells us he studied Hume in 1902-3 with the mathematician Habricht and a philosophy student Solovine. That’s why he said, in 1915, as quoted in the article, “…Hume, whose Treatise of Human Nature I had studied avidly and with admiration shortly before discovering the theory of relativity. It is very possible that without these philosophical studies I would not have arrived at the solution,” and later in life, “In so far as I can be aware, the immediate influence of D Hume on me was greater. I read him with Konrad Habicht and Solovine in Bern.”

    The actual Slavov article from which those quotes are taken goes on to explore Hume’s theories on the nature of time, which I found are quite interesting.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadowy Man View Post
    SR would have happened even without Einstein but I agree that GR would have been much later. There really wasn’t a need for him to explore that.
    I too thought that was a very interesting point that I'd never seen addressed. It is I believe Singham's own observation. Singham is a retired theoretical physicist who has written a few popular books on the history and philosophy of science.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tharmas View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    I generally downplay the role of philosophy in science.

    Most of the issues AE dealt with were around for a long time. Relative motion and its problems were well known.

    In AE's own words, 'I stood on the heads of giants'. Mostly meaning science and especially Maxwell.

    Attributing relativity to Hume sounds like a stretch. The general ideas leading to AE were in general circulation. Same can be said of Newton.

    Sounds like a case of philosophy claiming science.
    I think you’re being too abrupt in your dismissal. The reality may be more nuanced. For example, Einstein tells us he studied Hume in 1902-3 with the mathematician Habricht and a philosophy student Solovine. That’s why he said, in 1915, as quoted in the article, “…Hume, whose Treatise of Human Nature I had studied avidly and with admiration shortly before discovering the theory of relativity. It is very possible that without these philosophical studies I would not have arrived at the solution,” and later in life, “In so far as I can be aware, the immediate influence of D Hume on me was greater. I read him with Konrad Habicht and Solovine in Bern.”

    The actual Slavov article from which those quotes are taken goes on to explore Hume’s theories on the nature of time, which I found are quite interesting.
    Nobody creates in a vacuum. Maxwell had the work of Gauss, Ampere, Friday and others.

    To say the relativity would not have happened without Hume is a bit of a stretch.

    We all get inspiration from many things. One of the few philosophers I found useful was Popper on science.

    Newton's law of inertia went at least as far back to the Arabs. The underlying principle's of his calculus notation synthesis went far back in history. It does not diminish his achievements, it puts it in context.

    I would put Newton and Maxwell at the top with AE second. His most important work was not relativity, it was the Photoelectric Effect expedient and paper. It set the stage for quantum mechanics demonstrating quantization of light.

    Everything builds on what came before. Did Hume come up with ideas out of nowhere?

    AC Clarke predicted communication Seattleites in the 40s. The original ST series foreshadowed a lot of technology. Voice controlled computers. The flip top hand held confiscation device is today the cell phone. Tablet computers that recognized script writing.

    The genesis of the original raster scan TV came from observation of plowed fields.

    AE was immersed in a rich environment. It was not as structured as today. There was an informal network of scientists. According to his bio one of his favorite pleasures was eating, drinking, smoking, and talking science with peers.





    The idea there was 'nothing in the air' around AE is also a stretch.

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    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    [...snip]


    The idea there was 'nothing in the air' around AE is also a stretch.
    Who ever said that?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tharmas View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    [...snip]


    The idea there was 'nothing in the air' around AE is also a stretch.
    Who ever said that?
    My mistake.

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