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Re: [HM] poincare and his "inspired" followers
Posted:
Sep 28, 2005 9:58 AM


Dear all.
On Sat, 17 Sep 2005, Udai Venedem wrote: > > as it is all well known, Einstein largely plagiarised Poincare's "Sur > la dynamique de lélectron" (C. R., 5 juin 1905, p. 15041508). It > is less known if the same Poincare's "Sur la generalisation d'un > theoreme Elmentaire de Geometrie" (C. R., 16 janvier 1905, p. 113117) > was of "inspiration" for Minkowski's construction of the 4dimensions > spacetime structure. Any idea or comment? >
This is indeed a "hoary old chestnut"! The relation between Poincare and Einstein re the special theory of relativity has been discussed to and fro at least since Whittaker wrote about "The relativity theory of Poincare and Lorentz" in 1960, but for me it is the first time that I have seen the word "plagiarize" used in the context.
In his reply David Derbes makes much of the fact that Poincare was a mathematician and that Einstein had a pronounced dislike of mathematics. But of course Poincare was also very active in practically all aspects of physics and did discuss the principle of relativity from the late 1890:s onwards. I also have a recollection that Einstein and his friends in the "Olympia Academy" did study Poincare's "Science and Hypotheses" which deals with these matters in a popular fashion. In fact Maurice Solovine who was a member of this group recalled this: he also said: "Einstein qui maniait l'instrument mathematique avec une incomparable dexterite s'est souvent prononce contre l'emploi abusif des mathematiques en physique." This of course was a (very) "early" Einstein. I don't think Einstein actively disliked mathematics, it was more a matter of not finding the more advanced branches of any use (at this stage).
It might be of interest to note that there is a similar debate as to Poincare's influence on Minkowski and his seminal lecture/paper on space and time in 1908/09 (a debate referred to in a paper by Scott Walter in the volume "The Expanding worlds of General Relativity" (ed. H.Goenner et al.).
Finally a few words on the different ways in which Einstein and Poincare presented their thoughts. Starting with a mainly heuristic argument on the lack of symmetry in classical electromagnetism, Einstein gave his two axioms (relativity principle and constancy of the velocity of light) followed by a discussion of simultaneity. He thus gave a pure spacetime theory before dealing with physics proper. Poincare certainly introduced a relativity principle right from the start but his considerations were more tied to the structure of matter (ie. the electron) and unlike Einstein (who magnificently stated: "The introduction of a "luminiferous ether" will prove to be superfluous") Poincare retained this evanescent object. There is a striking parallell here in that Einstein was involved in another debate on priority with a mathematician, namely Hilbert, concerning the gravitational field equations. Here also Einstein was working in a "spacetimegravitation" framework but Hilbert also tried to include a theory of matter (originating with Gustav Mie) which made his formalism far less transparent. It seems to me that in both cases Einstein's treatment had a kind of mathematical clarity about it which is missing in the writings of the two mathematicians.
From a beautifully autumnal Uppsala.
Gunnar Berg



