Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Relativity theory an absolutist theory

SCIENCE, exact science that is, has become synonymous with the theory of relativity and with quantum mechanics. In the broader cultural context the science of relativity is all too often taken as a proof that everything is relative. This might not have happened if Einstein had followed the suggestion of a friend of his, E. Zschimmer, who in 1922 urged him to rename his theory of relativity as “Invarianten-theorie,” or the theory of invariance. In his reply, Einstein admitted that the expression “relativity theory” “is unfortunate and has given occasion to philosophical misunderstandings.” Yet he felt that although the new name would “perhaps be better, it would cause confusion to change the generally accepted name after all this time.”

Apart from cultural considerations, the new name, “theory of invariance,” would have done much more justice to the science of relativity. On hearing physicists talk everywhere of “the theory of invariance” the broader public would have come to suspect that Einstein’s real achievement consisted in shedding light on some very absolutists aspects of the physical world. Such are the independence of the speed of light of the velocity of its source as well as of its detector, and the unchanging form of the basic equations of electromagnetism regardless of the motion of the coordinate system with respect to which they are formulated. The theory of relativity is a form of physical science far more reliably absolutist than Newtonian physics was with its doctrine of absolute space and time.

~Stanley L. Jaki: “Science, Culture and Cult.” (Lectures in the Vatican Gardens)

"Lectures in the Vatican Gardens"