Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps - Empires of Time

Peter Galison, 2003, Hillsboro Lbr, 529 Galison

While this detailed history is more than I have time to read, Galison tells how the practical time synchronization experiences of both Henri Poincaré and Albert Einstein led to their respective theories of relativity. I skimmed it, and read most of the Einstein material. No disrespect to the book or the author, I was merely seeking confirmation of Freeman Dyson's insights about Einstein as a "physical" physicist who insisted that theories should be driven by observation. Modern Einstein wannabees do not seem to understand this, and travel down rabbit holes chasing string theory and unification, forgetting that Einstein lost his way doing this.

Poincaré helped synchronize the French colonial empire, and synchronize France chronologically and cartographically to the prime meridian established by the British and used by almost all mariners. This work helped Poincaré develop Lorentz's 1895 and 1904 papers about time dilation into a theory of relativity in 1905; sadly, Poincaré struggled to retain the currently accepted "ether" in his theory, which resulted in unacceptable paradoxes. Galison attributes this to Poincaré's age (51yo) and conservatism, compared to the renegade Einstein.

Einstein grew up in a family that manufactured electrical machines - he learned Maxwell's equations when his agemates were learning team sports. Einstein was an obstreperous radical and almost unemployable as an academic; however, he took a job at the Swiss patent office in Bern in June 1902 (at age 23) under Friedrich Haller, who encouraged him to think skeptically about patents. Many of the patents Einstein inspected were for clocks and synchronization methods. Galison claims that Einstein's 1905 Annalen der Physik paper "Zur Electrodynamik bewegter Körper" (On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies) was written in the style of a patent application. Einstein's work on gyrocompass patents helped him develop his theory of the magnetic atom (p251).

Like most physicists of his time, Einstein was firmly grounded in the material world and physical experiment, contradicting theoreticians that attribute his early work to pure cogitation. He even tinkered with absorption refrigerators with his former student Leó Szilárd, and they obtained US patent 1781541 together in 1930. Galison does not mention this work, but it underscores Einstein's practical attitude. Galison also does not mention Einstein's quixotic quest for a unified field theory and complaints about quantum uncertainty, perhaps the sad result of a lack of academic correction.

Einstein was seemingly uninterested in black holes, perhaps because they were theoretical objects resistant to observation. Had he lived another century, recent LIGO successes might have changed his mind. A good reason to develop radical "youth extension",

EinsteinsClocks (last edited 2017-03-28 19:54:39 by KeithLofstrom)