General Relativity and Gravitation

, Volume 44, Issue 8, pp 2077–2097

Some remarks on the genesis of scalar-tensor theories


    • Institute for Theoretical PhysicsUniversity of Göttingen

DOI: 10.1007/s10714-012-1378-8


Between 1941 and 1962, scalar-tensor theories of gravitation were suggested four times by different scientists in four different countries. The earliest originator, the Swiss mathematician W. Scherrer, was virtually unknown until now whereas the chronologically latest pair gave their names to a multitude of publications on Brans–Dicke theory. P. Jordan, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics and quantum field theory, and Y. Thiry, known by his book on celestial mechanics, a student of the mathematician Lichnerowicz, complete the quartet. Diverse motivations for and conceptual interpretations of their theories will be discussed as well as relations among them. Also, external factors like language, citation habits, or closeness to the mainstream are considered. It will become clear why Brans–Dicke theory, although structurally a déjà-vu, superseded all the other approaches.


Cosmology Alternative theories of gravitation History of Physics


My thanks go to Dieter Brill for communicating some of his memories of the time to me, to Friedrich Hehl for helpful comments and for a copy of Just’s Habilitationsschrift, and to Norbert Straumann for allowing me to quote from Fierz’s letter. S. Deser helped me to revalue his references to Scherrer and corrected a biographical mistake. A reference pointed out to me by a referee is also included.

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© The Author(s) 2012