The Theory of Relativity and Our World View

  • A. R. Peacocke


In a much admired and widely used textbook of modern physics, based on lectures given to his classes at the California Institute of Technology, Richard Feynman turns aside in his exposition of relativity in physics to the views of what he calls “cocktail-party philosophers”.1 He describes these, while slyly hinting that the category may well include some professionals, as those who say, “Oh, it is very simple: Einstein’s theory says all is relative!” or “That all is relative is a consequence of Einstein, and it has profound influences on our ideas,” or “It has been demonstrated in physics that phenomena depend upon your frame of reference.” As he rightly goes on to point out, if these remarks genuinely indicate all there is to Einstein’s theory of relativity, then one can legitimately wonder why so simple an idea underwent such a long period of gestation and needed the intellectual acumen and power of an Einstein to uncover it. The “cocktail-party philosophers” have, of course, failed to perceive the depth of the theory and how it allows us to make definite predictions about the physical world. It is consistency with experiment that led, rather rapidly, to acceptance of the strange ideas contained in the special theory of relativity; and it was indeed as a result of reflection on certain experimental phenomena that Einstein first proposed the special theory.


Physical World Physical Reality World View Special Theory Sense Experience 
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References and Notes

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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. R. Peacocke
    • 1
  1. 1.Clare CollegeUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeEngland

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