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Einstein, Poincaré and the Origins of Special Relativity

Abstract

Going back over 60 years now, there has been extensive discussion of whether Poincaré (and Lorentz) deserve credit for discovering special relativity. Two papers by Poincaré translated in this book are cited to advance the case for giving Poincaré precedence. This chapter considers the objectives set out by Poincaré and Einstein at the beginning of their papers, looks at the beginning of the discussion, and concludes with a look at some recent work about the discussion.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Quotations from Einstein’s 1905 paper on special relativity used in this chapter are taken from (Einstein, The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, 1989).

  2. 2.

    In my paraphrase, his postulate is a statement about what nature has shown us (by experiment or observation) and not a statement about how nature is, fundamentally.

  3. 3.

    An alternate translation, “We must take into account that all of our judgments in which time plays a role are always judgments about simultaneous events. If, for example, I say, ‘That train arrives here at 7 o’clock,’ it essentially means, ‘The train arriving and the small hand of my watch pointing to 7 are simultaneous events.’” provided by Ken Kronenberg. Personal communication, December 2016.

  4. 4.

    This appears to be the only citation by Einstein up to at least 1920 of a publication by Poincaré.

  5. 5.

    The translation quoted by Feynman is accurate but does not exactly follow the translation by G. B. Halsted published in (Poincaré, The Principles of Mathematical Physics, 1905b) and in (Poincaré, The Value of Science, 1907), or the translation by J. W. Young in (Poincaré, The Present and the Future of Mathematical Physics, 1906b).

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Popp, B.D. (2020). Einstein, Poincaré and the Origins of Special Relativity. In: Henri Poincaré: Electrons to Special Relativity. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48039-4_11

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