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Book Title: Relativity|
The author of the book: Albert Einstein
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Date of issue: March 30th 2010
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Some years ago in France a book by Jean-François Gautier appeared, entitled Does the universe exist?.
What if the universe were a concept like cosmic ether, or phlogiston, or the conspiracy of the Elders of Zion?
Philosophically, Gautier’s arguments make sense.
The idea of the universe, as the totality of the cosmos, is one that comes from the most ancient cosmographies, cosmologies, and cosmogonies. But can one describe, as if seeing it from above, something within which we are contained, of which we are part, and from which we cannot exit? Can there be a descriptive geometry of the universe when there is no space outside it on which to project it? Can we talk about the beginning of the universe, when a temporal notion such as “beginning” must refer to the parameter of a clock, while the universe must be the clock of itself and cannot be referred to anything that is external to it?
Can we say, as Eddington does, that a hundred billion stars constitute a galaxy and a hundred billion galaxies constitute the universe, when, as Gautier observes, while a galaxy is an observable object, the universe is not, and therefore we would be establishing an improper analogy between two incommensurable objects? Can we postulate the universe and then study with empirical instruments this postulate as if it were an object? Can a singular object exist (surely the most singular of all) that has as its characteristic that of being only a law?
And what if the story of the big bang were a tale as fantastic as the gnostic account that insisted the universe was generated by the lapsus of a clumsy demiurge?
Basically, this criticism of the notion of the universe reiterates Kant’s criticism of the notion of the world.
After all, the cultivated person’s first duty is to be always prepared to rewrite the encyclopedia.
P.S. The reflections are directly borrowed from Umberto Eco's lectures, but are genuine concerns of this reviewer too. Questions are addressed to Einstein, of course.
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Read information about the authorIn 1879, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Zurich by 1909. His 1905 paper explaining the photoelectric effect, the basis of electronics, earned him the Nobel Prize in 1921. His first paper on Special Relativity Theory, also published in 1905, changed the world. After the rise of the Nazi party, Einstein made Princeton his permanent home, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1940. Einstein, a pacifist during World War I, stayed a firm proponent of social justice and responsibility. He chaired the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, which organized to alert the public to the dangers of atomic warfare.
At a symposium, he advised: "In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests. In their labors they will have to avail themselves of those forces which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself. This is, to be sure a more difficult but an incomparably more worthy task . . . " ("Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium," published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York, 1941). In a letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, dated Jan. 3, 1954, Einstein stated: "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this," (The Guardian, "Childish superstition: Einstein's letter makes view of religion relatively clear," by James Randerson, May 13, 2008). D. 1955.
While best known for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2 (which has been dubbed "the world's most famous equation"), he received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect". The latter was pivotal in establishing quantum theory.
Einstein thought that Newtonion mechanics was no longer enough to reconcile the laws of classical mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field. This led to the development of his special theory of relativity. He realized, however, that the principle of relativity could also be extended to gravitational fields, and with his subsequent theory of gravitation in 1916, he published a paper on the general theory of relativity. He continued to deal with problems of statistical mechanics and quantum theory, which led to his explanations of particle theory and the motion of molecules. He also investigated the thermal properties of light which laid the foundation of the photon theory of light.
He was visiting the United States when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 and did not go back to Germany. On the eve of World War II, he endorsed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt alerting him to the potential development of "extremely powerful bombs of a new type" and recommending that the U.S. begin similar research. This eventually led to what would become the Manhattan Project. Einstein supported defending the Allied forces, but largely denounced the idea of using the newly discovered nuclear fission as a weapon. Later, with Bertrand Russell, Einstein signed the Russell–Einstein Manifesto, which highlighted the danger of nuclear weapons. Einstein was affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, until his death in 1955.
His great intellectual achievements and originality have made the word "Einstein" synonymous with genius.
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