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Modern physics, as is well known, led to a radical revision of the fundamental concepts of classical physics, such as the concepts of space, time, matter, energy , and causality. The foundations of modern physics are the quantum theory and the theory of relativity, both of which originated in the early years of the twentieth century. Historians of physics generally agree with Arnold Sommerfeld1 and Max von Laue2 in dating Friday, 14 December 1900, as the “birthday” of the quantum theory. On that day, Max Planck3 announced for Introduction 1 “Die Quantentheorie ist ein Kind des 20. Jahrhunderts. Ihr Geburtstag ist der 14. December 1900.” A. Sommerfeld, Atombau und Spektrallinien (Braunschweig: Vieweg, 1919, 1931), p. 39. “The quantum theory is the product of the twentieth century. It came to life on 14th December 1900.” Atomic Structure and Spectral Lines (London: Methuen, 1923), p. 36. 2 “Planck konnte am 14. Dezember 1900 die theoretische Ableitung des Strahlungsgesetzes vorlegen. Das war die Geburtsstunde der Quantentheorie.” M. von Laue, Traueransprache [Memorial Address, delivered at Planck’s funeral at the Albani Church in Göttingen on October 7, 1947], in M. Planck, Physikalische Abhandlungen und Vorträge (Braunschweig: Vieweg, 1958), vol. 3, p. 419. 3 M. Planck, “Zur Theorie des Gesetzes der Energieverteilung im Normalspektrum,” Verhandlungen der Deutschen Physikalischen Gesellschaft 2, 237–245 (1900); “Über das Gesetz der Energieverteilung im Normalspektrum,” Annalen der Physik 4, 553–563 (1901); Physikalische Abhandlungen und Vorträge (Braunschweig: Vieweg, 1958), vol. 1, pp. 698–706, 717–727. 2 Concepts of Simultaneity the first time what he then called “the natural constant h” and what later, under the name of “Planck’s constant,” became the “trademark” of quantum mechanics. For a similar reason Friday, 30 June 1905, may be called the “birthday ” of the theory of relativity, for on that day Albert Einstein’s seminal paper4 on the special theory of relativity was received by the editorial board of the Annalen der Physik. Priority questions are generally, and rightly, regarded as nugatory and not worth mentioning. In the present case, however, the following priority claim deserves our attention. The claim that, despite the chronological precedence of the birth of the quantum theory, it was Einstein’s 1905 relativity paper that initiated the conceptual revolution of modern physics was made most eloquently not, as may be expected, by a relativist but by a most prominent quantum physicist. It was made in fact by one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, Werner Heisenberg. In his Gifford Lecture, delivered at the University of St Andrews in the winter semester 1955/56, Heisenberg declared: “Within the field of modern physics the theory of relativity has played a very important role. It was in this theory that the necessity for a change in the fundamental principles of physics was recognized for the first time.”5 A similar statement had already been made by Heisenberg in 1934 when he said: “The fundamental presuppositions of classical physics, which led to the scientific picture of the 19th century, had been challenged for the first time by Einstein’s special relativity.” Then, specifying exactly the premise of classical physics that gave rise to this challenge, he continued: “It was the assumption that it is meaningful without further consideration to call two events simultaneous in the case they do not occur at the same place.”6 Heisenberg’s statement, that Einstein’s 1905 analysis of the 4 A. Einstein, “Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper,” Annalen der Physik 17, 891–921 (1905); reprinted in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), vol. 2, pp. 275–306; “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies,” Princeton Translation Project , pp. 140–171. Also in A. Einstein, H. A. Lorentz, H. Minkowski, and H. Weyl, The Principle of Relativity (New York: Dover Publications, 1953), pp. 35–65. 5 W. Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), p. 110 (emphasis added). 6 W. Heisenberg, Wandlungen in den Grundlagen der exakten Naturwissenschaft in jüngster Zeit (Lecture delivered in Hannover on 17 September 1934), in Die Naturwissenschaften 22, 669–675 (1934); reprinted in W. Blum, H. P. Dürr, H. Rechenberg, eds., Werner Heisenberg—Gesammelte Werke (Munich: Piper, 1984), vol. 1, pp. 96–101 (emphasis added). concept of distant simultaneity (i.e., of spatially separated events) inaugurated the modern physical world picture, can be confirmed by the fact that Einstein himself once admitted: “By means of a revision of the concept of simultaneity in a shapable form I arrived at the special...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780801889530
Related ISBN
9780801884221
MARC Record
OCLC
213306047
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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