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From Albert Einstein’s letters, written between 1898 and 1902 to his fiancée Mileva Marić, we know that as a student Einstein had already been deeply interested in the ether theories of electrodynamics and in the problem of the detectability of the Earth’s motion through the supposedly immobile ether. We also know from his correspondence with his lifelong friend Michele Besso1 and from a remark made by Maurice Solovine about what he had read and discussed when he met with Einstein in Bern that Einstein had been “profoundly impressed”2 by Poincaré’s Science and Hypothesis in which the 1898 article La Mesure de Temps is briefly mentioned. Whether Einstein ever read this article is not known. After having studied Heinrich Hertz’s reformulation of Maxwell’s electrodynamics Einstein wrote in August 1899 to Mileva that he was becoming C H A P T E R S E V E N Simultaneity in the Special Theory of Relativity 1 P. Speziali, Albert Einstein—Michele Besso: Correspondence 1902–1955 (Paris: Hermann, 1972), p. 464. 2 “La Science et l’Hypothèse de Poincaré, un livre qui nous a profondément impressionés et tenus en haleine pendant de longues semaines . . . ” in M. Solovine (ed.), Albert Einstein: Lettres à Maurice Solovine (Paris: Gauthier–Villars, 1956), p. VIII (introduction). more and more convinced that the electrodynamics of moving bodies, as currently presented, is not correct, and that it should be possible to present it in a simpler way. All his attempts to construct such a theory on the basis of the relativity principle and the principle of the invariance of the velocity of light were thwarted by the apparently irreconcilable conflict between the light principle and the rule of the addition of velocities as used in mechanics. In an impromptu talk on the creation of the theory of relativity, delivered at Kyoto University on 14 December 1922, Einstein reportedly gave the following account: Why do these two concepts contradict each other? I realized that this difficulty was really hard to resolve. I spent almost a year in vain trying to modify the idea of Lorentz in the hope of resolving this problem. By chance a friend of mine [Michelo Besso] in Bern helped me out. It was a beautiful day when I visited him with this problem. I started the conversation with him in the following way: “Recently I have been working on a difficult problem. Today I come here to battle against that problem with you.” We discussed every aspect of this problem. Then suddenly I understood where the key to this problem lay. Next day I came back to him and said to him, without even saying hello, “Thank you. I’ve completely solved the problem. An analysis of the concept of time was my solution.” Time cannot be absolutely defined, and there is an inseparable relation between time and signal velocity . With this new concept I could resolve all the difficulties completely for the first time. Within five weeks the special theory of relativity was completed.3 That it was indeed a new conception of time that played such a crucial role had been emphasized by Einstein in 1907 when he wrote in an essay summarizing his new theory: “It turned out, surprisingly, that it was only necessary to provide a sufficiently precise formulation of the notion of time in order to overcome the difficulty encountered.”4 Simultaneity in the Special Theory of Relativity 107 3 A. Einstein, “How I created the theory of relativity,” Physics Today 35, 45–47 (August 1982). This is a translation into English by Yoshimasa A. Ono of Jun Ishiwara’s Japanese translation of Einstein’s talk delivered in German. Concerning the authenticity of the translation, see H. J. Haubold and E. Yasui, “Jun Ishiwaras Text über Albert Einsteins Gastvortrag an der Universität zu Kyoto am 14. Dezember 1922,” Archive for History of Exact Sciences 36, 271–279 (1986). 4 “Es zeigte sich aber uberraschenderweise, dass es nur nötig war, den Begriff der Zeit genügend scharf zu fassen, um über die soeben dargelegte Schwierigkeit hinweg zu kommen.” A. Einstein , “Über das Relativitätsprinzip und die aus demselben gezogenen Folgerungen,” Jahrbuch der Radioaktivität und Elektronik 4, 411–462 (1907). Quotation on p. 413. The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989), vol. 2, pp. 432–484; English Translations (Princeton, 1989), vol. 2, pp. 252–311. Quotation on p...


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