How Great Physics Thinks - History, Philosophy and...

How Great Physics Thinks

Many outstanding physicists have tried to overcome the problems in question. The most successful were the efforts of Hendrik Lorenz, Henri Poincaré and Albert Einstein. Their innovations have largely clarified the essence of physics. However, the great ones are wrong.

Lorentz most of all took two ideas. First, he sought to interpret Maxwell's electrodynamics as a theory of microdynamic processes. Secondly, Lorentz wanted to give a consistent dynamic explanation of all electromagnetic phenomena. Both ideas seem to be flawless. But how to implement them?

Lorentz began to implement his program in 1892. He suggested that physicists deal with positive and negative charges bound in bodies and also with free charges. These charges affect each other and experience the influence of the ether. Lorentz built his microscopic dynamics in such a way that the averaging of the signs of microobjects led to Maxwell's equations. Presumably, this restriction prevented him from making some possible mistakes. Moreover, it led him to non-trivial discoveries. One of them was to find an alternative to the Galilean transformations, which physicists after Poincare began to call the Lorentz transformations. We write them for two systems moving relative to each other along the axis x with the relative velocity v:


Maxwell's equations are invariant under Lorentz transformations. Consequently, the introduction of Lorentz transformations gave hope for the salvation of the invariance principle.

Lorenz's loyalty to the dynamic principle also deserves approval. Guided by it, he suggested that if an object moves in ether, then it contracts in the direction of motion. And all the processes occurring in it, because of the dynamic effects, slow down in the same respect. These processes are also characteristic of the interferometer used in the Michelson-Morley experiment. Lorentz was sure that the dynamic effects he proposed could be explained

the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment without refusing to recognize the reality of the ether. In this case, Lorentz was wrong. But despite this error, he managed to dynamically interpret many effects, in particular, the Zeeman effect, which consists in the splitting of the energy levels and spectral lines of atoms and atomic systems in a magnetic field. Together with Zeeman, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Henri Poincare was a brilliant mathematician. He is more thorough than Lorentz himself, he understood the content of the transformations introduced into physics. For Poincare it was obvious that they were restoring the principle of relativity in their rights. The second insight of Poincare was his realization of the need to revise the concept of time. The fourth Lorentz transformation equation includes t and t.

Science Paradoxes

The main mistake of Lorentz is that he believed that real time is t, and t 'is just an auxiliary quantity.

Poincare realized that t 'is not really less than t. There is a time in each frame of reference. If the system uses a clock placed in its various locations, then they must be synchronized by any signal. Otherwise, the clock can not be trusted. Regarding the dynamic principle, Poincare believed that Lorentz realized it with unsurpassed skill.

Albert Einstein, first, completely abandoned the concept of the ether. Secondly, the constancy of the speed of light in a vacuum, he translated from the rank of fact to the rank of the principle.

Issues of theory

The concept of ether leads to difficulties that fall away along with its negation. Refusal from the ether does not lead to contradictions. The assertion of the reality of the ether is equivalent to postulating the existence of an absolute frame of reference. According to the principle of invariance, all inertial frames of reference are equal. There is no reason for one of them to be considered privileged. The concept of the ether was introduced for the sake of understanding the nature of wave processes. Waves, they say, should be distributed somewhere, whether in ether, or in absolute emptiness. But if we assert that the waves propagate relative to each other, then there is no need for an absolute reference system.

Einstein's postulation of the invariance of the speed of light in vacuum also had a profound meaning. The fact is that he combined it with a dynamic principle. It is important not only to establish the interaction of physical objects, but also its nature. The concept of long-range action is untenable, according to which interaction can be transmitted at an infinitely high speed. This speed is always finite. Consequently, the short-range concept is replaced by the concept of short-range action. And on all physical interactions lies the seal of the invariance of the speed of light. This circumstance determines a different understanding of the nature of physical interaction, on the one hand, by Einstein, on the other hand, by Lorentz. Both were guided by a dynamic principle, but they interpreted the interaction in different ways.

In contrast to Lorentz, Einstein did not think that bodies are compressed in the direction of motion. The higher the velocity of the reference frame in question relative to the observer, the smaller the scales of lengths and durations in it. Lorentz reasoned in a fundamentally different manner than Einstein. His scales of lengths and durations in all frames of reference are the same, but the bodies are deformed. The disparity in the scales of lengths and durations in different frames of reference follows directly from the principles of the theory of relativity. Deformation of the same objects is a special process, its explanation is given in the depth of the theory.

All of the above, concerning the formation of relativistic mechanics (the special theory of relativity) shows that physicists have to think extraordinarily. Conceptual insights are visited by one or the other. And no one is immune from mistakes. The special theory of relativity is based on two principles.

1. The principle of invariance, or the principle of special relativity: physical laws in all inertial frames of reference are the same.

2. The principle of short-range interaction: the rate of transmission of interactions can not be greater than the speed of light in a vacuum, which is an invariant for all inertial frames.

Let's return to our three heroes, fixing their achievements and miscalculations (Table 3.1).

Table 3.1. The development of relativistic mechanics

No. n/n

Concepts and projects





Development of microelectrodynamics


Approved the efforts of Lorentz

Approved the efforts of Lorentz










Invented them

Connected them to the principle of relativity

Connected them to the principle of relativity


The principle of relativity

I did not give enough attention

Contributed to his becoming

Contributed to his becoming


Reality of the Ether





The need for clock synchronization

Not rated




Understanding Duration as a Relationship

Not rated




Criticism of classical mechanics

Slightly expressed

Slightly expressed

Presented in bright form

About the contribution of Lorentz, Poincare and Einstein to the creation of a special theory of relativity, there is a wide range of opinions. In this connection, we confine ourselves to a small reference in which the emphasis is placed on the relation of three outstanding authors to each other.

Lorentz did not consider himself the author of the special theory of relativity. He recognized the merits of both Poincare and Einstein. He was annoyed that he saw the difference between the time of the moving frame of reference and the time of the system in which the observer is located. Lorentz, however, was not as critical of the theory he invented as Einstein did. He believed that basically his theory coincides with the theory of Einstein, for it gives the same results. There are reasons to believe that Lorentz exaggerated his services somewhat.

Poincare, talking about the theory of relativity, did not mention the name of Einstein, considering it the author of Lorentz, but not himself. He did not properly evaluate Einstein's innovation.

Einstein considered himself the author of the special theory of relativity. He recognized the merits of Lorentz and Poincare, stressing that due to their efforts conditions were created for the discovery of the special theory of relativity. To himself, he made merit in understanding the fundamental significance of the Lorentz transformations. They lead beyond the limits of Maxwell's electrodynamics, expressing the fundamental features of space and time, whatever the theories they relate to.

The author sees no reason to disagree with Einstein's self-esteem. He really clarified the content of the fundamental foundations of physical theory to a much greater extent than Lorenz and Poincaré as his predecessors.


1. X. Lorentz developed the microdynamic theory of electromagnetic interactions and recorded transformations, which are now called his name.

2. Lorentz transformations contradicted the fact of the invariance of the speed of light in a vacuum.

3. A. Poincaré developed the principle of relativity and formulated the idea of ​​clock synchronization.

4. A. Einstein developed the principle of the maximum transmission rate of interactions.

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