THE EINSTEIN THEORY OF RELATIVITY ***
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The Einstein Theory of Relativity
A Concise Statement
Prof. H.A. Lorentz of the University of Leyden
Whether it is true or not that not more than twelve persons in all the world are able to understand Einstein's Theory, it is nevertheless a fact that there is a constant demand for information about this much-debated topic of relativity. The books published on the subject are so technical that only a person trained in pure physics and higher mathematics is able to fully understand them. In order to make a popular explanation of this far-reaching theory available, the present book is published.
Professor Lorentz is credited by Einstein with sharing the development of his theory. He is doubtless better able than any other man--except the author himself--to explain this scientific discovery.
The publishers wish to acknowledge their indebtedness to the New York Times, The Review of Reviews and The Athenaeum for courteous permission to reprint articles from their pages. Professor Lorentz's article appeared originally in The Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant of November 19, 1919.
The action of the Royal Society at its meeting in London on November 6, in recognizing Dr. Albert Einstein's "theory of relativity" has caused a great stir in scientific circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Dr. Einstein propounded his theory nearly fifteen years ago. The present revival of interest in it is due to the remarkable confirmation which it received in the report of the observations made during the sun's eclipse of last May to determine whether rays of light passing close to the sun are deflected from their course.
The actual deflection of the rays that was discovered by the astronomers was precisely what had been predicted theoretically by Einstein many years since. This striking confirmation has led certain German scientists to assert that no scientific discovery of such importance has been made since Newton's theory of gravitation was promulgated. This suggestion, however, was put aside by Dr. Einstein himself when he was interviewed by a correspondent of the New York Times at his home in Berlin. To this correspondent he expressed the difference between his conception and the law of gravitation in the following terms:
"Please imagine the earth removed, and in its place suspended a box as big as a room or a whole house, and inside a man naturally floating in the center, there being no force whatever pulling him. Imagine, further, this box being, by a rope or other contrivance, suddenly jerked to one side, which is scientifically termed 'difform motion', as opposed to 'uniform motion.' The person would then naturally reach bottom on the opposite side. The result would consequently be the same as if he obeyed Newton's law of gravitation, while, in fact, there is no gravitation exerted whatever, which proves that difform motion will in every case produce the same effects as gravitation.
"I have applied this new idea to every kind of difform motion and have thus developed mathematical formulas which I am convinced give more precise results than those based on Newton's theory. Newton's formulas, however, are such close approximations that it was difficult to find by observation any obvious disagreement with experience."
Dr. Einstein, it must be remembered, is a physicist and not an astronomer. He developed his theory as a mathematical formula. The confirmation of it came from the astronomers. As he himself says, the crucial test was supplied by the last total solar eclipse. Observations then proved that the rays of fixed stars, having to pass close to the sun to reach the earth, were deflected the exact amount demanded by Einstein's formulas. The deflection was also in the direction predicted by him.
The question must have occurred to many, what has all this to do with relativity? When this query was propounded by the Times correspondent to Dr. Einstein he replied as follows:
"The term relativity refers to time and space. According to Galileo and Newton, time and space were absolute entities, and the moving systems of the universe were dependent on this absolute time and space. On this conception was built the science of mechanics. The resulting formulas sufficed for all motions of a slow nature; it was found, however, that they would not conform to the rapid motions apparent in electrodynamics.
"This led the Dutch professor, Lorentz, and myself to develop the theory of special relativity. Briefly, it discards absolute time and space and makes them in every instance relative to moving systems. By this theory all phenomena in electrodynamics, as well as mechanics, hitherto irreducible by the old formulae--and there are multitudes--were satisfactorily explained.