Chapter 24 of 'Einstein' - all chapters at www.bryantwieneke.com/blog

24. The flat was quiet, and the only light was from the lamp on Albert's desk. He placed his arms on the desk and then laid his head on them, figuring he would rest for only a moment. He was soon snoring lightly. After about forty-five minutes, Albert began to fidget. The weight of his head had cut off the circulation in his left arm. Raising his head, he felt the tingling sensation that accompanied renewed blood flow. Albert looked around at the dimly lit study, as if to verify where he was. When he stood up, he moved slowly and stiffly, and the fetid taste of the previous night’s cigars made him cringe. Despite the tingling in his arm and bad taste in his mouth, he felt much more alert than he had earlier. All he needed was a fresh cup of tea, and he would be ready to return to his work. He rose from the chair and walked quietly through the dark sitting room. According to the grandfather clock, it was 3 a.m. The kitchen was empty and still. He relit a fire in the stove and felt the warmth as it gained strength. He filled the teapot with water and stood by the stove, warming his hands and rubbing the upper part of his left arm. The feeling had returned, but it still tingled.

His mind gravitated to his next challenge, which was to deal with recent experiments that had disagreed with the predictions of classical physics. He now understood why they had disagreed: the scientists relied on absolutes. On the other hand, Albert intended to show that if one viewed the experimental results through the lens of relativity, the mathematics would work just fine. The kettle’s whistle interrupted Albert’s thought process, and he turned off the flame. He poured the hot water over the tea leaves in his strainer, and the aroma of the fresh, hot tea immediately filled the kitchen. Albert returned to his study, having decided to focus first on the addition of velocities, a concept that had been discredited recently by several scientists, including Fitzgerald and Lorentz. They showed that the distance between electrons in atoms was reduced during movement because electromagnetism caused a contraction of molecules. The result was an infinitesimal reduction in the size of a moving object. And, as all classical physicists were disturbingly aware, Newton's concept of the addition of velocities could not hold true without consistent lengths. Albert began with a mathematical representation of the effects of electromagnetism, bringing in equations from Lorentz, Maxwell and others. He wrote them mostly from memory, checking on a few from the papers on his desk to make sure he was remembering correctly. He did not want to be careless in this section because he knew the equations were going to be complicated. He also knew, however, that once he made his way through this labyrinth, he would be that much closer to proving the world was organized by principles of relativity, not absolutes. And he would have done it in a methodical way. Whereas Newton's principles of mechanics were proven mostly by observation and experimental evidence, Einstein was using logic and mathematical formulas. Albert sipped his tea as he wrote, completely absorbed in his manipulation of equations. It helped that Lorentz had already proved many of these equations in his analysis of electromagnetic waves and shown mathematically that there was little hope of saving the addition of velocities concept using the laws of classical mechanics. To replace Newton’s law, however, Albert had to delve into more detail regarding electromagnetism. The Maxell-Hertz equations dealing with the effects of electromagnetism and motion were an essential component of his proof. He also reviewed equations that described the movement of the electron, which had posed such a problem for classical physics because its movement approached the speed of light. As Albert manipulated equations, the taste of the fresh tea was gradually replacing the cigar taste. At some point, he would want to rinse his mouth out thoroughly, but for the time being, the tea helped. Einstein was growing more excited as the logic of this part of the proof unfolded. While he had dealt with these equations many times before, he had never moved them around between static and moving systems, i.e., one absolute coordinate system versus many relative ones. Moving equations like this was a simple idea, but the execution was extremely complicated. The deftness with which he managed the mathematics was exhilarating, even for a man who had been massaging mathematical equations for most of his life. The more he played out the equations, the more he understood why Newtonian absolutes fell apart. He could not write fast enough to keep up with his thoughts. One thing led to another, one equation to another, one logical point to another. And the more he wrote, the further he flew from classical mechanics and the closer he came to establishing a new principle of relativity upon which to base the laws of mechanics.

Through all of this, Albert was struck by the importance of motion. The difference in point of view from someone standing still to someone moving had become central to his argument.

While it had seemed for centuries that classical mechanics could encompass and explain any type of motion, Einstein now believed that physics erred when it measured and evaluated motion from a single perspective. Motion was not like the clock tower in Bern's central square, with all measurements made from one point. Einstein had showed that measurements made from a clock in motion differed from measurements made from a clock at rest, thereby violating a fundamental principle of classical mechanics and showing the necessity for a new paradigm.

It impressed even him that his proof was so consistent in affirming that understanding the effects of motion was the factor that made a relativity principle necessary.

He rubbed his eyes. It was late and he was tired, but there was no way he was going to bed before he had looked at the relativity principle from every possible angle and determined for sure whether it was as far-reaching and all-inclusive as he believed it to be.

He sighed. Among other things, he could definitely not go to bed without dealing with the Doppler Effect.


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