Lot 434

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Einstein ALS “the Special Relativity Theory…electromagnetism…gravitational fields” as related to Ether, A Superb Scientific Letter Providing an Understanding of Einstein’s Evolving View of the Ether

EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed, "A. Einstein", 1p, in German, 8.75" x 10.75", no place, June 19, 1919. Insignificant usual uneven age toning does not detract from the readability and superb content of this important letter. Superb signature as “A. Einstein." Includes typed transcription in German, as well as a complete English translation.

Einstein writes to Professor Georg Lockemann concerning the origins of special relativity in the "ether question", in which he suggests that its current state can best be understood if one considers it historically. Before Maxwell, it was an "all-pervading inert substance", with its "transverse waves" manifesting themselves as light. Then Maxwell and his circle "made long and unsuccessful attempts at a mechanical interpretation of Maxwell’s electromagnetic equations. Under the pressure of this failure, people were accustomed to consider electromagnetic fields as states of the ether, whilst refraining from a mechanical analysis of these states. Then came the question about the state of motion of the ether relative to matter; the special theory of relativity is based on the recognition that there can be no question of such a state of motion...In the circumstances, it seems much better to drop the whole concept and speak more now of electromagnetic and gravitational fields, but not interpreting them as states of something else."

Einstein's letter is translated in full as:


Dear Professor!

To my mind, the best way to understand the ether problem is to look at it from a historical perspective. Before Maxwell, the ether was an all-pervasive inert medium with the intrinsic properties of a solid elastic body in which the transverse waves were thought to be light. Maxwell, and those developing his theory, tried to interpret Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism for a long time and without success. Following this defeat, electromagnetic fields were habitually regarded as states of the ether, but any mechanical analysis of these states was abandoned. Then came the question of the state of motion of the ether relative to matter. The special theory of relativity is based on the insight that there is question of such a state of motion. To put it simply: if we wish to ether as a 'medium' of electromagnetic occurrences, then this medium must be something quite different from what we describe as a 'body', as we cannot think of it as being in 'motion'. In these circumstances, it would appear to be better to dispense with the concept, and to turn the discussion to electromagnetic and gravitational fields without regarding them as states of something else. After all, as only these states appear in the laws, the idea of their having a medium (at least in the current state of the science) seems quite unnecessary.

Yours respectfully

A. Einstein."

Georg Lockemann (1871-1959) was head of the chemistry department at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin from 1907 until his retirement in 1945.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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