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Einstein's investigations of Galilean covariant electrodynamics prior to 1905

Norton, JD (2005) Einstein's investigations of Galilean covariant electrodynamics prior to 1905. Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 59 (1). 45 - 105. ISSN 0003-9519

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Einstein learned from the magnet and conductor thought experiment how to use field transformation laws to extend the covariance of Maxwell's electrodynamics. If he persisted in his use of this device, he would have found that the theory cleaves into two Galilean covariant parts, each with different field transformation laws. The tension between the two parts reflects a failure not mentioned by Einstein: that the relativity of motion manifested by observables in the magnet and conductor thought experiment does not extend to all observables in electrodynamics. An examination of Ritz's work shows that Einstein's early view could not have coincided with Ritz's on an emission theory of light, but only with that of a conveniently reconstructed Ritz. One Ritz-like emission theory, attributed by Pauli to Ritz, proves to be a natural extension of the Galilean covariant part of Maxwell's theory that happens also to accommodate the magnet and conductor thought experiment. Einstein's famous chasing a light beam thought experiment fails as an objection to an ether-based, electrodynamical theory of light. However it would allow Einstein to formulate his general objections to all emission theories of light in a very sharp form. Einstein found two well known experimental results of 18th and 19th century optics compelling (Fizeau's experiment, stellar aberration), while the accomplished Michelson-Morley experiment played no memorable role. I suggest they owe their importance to their providing a direct experimental grounding for Lorentz' local time, the precursor of Einstein's relativity of simultaneity, and doing it essentially independently of electrodynamical theory. I attribute Einstein's success to his determination to implement a principle of relativity in electrodynamics, but I urge that we not invest this stubbornness with any mystical prescience. © Springer-Verlag 2004.


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Item Type: Article
Status: Published
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Norton, JDjdnorton@pitt.eduJDNORTON
Centers: University Centers > Center for Philosophy of Science
Date: 7 September 2005
Date Type: Publication
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Journal or Publication Title: Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Volume: 59
Number: 1
Page Range: 45 - 105
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1007/s00407-004-0085-6
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History and Philosophy of Science
Refereed: Yes
ISSN: 0003-9519
Article Type: Review
Date Deposited: 12 Jul 2012 13:47
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2019 15:56


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