[Marxism] Galison on Albert Einstein and Fritz Adler
schaffer at optonline.net
Thu Aug 11 18:37:43 MDT 2005
Michael Perelman forward to me offlist a link to an audio recording of a
lecture by the Harvard physicist and historian Peter Galison, the
lecture entitiled "The Assassin of Relativity". The subject of the
lecture is the relationship between the young relativity-minded Einstein
and the Austrian marxist Fritz Adler, the latter being the one who
murdered Austrian minister-president Stürgkh
Here are the links to the lecture:
http://www.havenscenter.org/audio/audio.htm (list of lectures)
(warning: 30 MB file!!!!)
First, something on Galison: two years ago he wrote a book entitled
Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps about which we had a brief discussion
some time ago:
Galison is interested in -- paraphrasing here -- relating the science
and politics and theory of knowledge of a time period together a
non-reductionist way, rather than explaining several of these as
ultimately determined by one lower lever determinant. i really liked his
view of the time surrounding the developments of einsteins theory of
special relativity, and so thought this current lecture where he carries
on his historical work to be worth listening to. i did feel that Galison
painted an interesting portrait of Einstein and Adler and their physics
debates, but he is not so clear on the politics of the time. Michael
tells me that Adler's father is considered a big deal in Austrian
socialism. So marxmailers might find the historical todbits in this
lecture of some interest.
so here are some notes from the lecture in outline form:
1. Galison paints a rather wordly portait of the early Einstein. he
worked on patents, argued patent cases, ran experiments. he wasn't all
"gedanken" experiment -- "thought experiment". This goes along with
Galison's thesis on the technical problems of the turn of the century in
clock synchronization and their impact on the development of special
relativity. Adler found himself fascinated by these "worldly" matters
with deep physical import. Galison reminds that many of Einstein's
seminal work was done very early on, much even as a grad student.
3. Galison see development of new physical theories as the resolution
of a "tension". He discusses E's contribution to early quantum theory,
particularly his work on the photoelectric effect. Galison notes an
essential tension: spherical expansion of light waves from a radiating
point source (not the only possible model!!!!) getting weaker and
weaker further from the source, vs molecules spreading thru space but
not breaking up. wave vs diffusion transport by particles. so Einstein
thought of light like a gas, resolving asymmetries via a boltzmann-like
kinetic theory approach. continuous vs discrete. Einstein "solved" a
different assymetry in special theory of relativity (magnet moves by
coil, coil moves by magnet).
4. Poincare hated the discrete approach to light that Einstein cooked
up. said it was anathema to the way of science. EInstein got it from
both sides, the elders and the younger quantum wunderkids.however,
philosphically, the discrete approach did ease the transition away from
needing an ether to support propogation of electromagnetic waves: light
"baseball" particles can be more easily pictures traveling even in a vacuum.
5. The early EInstein was motivated by Mach but switched philosphical
allegiences to Boltzmann.
6. Galison now turns to Adler, who is going to stick to a more Machian
approach. Adler assasinated Austrian minister-president. Einstein came
to his defense. This also paints a somewhat different portrait of
Einstein, as more than a dogmatic pacifist. he felt strongly enough
about politics (and German politics) to not appreciate Adler. Victor
Adler, father and psychiatraist, tried to get him off based on mental
7. While imprisoned, Adler continued thinking about physics. some work
on the basis of Foucault's pendulum. he worried about relativity of
rotations (the Soviet physicist Fock and collegueas did good work on
this late ron). Adler tried to "redo Mach". Einstein responded in an
extensive set of communications with Adler. Einstein publicly reported
these discussions in support of Adler while in prison.
8. Galison reviews material basis for Adler's views on time much like
Einstein's Clocks. Adler cooked up an interesting challenge which
nevertheless Einstein refuted. einstein used this example of adler 's
in arguments against his other opponents. In other words, Adler was
serious enough in his study of physics to occupy Einstein.
9. Lenin and Trotsky offered Adler a position after his release from
jail. Adler joined second international, but split to form the "second
and a half" international.
10. Galison argues against reductionist historical analysis, but claims
all this stuff, politics, physics, epistemology, are all daily and
intimately related. how did assassination fit in with his story?
Galison in discussion after his lecture gets more into it. but it is a
weak point in Galison's whole talk.
11. Galison describes how Adler did physics in prison, guards were
sympathetic to his cause and got him books, writing materials,
communications. Adler liked the working environment. fits w/ einstein's
thought experiment approach. reminded me of Birdman of Alcatraz.
12. EInstein said dont extrapolate from physics to politics. even tho
his clock work was very distributed and "democratic" (no absolute clock).
13. According to Galison, Adler saw his interventions in politics,
physics, and epistemology as deeply connected. Adler believed a theory
of knowledge needed physics and class struggle needed reference to
scientific tools of the age.
14. Galison: Einstein and Adler started close but their lives diverged.
i'd be curious to hear any other reviews of this lecture, particularly
on the political aspects only touched on by Galison.
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