Sunday, February 7, 2016

Book : Selections from The Principle of Relativity

Although I am familiar with Einstein's theories, I have never read anything written by him. Having finished Gravity, I thought it's time to read relativity from his own writings. I have more than one degree in STEM fields (fair to say I am good at math and physics), I don't have experience in reading physics papers though. Here is what I think about the book:

- I think the translation is not good. At first, I thought it's due to the language of physics and the way those papers are written, but later I realized that some sentences are indeed too long and missing pieces. I think it would have been much better if someone divided long sentences into small pieces while maintaining the meaning. I understand we can't really call that translation and the purpose of the book is not to reach everyone, but it would be easier to understand.

- To my surprise, I found Einstein's writings very clear. His thought experiments and the way he simplifies them are incredible. He is like a modern day Socrates building up his logic starting from the simplest assumptions and laws. He is very clear when he doesn't agree with another physicist or a theory. All the conclusions of his papers here are incredibly simple and easy to understand. He really avoids being too complicated as much as he can. 

- I am not studying physics and I don't have interest in using his equations to understand the universe around me, so I skimmed through his equations when he starts to derive the necessary but complicated equations for his work. But, still the general equations are not that complicated. 

- I loved the paper On the Influence of Gravitation on the Propagation of Light. Here how it starts:

In a contribution published four years ago* I tried to answer the question whether the propagation of light is influenced by gravitation. I return to this theme because my previous presentation of the subject does not satisfy me, but even more because I now see that one of the most important consequences of my former treatment is capable of being tested experimentally. For it follows from the theory to be presented here, that light-rays passing close to the sun are detected by its gravitational field so that the apparent angular distance between the sun and a visible fixed star near to it is increased by nearly a second of arc.
 I think it is one that I fully understood.

Overall, I think anyone who believes that he can understand university level physics and math should read this book. If you have time, there are tons of resources online where these papers are sort of "annotated" and are explained by other scientists. So, in a few weeks, you can easily fully grasp what a true genius Einstein was.  Like I said, my purpose was just to read his writings and his theories by his own words. I think I was able understand what he's trying to say. I am sure someone who is a physical chemist or physicist will fully grasp all the math behind the theories since he derives them one by one.

I don't think we'll ever have another Einstein.

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