Space & Einstein

Obsolete: See A Logical Approach to Theoretical Physics


Einstein’s theory of relativity has been highly successful in resolving the problem of space at cosmological dimensions where the substance is matter, but it has failed at atomic dimensions, where the substance is field. For the rest of his life Einstein struggled to come up with a theory that applied to atomic dimensions.


Problem of Space

Einstein took an incisive look at the problem of space in his article Relativity & Problem of Space. This is a remarkable article written in 1952, just three years before his death. In this article Einstein seems to revise his earlier supposition about space that he made in his special theory of relativity. If Einstein had only lived longer, and followed up on his thoughts expressed in this article, he could have made further breakthroughs at a very fundamental level of physics.


Space in Special Theory of Relativity

In his special theory of relativity, Einstein takes the viewpoint that the physical universe is objective but its perceptions are subjective. Therefore, any understanding of the physical universe is subjective. Time is a conceptual ordering principle of the experiences of the individual. Objectivity of time is established only when more than one person reacts to an event, because that ensures that the event is taking place in the “real external world”. The success of Newton’s mechanics establishes the objectivity of space because it provides broad experience of space as a physical reality.

Einstein then concludes that space is an independent physical reality that remains after all matter and field are removed. Thus, Einstein disagrees with the philosophical view of Descartes that space is identical with extension, but extension is connected with bodies; thus there is no space without bodies and hence no empty space.


Space in General Theory of Relativity

Later in General Theory of Relativity, Einstein reverses his views on space by stating, “There is no such thing as an empty space, i.e. a space without field. Space-time does not claim existence on its own, but only as a structural quality of the field.”

This reversal came from Einstein’s recognition of field as a more basic substance. He arrived at this understanding through the general principle of relativity.


The General Principle of Relativity

Einstein states this principle as follows:

Natural laws must be covariant with respect to arbitrary continuous transformations of the co-ordinates.

The general principle of relativity deals with the nature of the universe, because the coordinates refer to space-time in which all phenomena take place. Accordingly the natural laws and continuous transformations of phenomena must go hand-in-hand.

A more general form of this principle is stated by Postulate #2 (see The Postulates),

The UNIVERSE is a single system that is intrinsically continuous, harmonious and consistent.


Further Research

In light of the postulate we shall examine Einstein’s general principle of relativity to see if it can help us understand the idea of space better.


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