Tag Archives: conventionalism

Einstein, Poincaré, and Kant: Between Galison and Yourgrau

I find something deeply puzzling about Peter Galison’s Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps: Empires of Time.  In particular, this wonderful book develops the contextual settings in which the relativistic physics of Einstein’s and Poincaré’s physics were conceived, as well as the intellectual link that existed between them.  In brief, Galison makes clear the role that technology played in formulating the ideas of Einstein and Poincaré.  The hope of Europe was to establish a synchronized system of clocks, for economic reasons (e.g., train services without collisions due to timing issues), political reasons (e.g., von Moltke maintained that a strong relationship existed between German national unity and einheitzeit), and general technology concerns (e.g., inductance in wires can cause incredible and varying lag times in signal transmission, as a function of distance and current among other variables, in telegraphy).  Poincaré, having been educated at the École Polytechnique, possessed the “factory stamp” that their students possessed: even the mathematicians were essentially “mechanicians”. Einstein, educated at one of Europe’s leading technology universities and working in a patent office, machine patents abound, and Poincaré being thoroughly immersed in problems dealing with telegraphy (electrodynamics) and clock synchronization, Galison makes the claim that relativity theory is largely a product of the machine-minded science of the nineteenth century.   Continue reading



Filed under History of Science, Kantian Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science