Einstein the enigma (old version)


What's New

My most recent technical articles are on the Internet at The zeropoint field - no longer a ghost and again at The party may be over and yet again at Are atoms waves or particles?.I have appended the review article Semiclassical optics as an alternative to nonlocality coauthored by myself and Emilio Santos and published in Recent Research Developments in Optics 2:683-717 (2002) ISBN:81-7736-140-6. Readers may also be interested in a historical article I have written for the internet journal Philica Wave particle duality in the seventeenth century. This article indicates the link between Newton's particle theory of light and the modern photon theory, including their common failing of nonlocality. I have coauthored, with Max Wallis an article for the British Journal of History of Science on Einstein's Nobel Prize.


This homepage was written at the end of 2004, as my contribution to celebrating the centenary of Albert Einstein's three famous articles of 1905.Physical sciences used to be called Natural Philosophy. The best physical scientists have always been conscious that they are working in a branch of philosophy, none more so than Albert Einstein. I am not a professional philosopher myself, but my own perspectives have developed partly from ideas I have gathered from Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper.

The most philosophic era of Physics was the nineteenth century, which began with Thomas Young and Augustin Fresnel's wave theory of light. Their ideas were developed in mid century by Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell, and reached their pinnacle with Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity in 1905, and his field theory of gravitation in 1915. Although Einstein was only 20 years old at the end of it, he is essentially a nineteenth-, rather than a twentieth-century scientist and philosopher. Let me make it clear that, for myself, that is a commendation of his work rather than the reverse. His insistence on the central notion of force fields propagating through space at a finite velocity was largely abandoned in the physics of the last century, and, as my web page tries to show, our scientific understanding has suffered grievously as a result.

We are still waiting for Einstein's field theoretic ideas to be extended, so that we can understand what goes on inside the atom. Einstein tried and failed, but he knew he had failed. He considered that his contemporaries, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Paul Dirac, had also failed. The tragedy for Natural Philosophy is that Bohr, Heisenberg and Dirac thought they had succeeded in understanding the interior of the atom. Their tool was a box of tricks called Quantum Mechanics.

The enigma of Einstein is that Bohr, Heisenberg and Dirac's starting point was another article by the very same Albert Einstein, written in the very same year of 1905. One can justly claim that Einstein, as well as producing the crown jewel of nineteenth-century physics, that is Relativity, established himself as the founder of twentieth-century physics, that is Quantum Mechanics. So, since I commended him for the former, does that mean condemning him for the latter?

I certainly consider it a supreme irony that the leaders of the scientific community awarded Einstein their highest accolade, the Nobel prize in 1921, for this one profoundly misguided article, rather than for one of the two genuinely trailblazing articles of the same year, but we should hardly blame him for that! He not only rejected the explanations offered by Bohr, Heisenberg and Dirac; he considered them to be a betrayal of the whole scientific endeavour. He thought, and I agree, that Quantum Mechanics is not Science. His criticism of Quantum Mechanics was along the same lines as the criticism Max Planck made of Einstein's own ideas, in the misguided article, about light quanta, later to be known as 'photons'.

That brings us to his other great article of 1905, namely on Brownian motion, establishing that the random motion of dust particles arises from their bombardment by the "atoms" (more correctly, molecules) of the surrounding fluid. Of course, the idea of atoms goes back at least to Democritus, and even atomic bombardment had been described more than two centuries previously by Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle. Nevertheless, in 1905 the Kinetic Theory description of fluids was still strongly disputed. Indeed, Ludwig Boltzmann, the leading champion of that school was to commit suicide a year later; the depression he suffered probably arose in part from frustration with that dispute. This is another nineteenth-century achievement which was weakened in the twentieth century. Today it is widely believed that atoms, as well as being the objects Boltzmann and Einstein described, that is particles of diameter less than 1 nanometer, apparently also behave like waves spread out over a front of several microns. In one section of this Web page I show that the replacement of atoms by waves is as misguided as the replacement of light waves by photons. My argument is that light is waves, while atoms are particles; the "modern" notion of wave-particle duality is just plain wrong!

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