Albert Einstein: Spacetime and Relativity Theory

As we trace the intellectual developments through beyond Middle Ages into and beyond the Enlightenment Era, we find that reason and logic, referred to more specifically as rationalism and empiricism, become the predominant intellectual building blocks of scientific inquiry, what had been studied under the heading of natural philosophy since the time of Aristotle, thereafter.  This era of modern Science, i.e. the so-called Quantum Era, a byproduct of the discoveries that were later categorized and glorified by historians as the “Scientific Revolution” began with the revolutionary idea first put forth by Copernicus (1473 – 1543), and then confirmed and heralded by Galileo (1564 – 1642), that in fact the earth, and man along with it, was not in fact the center of the universe.  This view had held by all scholars, theologians and intellectuals since the time of Ptolemy (100 – 170 CE) in the second century CE and proved in no uncertain terms the now common adage, “old habits die hard”.

These no less than revolutionary discoveries, which took generations to become firmly established as “truth”, laid the groundwork for the developments of Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), who with the aid of the now heliocentric model of the universe, “discovered” his famous three laws of motion which provide the basis even today for Classical Mechanics, or what is sometimes called Newtonian Mechanics in his honor.  This new worldview was characterized and framed by who established beyond a shadow of a doubt, via various mathematical laws and theorems which accurately predicted behaviors of planets as well as other objects, that the earth in fact revolved around the sun driven by a new force which he called gravity, and that matter and objects on earth behaved according to the same laws which governed the motions of the planets, just on a smaller scale and subject to the massive gravitational force of the earth.

These so-called laws of motion all rested on very specific and well defined mathematical theorems alongside very specific measurement criteria such as “mass”, “velocity”, “acceleration” and “force”, establishing and solidifying not only the basic principles and terminology of modern science, but also firmly entrenching the idea that the natural world not only obeyed consistent laws and patterns, but that these patterns and laws were best explained and described via mathematicsMathematics was the language of God as it were – at least as seen by the Enlightenment Era thinkers – and little did they understand the full implications of the profound and ground breaking “discoveries” that these new laws represented.  These three laws of motion, what has come to represent the basis of Newtonian Mechanics became, and still remain to this day, the cornerstones of modern Physics.  Alongside Classical Mechanics, empiricism became the guiding principle for establishing the basic characteristics of all Scientific inquiry.

The Age of Science had begun, and with it, as perhaps an unintended byproduct, came the relegation of theology and philosophy (i.e. all those domains of knowledge that had previously fallen under the heading of philosophy other than natural philosophy as Aristotle had defined the various branches of knowledge that is), along with the closely affiliated fields of morality and ethics (what Aristotle had referred to as practical philosophy which had always been and continued to be closely tied to, and resting on the fundamental belief in the existence of the Soul, aka theology), to fundamentally “nonscientific” inquiry.  These “nonscientific” fields are typically categorized within the academic and scholarly community mostly under the broad heading of “humanities” today, outside of theology proper of course which for the most part remains squarely within the domain of religion which is considered by most, certainly in the academic community, to be a wholly separate and distinct field of knowledge from “science” given its lack of “empirical” foundations.

It is this bridging of this intellectual gap between a) the existence of God and the Soul, as well as the field of morality and ethics, together with b) the pure rationalist and empiricist pursuits that established the basis for “physical reality” and became the hallmark of modern Science (again what was called natural philosophy from the time of Aristotle straight through the Enlightenment Era and certainly by the great thinkers and innovators who drove the Scientific Revolution[1] which was the life’s work of Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) in fact.  His philosophy, which came to be known as transcendental idealism, was designed specifically to bring all of these various intellectual and metaphysical domains which had been broken apart as an unintended byproduct of Enlightenment Era philosophical and scientific developments under one intellectual roof as it were, bringing them all together under the more broad and abstract heading of “Reason”, which to him formed the basis of all knowledge – knowledge of both of the physical world which was underpinned by rationalism and empiricism, as well as the ontological preeminence of the ideas, to which the domain of theology, morality and ethics belonged, which had been the subject of attack during the Enlightenment Era due to its “supposed” lack of rational foundations.[2]

Despite Kant’s work however, most of his works being published toward the end of the 18th and century, materialism and causal determinism became the most influential philosophical principles which underpinned this new age of scientific development, which although had clearly liberated academics and scholars to pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake without the fear of persecution of the religious authorities which has been one of the hallmarks of the Scientific Revolution, nonetheless established the groundwork not just for the split of the various domains of knowledge which had hitherto all fallen under the broad heading of Philosophy, but also laid the groundwork for subsequent developments in scientific inquiry which for the most part fell under the domain of Physics.  In other words, even though virtually all of the major thinkers of the Enlightenment Era (with very few notable exceptions) had not, nor would they have ever referred to themselves as “atheists” per se, their intellectual developments and innovations in terms of how knowledge itself was to be ascertained, and how in fact it was to be defined, nonetheless changed the center of gravity of intellectual developments and academic study as a whole.  The academic and intellectual community shifted from being less “theologically based” – i.e. the study of the laws of nature and the laws of man within the context of mankind’s place in the universe which presumed the existence of some divine creator as well as a Soul which was to be judged by this creator upon death or at the time of revelation as well as a moral and ethical framework which could be deduced directly from this theological framework – to a focus on the “discovery” of further natural laws which explained natural phenomenon, laws which were not necessarily based upon Reason necessarily (as had Kant’s system as well as some of his rationalist and empiricist predecessors), but were based upon mathematical laws that could accurately predict “measurable phenomenon”.

Although this seems like a subtle distinction, and most certainly this emphasis and focus did not change overnight, it came to had very broad reaching implications within the academic and scientific community as the rate of progression of scientific innovation and discovery increased in the 19th and 20th centuries as objective realism, and its theo-philosophical counterpart naturalism, began to replace nearly all other theo-philosophical belief systems within the scientific community, the community as it turns out that was, and still is to a large extent, began to viewed as the height of the intellectual and academic community at large.  The brightest of the bright and the smartest of the smart.  The individuals that were considered by the public to hold not only the highest place in the scientific community – the Theoretical Physicists as they have come to be known – but the one’s that also were looked to as the keepers and definers of “knowledge” and “reality” itself.  By the end of the twentieth century in fact, the tables had almost entirely turned.

It wasn’t necessarily that the belief in a Creator had been abandoned per se by the philosophers and scientists of the Enlightenment Era, it had most certainly not in fact, but it had been superseded, subsumed so to speak, by the belief that the material universe, the substance of Aristotle,[3] obeyed natural laws which could be “discovered” and could be, in fact should be, best described by advanced mathematics.  So a byproduct of the Scientific Revolution was not so much materialism and atheism, but the introduction of advanced mathematics as the language of God.

With Newton (1642-1727 CE) then, in particular with his law of universal gravitation and the three laws of motion as articulated in his  Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) first published in 1687, the foundations of mechanism and determinism, two of the most prevailing philosophical principles of the twentieth century – the notion that the world can be completely and entirely explained through mechanical and mathematical laws which had at their basis the principles of cause and effect –  but also the natural extension of this premise which was determinism, i.e. the belief that the course of the universe was laid out entirely by cause and effect which was driven by these same mathematical laws and principles that governed materialism.[4]

Although traces of these basic principles can most certainly be found in Aristotle, he in no way abandoned the notion of a) the existence of the Soul, or b) the notion of Free Will, both of which formed the prevailing notions of his system of ethics, just as it did for Plato in fact. [5]  But it however undoubtedly in the work of Sir Isaac Newton  that we find the establishment of the field of what we now refer to as Physics, along with the root and origin of what today we refer to as materialism, i.e. this notion of knowledge being defined or bounded by what can be measured or quantified, i.e. objective realism.

It is however, whether intentional or not, with Newtonian Mechanics, that we find the root origins of this now ubiquitous materialistic worldview which permeates Western culture and society.  For if the entire physical world not only defines the boundaries of knowledge and truth itself, but is also at the same time fundamentally and intrinsically governed by not only the laws of cause and effect but also by mathematical principles in toto, and in turn all of the laws that govern this material universe are “discoverable”, then what room is there from an epistemological perspective for the Soul?  Or Free Will?  Or myth even?  Whose purpose is arguably to stir or “speak” to the Soul at some basic level.  Or to take the logic on step further, what is the purpose or fundamental nature of ethics or morality for that matter?  Outside of their place in the social and political spheres of democracy, and in the West capitalism, which is more focused on the preservation of property and the civil obedience of of society at large, and the protection of basic property rights and “liberty”, or “freedom” at some level because they promote a healthy and growing society and protect, at least in theory, this idea of “freedom” which is open to interpretation to say the least.  These fundamental tenets of “democracy” as we define it in the West is primarily predicated not on the reality of ethics or morality necessarily, but on the existence of some form of natural law”, as put forth initially by the Stoics in classical antiquity to a large extent and then echoed by much of the political philosophy which emerges alongside philosophy proper in the Enlightenment Era which in no small measure provided the impetus for the English, American, and French Revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries, the end and culmination of which marks the end of the Age of Enlightenment.

The word Science derives from the Latin sciencia, meaning knowledge or “that which can be known”, and is a derivation of the Latin verb scire, or “to know”.  Sciencia is the Latin translation of the Aristotelian term epistêmê which meant the same, i.e. knowledge, although epistêmê the way Aristotle used it had a much broader meaning than the term “science” does today, and Aristotle spelled out in painstaking, and broader detail, the various types and domains of “knowledge”, its Categories, and even a broad description of Being itself, or “existence”, i.e. being qua being which represented not the sum total of knowledge but just one of the fundamental aspects of knowledge.  At some level, the bulk of the corpus of Aristotle’s work could be considered the rational framework for knowledge itself, what modern philosophers refer to as epistemology.  What is clear however, is that the terminology we use today to discern and distinguish between the various branches of “knowledge”, and even the word “science” itself, have their origins in the semantic and linguistic framework which Aristotle put forth some 2500 years ago.

The word sciencia as a derivation of the Greek word epistêmê used by Aristotle was carried down through the Middle Ages well into the Age of Enlightenment and right down through to the modern era of “science”.  And what we consider science today, whether intentionally or not, has become almost metaphysically and ontologically equivalent with our modern conception of “reality”, and even in a more broad sense, “truth” itself.  This fact, again intentional or not, is the reason why any field or branch of knowledge that exists outside of Science, i.e. lays outside of the domain of empirical or verifiable “proof” as it were, is in turn less precise, or less “true”, is “subjective” and therefore imbued with opinion and subject to interpretation to some degree.  This is what separates philosophical inquiry, which includes metaphysics, as we understand it today in academic circles, as well as the rest of the Humanities for the most part, from the grand pedestal of Science as the benchmark of not just reality but again, in the extreme view, truth itself.

Aristotle’s epistêmê, what came to be known as “sciencia” in the West and the Scholastic method of teaching which was a hallmark of the European system of education throughout the Middle Ages, provides the basis for the categorization of all intellectual study and intellectual disciplines in the West all the way through to the Enlightenment Era, after which – once freed from the dogmatism and intellectual and metaphysical inflexibility enforced by the doctrines of the Church governed by their specific interpretation of Christian Scripture – the various branches of knowledge that were are more familiar with today begin to take shape, culminating from a natural philosophical perspective in Newton’s great work Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which in many respects marks the beginning of modern Science, and from which the modern field of Physics as we know it today ultimately emerges.

Newton’s seminal work outlined the core mathematical principles that governed the physical world, the field of natural philosophy which again harkened all the way back to the categorization of the various domains of knowledge, epistêmê, by Aristotle.  Aristotle again distinguished various domains of knowledge, of which ethics and morality of course was one (falling under the heading of practical philosophy) and natural philosophy was the term he used to denote the field of study of the world that was subject to change, which to the Enlightenment Era philosophers, the first scientists really, came to be known as the domain of Physics.  [Aristotle however, and this point cannot be overemphasized, also called out specifically the branch of knowledge which was to be studied “before” (meta) physics, as first philosophy, what we now refer to as metaphysics, again using his terminology.]

But in the subsequent centuries following the adoption and establishment of Newtonian Mechanics in the academic and intellectual community, the word “science becomes rooted in Western academia and effectively replaces the old term “natural philosophy”, reflecting the displacement of Aristotle’s framework for epistêmê which had persisted for over a thousand years.  This linguistic shift had the unintended effect of relegating the branches of knowledge or study outside of science proper, and physics even to a lesser extent, as not just separate domains or fields of study, but also as “less accurate”, less “refined” and in some sense “less true” or “real” disciplines since they did not have a basis in measurable and empirically verifiable, reproducible and predictable results.  The implications of this slight shift in how knowledge and reality itself comes to be defined and perceived again cannot be overstated.

Theology, or Religion, and its natural cousin the domain of ethics and morality, from the perspective of the academic community given this shift in the definition and classification of knowledge in toto, was to say the least relegated and pushed aside, isolated as it were into the domain of religion for the most part, or even worse into the newly relegated and much more isolated and restricted domain of “philosophy”, which no longer included natural philosophy of course, but even no longer included Aristotle’s first philosophy, the latter of which was at some level equated with theology and/or philosophy in its new, restricted definitive form.

This further delineation and distinction between the various branches of knowledge and the break of Science from the rest of the field so to speak, is one of the most important side effects of the Scientific Revolution.  On the one hand, it “liberated” Science from Religion and allowed it to be pursued and to evolve independent of any pre-conceived theological or even political motivations (at least in theory) but on the other hand it slowly and gradually began to not just supplant religion as the hallmark of truth, but also supplant first philosophy, i.e. metaphysics, as the final measure of reality.

Between Newton and Einstein, the two most influential Physicists of the modern era (if you can call Newton a physicist even though there was no such thing in Newton’s time), we do find a variety of developments in not only the field of Astronomy, which tested and verified Newton’s laws on universal gravitation and motion, but also in the fields of Optics, Electricity and Magnetism, work which culminated in the 19th century with the discovery of what are called Maxwell’s Equations, a theoretical, and of course mathematical, model that consolidated and integrated the previously separate domains of optics, magnetism and electricity under the heading of electrodynamics, proving that all three of these previously distinct domains were actually just manifestations of the same underlying force, a force subsequently referred to as electromagnetism.

As experimentation and testing of theories advanced however, and instrumentation became more advanced and precise, various holes and inconsistencies developed which pointed to cracks not only in Newtonian Mechanics itself, but also with Maxwell’s mathematical and theoretical models surrounding the new, consolidated field of electromagnetism.  These inconsistencies, or perhaps better-termed irregularities, to a very great extent provided the impetus for Einstein’s original work in Physics before he developed his Relativity Theory.

Einstein is best known for two fundamentally radical scientific developments that forever changed the course of scientific history, Relativity Theory which built upon and effectively supplanted Newtonian Mechanics as the dominant model of the physical universe, reconciling inconsistencies in some of the astronomical observations of his time and at the same time upending the notion that time was a constant force that moved at a constant rate of progress no matter where you were or how fast you were traveling in relative space, and of course his discovery of the equivalence between mass and energy that is captured in the elegant and now famous equation , both revolutionary theories that were to forever change the nature of physics.

His Relativity Theory is actually broken into two parts, the first of which is Special Relativity which posits an altogether new structure of the physical universe by integrating the notion of space and time, what he called spacetime, and General Relativity, which builds off of the developments of his Special Relativity Theory and postulated a notion of universal gravitation at the cosmic, as well as earthly scale.  Both theories rested squarely on the idea that the speed of light is constant in the universe (186,000 miles per second), no matter what an observer’s frame of reference and no matter how fast an observer is moving relative to the object of measurement.

Einstein was undoubtedly the most influential physicist of the 20th century, the century that ushered in the so-called “Quantum Era”, and his work was truly ground breaking and represented a major step in the development of advanced mathematical models to represent the world around us at the cosmic scale, illustrating to the academic and intellectual communities at the time, i.e. physicists and scientists, that the world as they knew it was not as simple as had been previously thought.  Although Einstein is best known for his theories on Relativity and mass-energy equivalence however, the work that he actually won the Nobel Prize for in 1921 (at the age of 42) actually created some of the building blocks for what later became the field of Quantum Mechanics, a theory incidentally that Einstein voiced great concern with over the course of his career, calling it “incomplete” or at the very least missing some key variables/inputs.[6]

Einstein was just as much of a philosopher as he was a physicist however, and much of the latter part of his career he not only questioned the premise of the quantum mechanical models that began to take shape during the middle of the twentieth century, but he also spent a good deal of his time thinking and writing about what the great “discoveries” of twentieth century physics actually meant, i.e. their relevance to and about the world we lived in from a metaphysical and theological perspective.  In his view, the advancements in Physics marked by General Relativity and Quantum Theory were not simply mathematical and measurement tools to aid the development of science and technological advancement, but also had serious implications on the nature of reality itself, as well as God’s role in the creation and sustenance of said reality.

Perhaps the most notable example of the moral dilemma which Einstein faced with respect to technological advancement as a result of developments in Physics in the first half of the twentieth century and their social as well as ethical implications is illustrated in his involvement, and subsequent regret, in the famed Manhattan Project, the US Government funded initiative during WW II that developed, and of course then later used, the atomic bomb against Japan in 1945.  Despite his later public regrets on the subject, Einstein contributed significantly to these efforts which ran for some seven years, cost the United States nearly 2 billion dollars, and at its height employed more than 130,000 people.[7]

Albert Einstein was born in Germany in 1879 and spent most of his formative years there in school.  His father was an electrical engineer so you could say that the study of electrical currents, and science in general, was inherited to a great extent.  He supposedly wrote his first paper on scientific topics at the age of 16 on the behavior of magnetic fields, a work entitled On the Investigation of the State of the Ether in a Magnetic Field.  In 1900 Einstein’s was awarded his degree in teaching from the Zurich Polytechnical school and after struggling for almost two years to find a job, he finally landed work in Bern, Switzerland, at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property as an assistant examiner where he evaluated patent applications for electromagnetic devices.  Interestingly enough, his work in the patent office was very much in line with his later research and thinking with respect to the transmission of electric signals and the synchronization of time, concepts which played a significant role in the subsequent development of his theories in electromagnetism and Physics which had such a profound effect on modern Science.

On 30 April 1905, Einstein was awarded a doctorate in Physics by the University of Zurich with his thesis A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions.  That same year he also published papers on the photoelectric effect (for which he later won a Nobel Prize in Physics), Brownian motion which developed mathematical models describing the motion of particles suspended in a fluid, liquid or gas, Special Relativity, and the relationship of mass and energy as a function of the speed of light, marking the beginning of decades of revolutionary scientific developments at both the cosmic and subatomic scale.[8]

Einstein’s work on the photoelectric effect in particular had significant impact on the subsequent development of the Quantum Theory.  For it proved that when certain types of matter were bombarded with short-wave electromagnetism, they emitted what Einstein referred to as photoelectrons, particles which later came to be known simply as photons, the study of which led directly to some of the most odd and mysterious behaviors that have come to characterize Quantum Theory, i.e. the fact that light behaves both like a particle and a wave depending upon the experiment used to study it.  This discovery led to important developments in understanding the quantized nature of light, i.e. it’s characteristic to move from state to state in a non-continuous fashion, a discovery which in many respects formed the basis of Quantum Mechanics.

At the beginning of the rise of Nazi power in Germany in the 1930s, and while visiting Universities in the United States in 1933, Germany passed a law barring Jews from holding official positions, including teaching at Universities, and it is said that Einstein also learned at this time that there was a bounty placed on his head.  Einstein then moved to the United States in 1933 permanently, as the Nazis rose in power in his homeland of Germany.  There he took up a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, a position which he held until his death in 1955.  During this period, Einstein spent much of his intellectual pursuits trying to come up with a unified theory that incorporated his models of Relativity (the General case) which dealt with the behaviors of massive bodies, light and time at a cosmic scale, and Quantum Mechanics which dealt with the description of the world at the microscopic and subatomic scale, an endeavor which the field of Theoretical Physics still struggles with to this day.

On a more personal level, Einstein was a great lover of music and an accomplished violinist.  His mother was a pianist and Einstein was taught the violin at a very early age, supposedly starting at the age of 5, although he is said to have taken up music more passionately in his teenage years where he grew a great affection for the work of Mozart.  His music is thought to have played a significant role in his social life over the years, as he is noted to have played violin in Germany and Switzerland with friends, most notably with Max Planck and his son prior to moving to the States in 1933, and then in the United States as well later in life at Princeton University where he is said to have joined in with the famed Julliard Quartet on occasion.

From a pure Science and Physics perspective however, it is Einstein’s work on Relativity and the equivalence of mass and energy that gained him the popularity and repute that still stands to this day.  His theories on Relativity are separated into what he referred to as the “Special” case, which was published initially in 1905 where he posited the notion of spacetime as a holistic construct within which classical Newtonian mechanical observations of “physical bodies” and “motion” must be viewed in order to be fully consistent and coherent, and the “General” case which expanded upon Special Relativity to include a more general case which included mathematical formulae for measuring Classical Mechanical attributes such as mass and speed when no reference system existed from which the measurements could be made and sat relative to.

Special Relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference and was proposed by Einstein in a paper in 1905 entitled On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies.  The paper reconciled James Clerk Maxwell’s mathematical models (aka Maxwell’s Equations) on electricity and magnetism which had been published in the 1860s, with the laws of mechanics as described by Galileo and Newton.  Einstein reconciled these seemingly disparate fields of study by introducing major changes to mechanics close to the speed of light.  This work only later became known as the Theory of Special Relativity , which is distinguished from the Theory of General Relativity in that it considers the frame of reference of the observer, whereas General Relativity assumes all observers are equivalent.[9]

In his work on Special Relativity, Einstein generalizes Galileo’s notion of relativity – which states that all uniform motion is relative and that there is no absolute and well-defined state of rest – from classical mechanics to all the laws of Physics, including both the laws of Classical Mechanics as well as the new field of electrodynamics, unifying these hitherto seemingly distinct scientific fields of study, a unique characteristic of many of his scientific breakthroughs in fact, and one which plagued him toward the end of his life as he failed to come up with a unifying theory which encompassed Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity.

He sums up his synthesis of the field of electrodynamics and Classical Mechanics leveraging this principle of the constant speed of light no matter what an observer’s frame of reference is in the opening section from one of the seminal papers he published in 1905 called On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies:

… the same laws of electrodynamics and optics will be valid for all frames of reference for which the equations of mechanics hold good.  We will raise this conjecture (the purport of which will hereafter be called the “Principle of Relativity”) to the status of a postulate, and also introduce another postulate, which is only apparently irreconcilable with the former, namely, that light is always propagated in empty space with a definite velocity c which is independent of the state of motion of the emitting body.  These two postulates suffice for the attainment of a simple and consistent theory of the electrodynamics of moving bodies based on Maxwell’s theory for stationary bodies. [10]

Much of Einstein’s work on Special Relativity can also be seen as an extension, or at least complementary, to the work of the Russian theoretical physicist and mathematician Hermann Minkowski, a contemporary of Einstein.  More specifically, it was Minkowski’s notion of spacetime, which extended the 3-dimensional classical view of reality based upon the algebraic geometry of Euclid, Galileo and Descartes among others, to include a fourth dimension of time to come up with a more complete description of the frame of reference for an “event”:

The views of space and time which I wish to lay before you have sprung from the soil of experimental physics, and therein lies their strength.  They are radical.  Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.[11]

What the Theory Special Relativity states basically, and much of its theoretical implications have been experimentally verified at this point, is that the concepts of “space” and “time”, which had been looked at as constants no matter what the reference point for the previous two millennia, had to be considered relative – relative in the sense that their measurement and value depended upon the frame of reference, and the speed, at which the observer was moving.  To arrive at these conclusions, and implicit in the theorems and mathematics behind the theory, the speed of light was presumed to be fixed from all vantage points and frames of reference.  Furthermore, and this was no small contribution of course, it posits and proves that mass and energy are equivalent, as expressed in the famous equation E = mc2.

Curvature of spacetime in Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity[12]

General Relativity, as it was later called to distinguish itself from Special Relativity, was developed to apply the principle of Special Relativity to the more general case, i.e. to any frame of reference.  General Relativity introduces Einstein’s theory of gravity, as it exists and acts upon bodies in motion in the spacetime continuum that is established in Special Relativity.  Whereas Special Relativity restricts itself to a flat spacetime continuum where cosmic scale gravitational effects are negligent, in General Relativity gravitational effects are represented as curvatures of spacetime, i.e. at the cosmic scale gravity affects the very nature of the spacetime continuum itself.   And just as the curvature of the earth’s surface is not noticeable in everyday life and can be effectively ignored in everyday life (when measuring distance or speed for example), the curvature of spacetime can be effectively ignored on smaller, non-cosmic scales of measurement.  In other words, Special Relativity, is a valid approximation of General Relativity at smaller, non-cosmic scales.

From Einstein’s General Relativity theory then, we not only have the beginnings of the establishment of the model within which the cosmos itself can be studied, introducing the basic principles that are used to this day that define modern Cosmology culminating perhaps most notably in the discovery of modern conceptions of the beginning of the universe known as Big Bang Theory in the latter part of the twentieth century, but we also have a dissolution of the notions of space and time as absolute, independent entities, bringing an end to the era of absolute physical existence which had been an implicit assumption of Western physicists, philosophers, naturalists and theologians for at least some 2000 years or so.[13]


[1] Natural philosophy was the common name given to the study of the “science of the natural world” even through the 18th century, as evidenced for example by the title of Newton’s most famous work Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica –  Latin for Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.

[2] See the Chapter in this work on Immanuel Kant’s philosophy, transcendental idealism, for a detailed look at his philosophical system as whole, one which is considered by most philosophical historians to represent the height of Enlightenment Era philosophy and by some to be the greatest philosopher of the modern era.

[3] Aristotle used the word ousia in Greek, which stems originally from the Greek verb “to be” or “being” which of course had roots in Plato’s epistemological doctrine of Being vs. Becoming, but was typically translated into Latin as essentia or essence which of course loses something in translation.

[4] This is not to say that Newton himself was strict determinist, in fact much to the contrary, or that all twentieth century influential scientists are for that matter, but it does in fact perhaps best reflect the views of perhaps the most famous scientist of the modern era, Stephen Hawking who is a self-proclaimed Atheist and determinist.  Notably, although Einstein did claim he was strict determinist, he is still nonetheless known for his oft quoted criticism of Quantum Theory, “God does not play dice” which at least some level illustrates that he had some room for a “Creator” within his notion of a physical universe which was entirely made up of matter, basic forces which acted on said matter, as well as a set of laws which governed how matter and these related forces acted on each other – i.e. was completely deterministic.  Although not clearly understood or conveyed by Einstein, perhaps God to him is more akin to the God of Nature of Spinoza than the God the Old or New Testament who creates the universe ex nihilo and is the ultimate judge of the Soul upon death.  Spinoza’s view on the subject is typically described by the somewhat esoteric and obtuse quotation where he equates God with Nature: “That eternal and infinite being we call God, or Nature, acts from the same necessity from which he exists.” (Part IV, Preface).

[5] Even though Aristotle himself uses the term Physics, as the title of one of his most influential works in fact, i.e. Physics, the topic of this treatise is on the nature of things that are subject to change, i.e. a further explanation and exposition of Plato’s world of Becoming (versus the world of Being which is eternal and not subject to change and is metaphysically equivalent and intellectually on par with the realm of forms, ideas, as well as the Soul itself) which is of course a much more broad discipline and field of study than the field of modern Physics as we know it today which is more concerned with the study of the various forces, laws and principles which govern “physical”, “objective” reality.

[6] It is within the context of his concerns and skepticism regarding Quantum Mechanics in fact, that he is believed to have stated, “God does not play dice” given the stochastic (probabilistic) nature of the underlying mathematics which described the “behavior” of particles at the sub-atomic level.

[7] Toward the end of his life, Einstein is attributed to have said to his friend Linus Pauling, “I made one great mistake in my life — when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification — the danger that the Germans would make them”.  Quote from Einstein: The Life and Times by Ronald Clark. page 752

[8] 1905 which was the year where Einstein’s ground breaking work in Brownian motion, Special Relativity, and mass/energy equivalence were published is sometimes referred to as Annus Mirabilis, or literally “extraordinary year”.

[9] Both Special Relativity and General Relativity in fact are constructed upon the notion that the speed of light is fixed in an absolute sense, and is the same for all inertial observers regardless of the state of motion of the source.

[10]Albert Einstein, On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies, 1905.  From https://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/einstein/specrel/www/.

[11] From Minkowski’s address delivered at the 80th Assembly of German Natural Scientists and Physicians on September 21, 1908.

[12]By Mysid – Own work. Self -made in Blender & Inkscape., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45121761.&nbsp; From Wikipedia contributors, ‘Spacetime’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 December 2016, 14:47 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Spacetime&oldid=752656514&gt; [accessed 2 December 2016].

[13] As a thought experiment and to illustrate the implications of Relativity when taken to extreme limits, imagine for a moment that you were able to travel at the speed of light, or at least close to it.  Not only would you become enormously massive (infinitely so at the speed of light), but your perception of time relative to your peers at rest would slow down dramatically, a notion known as time dilation, and furthermore your idea of space as defined by any act of measurement would change dramatically as well, a concept referred to as length contraction, where objects that are parallel with the individual’s line of movement would appear to be infinitely small.



Categories: Essays, Metaphysics, Physics

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: