Date:

Mon, 04/11/2019 - 12:00 to 13:30

See also: Racah colloquium

Location:

Levin building, Lecture Hall No. 8

Lecturer: Leo Corry - Tel Aviv University

Abstract:

Two years after Einstein’s relativity paper of 1905, Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909)

undertook the reformulation of the new theory in mathematical terms that were to

become its standard language, and that allowed its further development. Einstein’s initial

attitude towards Minkowski’s approach was rather unsympathetic, and it reflected a more

general attitude of him towards mathematics and its role in physics. Still, it was not long

before Einstein realized that this formulation was essential to his own attempts to

generalize the theory so as to cover gravitation and arbitrarily accelerated systems of

reference.

Minkowski was a prominent mathematician, known mainly for his contributions to

number theory. He had arrived in Göttingen in 1902, where he reunited with David

Hilbert, an old fellow student from his Königsberg days, and now one of the world-

leading mathematicians. Their renewed collaboration contemplated a very broad study of

current research in many fields of mathematics as well as of physics, and a program for

further developing Göttingen into a world-class institution for the exacts sciences, and

into a hotbed of scientific ideas that would continue to attract gifted students from all

over the world.

Minkowski came to the study of Einstein’s early papers on relativity as part of this very

ambitious and far-reaching program. In the years immediately preceding his own

contributions, Minkowski studied in detail, in collaboration with Hilbert and other

Göttingen colleagues and students, many of the most important, recent works on

electrodynamics and the theory of the electron, including those of Lorentz, Poincaré,

Schwarzschild and Abraham.

This lecture will survey the general background to Minkowski’s incursion into relativity,

of which Einstein’s work represented just one side, and in which the rich and complex

interaction between mathematics and physics in Göttingen since the turn of the twentieth

century played a decisive role. At the same time, it will illuminate the changing relations

of Einstein to mathematics, in the wake of Minkowski’s work, and his willingness to

attribute increasing significance to mathematical formalism in developing physical

theories.

Abstract:

Two years after Einstein’s relativity paper of 1905, Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909)

undertook the reformulation of the new theory in mathematical terms that were to

become its standard language, and that allowed its further development. Einstein’s initial

attitude towards Minkowski’s approach was rather unsympathetic, and it reflected a more

general attitude of him towards mathematics and its role in physics. Still, it was not long

before Einstein realized that this formulation was essential to his own attempts to

generalize the theory so as to cover gravitation and arbitrarily accelerated systems of

reference.

Minkowski was a prominent mathematician, known mainly for his contributions to

number theory. He had arrived in Göttingen in 1902, where he reunited with David

Hilbert, an old fellow student from his Königsberg days, and now one of the world-

leading mathematicians. Their renewed collaboration contemplated a very broad study of

current research in many fields of mathematics as well as of physics, and a program for

further developing Göttingen into a world-class institution for the exacts sciences, and

into a hotbed of scientific ideas that would continue to attract gifted students from all

over the world.

Minkowski came to the study of Einstein’s early papers on relativity as part of this very

ambitious and far-reaching program. In the years immediately preceding his own

contributions, Minkowski studied in detail, in collaboration with Hilbert and other

Göttingen colleagues and students, many of the most important, recent works on

electrodynamics and the theory of the electron, including those of Lorentz, Poincaré,

Schwarzschild and Abraham.

This lecture will survey the general background to Minkowski’s incursion into relativity,

of which Einstein’s work represented just one side, and in which the rich and complex

interaction between mathematics and physics in Göttingen since the turn of the twentieth

century played a decisive role. At the same time, it will illuminate the changing relations

of Einstein to mathematics, in the wake of Minkowski’s work, and his willingness to

attribute increasing significance to mathematical formalism in developing physical

theories.