home >> research >> history of general relativity
My most important contribution to the history of relativity was the presentation of the first analysis of Einstein's "Zurich Notebook." It turned out to contain Einstein's private calculations for the crucial period of the making of his greatest discovery, the general theory of relativity. The notebook enabled a reconstruction of Einstein's path from the earliest insight of an essential connection between gravitation and the curvature of spacetime through to the juggling of the complicated expressions that eventually become the Einstein equations. The notebook also explained in detail the outstanding puzzle of why Einstein rejected these famous equations in 1913, only to return to them ruefully two years later. My work on this notebook has continued in collaboration with a group of historians of science under the auspices of the Max Planck Institute for History of Science in Berlin and has lead to our joint publication of the definitive multivolume work on the notebook.

"How Einstein Found His Field Equations: 1912-1915," Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, 14 (1984), pp. 253-315. Reprinted in D. Howard and J. Stachel (eds.), Einstein and the History of General Relativity: Einstein Studies Vol. I, Boston: Birkhauser, pp101-159. Download.

"Einstein, the Hole Argument and the Reality of Space," in J. Forge (ed.), Measurement, Realism and Objectivity (Reidel), 1987,pp. 153-188. Download.

Contributing editor to Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Vol. 4: The Swiss Years: Writings, 1912-1914. Princeton Univ. Press, 1995.

With Don Howard, "Out of the Labyrinth: Einstein, Hertz and Göttingen Answer to the Hole Argument," pp. 30-62 in J. Earman, M. Janssen and J. Norton The Attraction of Gravitation: New Studies in History of General Relativity. Boston: Birkhäuser. Download.

"'Nature in the Realization of the Simplest Conceivable Mathematical Ideas': Einstein and the Canon of Mathematical Simplicity," Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 31 (2000), pp.135-170. Download

With Juergen Renn, Tilman Sauer, Michel Janssen, John Stachel, “A Commentary on the Notes on Gravity in the Zürich Notebook” in Juergen Renn (ed.), The Genesis of General Relativity. Vol. 2 Einstein's Zurich Notebook: Commentary and Essays. Springer, 2007 pp. 489-714.

"A Peek into Einstein's Zurich Notebook." Goodies.
Two fundamental errors led Einstein to reject generally covariant gravitational field equations for over two years as he was developing his general theory of relativity. The first is now well known. It was the presumption that weak, static gravitational fields must be spatially flat and a corresponding assumption about his weak field equations. I conjecture that a second hitherto unrecognized error also defeated Einstein's efforts: he unwittingly reified his spacetime coordinate systems. The same error, months later, allowed the hole argument to convince Einstein that all generally covariant gravitational field equations would be physically uninteresting.

"A Conjecture on Einstein, the Independent Reality of Spacetime Coordinate Systems and the Disaster of 1913," pp. 67-102 in A. J. Kox and J. Einsenstaedt, eds., The Universe of General Relativity. Einstein Studies Volume 11. Boston: Birkhaeuser, 2005. Download.

"What Was Einstein's 'Fateful Prejudice'?" in Juergen Renn (ed.), The Genesis of General Relativity. Vol. 2 Einstein's Zurich Notebook: Commentary and Essays. Springer, 2007, pp. 715-83. Download.

Other related work includes a study of the Nordstroem theory of gravitation, which Einstein identified as the serious competitor to his newly emerging general relativity. Einstein was able to show that even this most conservative of theories led to the same outcome, the association of gravitation with a curvature of spacetime. "Einstein, Nordström and the early Demise of Lorentz-covariant, Scalar Theories of Gravitation," Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 45 (1992), pp.17-94. To be reprinted in J. Renn (ed.), Relativity and its Alternatives. Download

"Einstein and Nordström: Some Lesser Known thought Experiments in Gravitation," pp.3-29 in J. Earman, M. Janssen and J. Norton The Attraction of Gravitation: New Studies in History of General Relativity. Boston: Birkhäuser, 1993. Download

In the late 1890s, Seeliger showed that the simplest and most natural Newtonian cosmology was paradoxical. This paradox, which even tripped up Newton, was used by Einstein to motivate introduction of his cosmological constant. I have surveyed and catalogued the many responses in the literature to this paradox. "The Cosmological Woes of Newtonian Gravitation Theory," in H. Goenner, J. Renn, J. Ritter and T. Sauer, eds., The Expanding Worlds of General Relativity: Einstein Studies, volume 7, Boston: Birkhäuser, pp. 271-322. Download

Einstein insisted that his principle of equivalence was a founding heuristic for his general theory of relativity. However this principle was in tension with his theory of 1912 and flatly contradicted by his theory of 1913. Instead conservation of energy and momentum provided a pathway to unique gravitational field equations in both theories. "Einstein’s Conflicting Heuristics: The Discovery of General Relativity," draft.