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Physics in Perspective

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 318–341 | Cite as

Interrogating the Legend of Einstein's “Biggest Blunder”

  • Cormac O’RaifeartaighEmail author
  • Simon Mitton
Article

Abstract

It is well known that, following the emergence of the first evidence for an expanding universe, Albert Einstein banished the cosmological constant term from his cosmology. Indeed, he is reputed to have labelled the term, originally introduced to the field equations of general relativity in 1917 in order to predict a static universe, his “biggest blunder.” However, serious doubts about this reported statement have been raised in recent years. We interrogate the legend of Einstein’s “biggest blunder” statement in the context of our recent studies of Einstein’s cosmology in his later years. We find that the remark is highly compatible with Einstein’s cosmic models of the 1930s, with his later writings on cosmology, and with independent reports by at least three physicists. We conclude that there is little doubt that Einstein came to view the introduction of the cosmological constant term as a serious error and that he very likely labelled the term his “biggest blunder” on at least one occasion. This finding may be of some relevance for those theoreticians today who seek to describe the recently discovered acceleration in cosmic expansion without the use of a cosmological constant term.

Keywords

biggest blunder cosmological constant general theory of relativity relativistic cosmology static universe Albert Einstein George Gamow Hubble’s law expanding universe accelerated expansion 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to acknowledge the use of online materials in the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein (CPAE), an important historical resource published by Princeton University Press in conjunction with the California Institute of Technology and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. We also thank the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for permission to display the Einstein letters shown in figures 2 and 5. Cormac O’Raifeartaigh thanks the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies for the use of research facilities and Norbert Straumann, Werner Nahm and Michael O’Keeffe for helpful discussions. Simon Mitton thanks St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge for the support of his research in the history of science.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Science and ComputingWaterford Institute of TechnologyWaterfordIreland
  2. 2.St Edmund’s CollegeUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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