Relativity and the Atom

  • Henry Mehlberg
  • Robert S. Cohen
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 19-2)


The special theory of relativity originated in 1905 as an attempt to reconcile an indubitable experimental fact with two basic, well-entrenched theories: Michelson’s experiment (Weizel [1955], p. 626) was incompatible with Newtonian mechanics and Maxwellian electrodynamics. The reconciliation was effected by Einstein’s first theory of relativity (Einstein [1905b]). However, the subsequent development of this theory detracted much from the importance of Michelson’s finding, which became simply a particular, historical item in the evolution of special relativity rather than an essential component of the latter. For a while, relativistic mechanics and relativistic electrodynamics, which superseded the two corresponding pre-Einsteinian theories and could be construed as a mere outgrowth of special relativity, occupied the central place on the ever changing scientific scene. The single most spectacular result of special relativity was no longer related to the speed of light but to the newly discovered equivalence of matter and energy. This discovery unified the entire scientific outlook and was destined to usher in, four decades later, a new era in man’s history. Then general relativity came into the picture and revolutionized the cosmological outlook, perhaps for centuries to come. All these developments occurred during the first two decades following Einstein’s breakthrough in 1905.


Special Relativity Inertial Frame Lorentz Transformation Lorentz Group Axiomatic System 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry Mehlberg
  • Robert S. Cohen

There are no affiliations available

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