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Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics: Lecture 11 Transcript February 22, 2007 << back Professor Charles Bailyn: We were talking about relativity. And where we ended up last time--we were talking about special relativity and all the weird things that happen to space and time. And the question arose, you know, what prompted Einstein to think these thoughts? And we talked a little bit about the fact that the speed of light is always the same no matter what the velocity of the person observing it and how that--then, if you take that literally, it tells you that space and time are weird, and are not constant and absolute the way you might think they are in a Newtonian sense, but vary according to the velocity of the observer and in these various ways having to do with that parameter gamma. And so, Einstein's great stroke of genius was not to try and fix up these little problems with the experiment in some, sort of, patchwork kind of way, or to try and invoke a minor change in the laws of nature, but to recognize that this was a very big deal, and that would involve changing fundamentally how we think space and time work. So, this is a very famous fable of science, you know. This is the thing where Einstein is a young man, and he's sort of a rebel. And he refuses to take his exam and he pisses off his professors. And the consequence is he doesn't get a good job. And he gets this job at the patent office right, in Bern, Switzerland, where he labors away in obscurity. And then, suddenly, in a blaze of glory in 1905, he publishes three papers, one of which is about relativity, one of which is the start of quantum mechanics, and the other of which proves that atoms exist. And so, these are three of the greatest papers of all time, published in a single year, by some clown who's a clerk in a patent office. All right. Very big deal. This happened in 1905, two years ago it was the hundredth anniversary of this. This was declared Einstein Year, and all sorts of fuss was made about it. So, there are various morals that can be drawn from this. And I'm going to draw several of them in what you might call increasing order of sophistication. So, the low sophistication moral, moral number one, here, is, you know, about the genius in obscurity. A genius in obscurity can revolutionize science. This is a very dangerous way to approach the Einstein story. Because it--you know, it's really easy to convince yourself that you are a genius in obscurity. Many people have convinced themselves that they are geniuses in obscurity. I know about this, because they send me email. And they explain to me in their email that they send me--and this happens to, you know, any scientist, particularly someone working in astrophysics or fundamental physics of some kind--they explain to me why Einstein was wrong. And indeed, why all science known to date is wrong, and they are right. And then, they say, you know, nobody believed Einstein either--as if that was somehow meant to make you believe them. They tend to write these things all in capital letters. There's a kind of pathology. When they used to write--when they used to do it on pencil and paper,
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This note was uploaded on 02/06/2012 for the course BENG 100 taught by Professor Marksaltzman during the Spring '08 term at Yale.

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