Monday, September 13, 2010

Never rely on physics textbooks for history

I've always believed my physics textbooks which have statements like "Einstein did not even mention the famous Michelson-Morley experiment in this classic 1905 paper"

But this year I'm also using Alan Lightman's The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs of Twentieth Century physics, which includes translations of the original papers. Sure enough, here's Einstein in 1905:

Examples of this sort, together with the unsuccessful attempts to discover any motion of the Earth relative to the "light medium," suggest that the phenomena of electrodynamics as well of mechanics possess no properties corresponding to the idea of absolute rest.

If that's not a mention of Michelson-Morley's experiment, I'll eat my hat. What is true is that he did not "cite" it in the regular way, and presumably that's been changed over time to the idea he didn't mention it.

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