Why the English collection of Einstein’s works does not exist. Part V.


A few days ago we received the book “Einstein wrote back” by John Moffat (published in 2010 by Thomas Allen Publishers, Canada), which is a collection of his personal memories of 20th century scientists: Einstein, Dirac, Pauli, Bohr, Schrodinger, Salam, Oppenheimer and many others. (We are not writing a book review but, after reading this book, we would definitely recommend it.)

We quote one paragraph on page 56 (related to our discussion):

“…Indeed, Einstein was ostracized by his physicist peers.

This ostracism began as early as the 1930s, when Einstein appeared before a committee at the Institute for Advanced Study, requesting financial assistance to bring Leopold Infeld from Poland to the institute to assist Einstein in his calculations of the motion of particles in his gravitation theory. He was denied this request.”

[In fact it was Einstein’s request to prolong Infeld’s assistance who already spent one year at Princeton.]

“… Much later, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Robert Oppenheimer was director of the institute, he dissuaded the young physicists there from associating with Einstein because he believed that Einstein would be wasting their time; he didn’t want Einstein influencing the younger generation.”

These are not new facts; the Moffat’s book is just a new source that confirmed our previous findings, briefly described in the preceding posts.

What is striking about this passage is that it provides a simple answer to our question: why the English collection of Einstein’s works does not exist. There are people who “didn’t want Einstein influencing the younger generation”. Of course Moffat refers to Princeton Institute for Advanced Study and directorship of Oppenheimer (1947 – 1966) but Oppenheimer’s opinion survives till today – there is no collection of Einstein’s papers in English but only the never ending Einstein Paper Project (“there are people who get paid for doing that work slowly” http://www.alexander-unzicker.de/ae1930.html).

Moreover, it seems to us that Princeton keeps the tradition of attacking Einstein started by Oppenheimer (see the previous posts).

Let us mention one example known to us from the time we became interested in tetrad formulation of GR. For many years we cannot forget and forgive the footnote in the review article (Rev. Mod. Phys. 48 (1976) 393-416), that was published by American Physical Society. The authors of this paper (at the time of it preparation) were associated with the relativity group at Princeton University (see the acknowledgement to John A. Wheeler). The article is based in part on talks given at the Seminar held at the Institute for Advanced Study (two of authors were invited by Wheeler).

The paper is “General relativity with spin and torsion: Foundations and prospects“. The first footnote said:

“In May 1929, E. Cartan wrote a letter to Einstein. Cartan pointed out that his studies on torsion might be of physical relevance to general relativity. In particular he argued that Einstein’s teleparallelism theory is but a special case of a theory with torsion. According to his answer, it seems that Einstein suspected only a claim for priority by Cartan in regard to the discovery of torsion. He did not enter into a physical discussion of Cartan’s papers.”

The appearance of such a “historical” footnote in a physical journal seems to be strange. In fact, it is not historical because there is no documents presented or referred to that support such a conclusion. This is a pure propaganda, to deliver a message that Einstein was only worry about priority questions. This message safely passed rigorous peer review process, i.e. reviewers were happy with a content of this footnote, and after acceptance this point of view became a view of the journal expressing an opinion of American Physical Society.

The ambitious Einstein Paper Project just releases the next volume (see press release, September 24, 2012 http://www.einstein.caltech.edu/news/index.html):

“New Volume of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein captures his journey to the Far East while dealing with the consequences of celebrity in turbulent political times.

Volume 13: The Berlin Years: Writings & Correspondence, January 1922—March 1923, Documentary Edition.”

The current retardation of this production is 90 years (it increased from the time of the first volume) and neither correspondence nor Einstein papers beyond March 1923 is available.

Fortunately, in this particular case, the Einstein-Cartan correspondence is available outside the ambitious Project (“Elie Cartan – Albert Einstein. Letters on Absolute Parallelism 1929-1932”, Princeton University Press and Academie Royale de Belgique, 1979) and the translation of Einstein’s papers on teleparalellism is also available outside the project (see http://www.alexander-unzicker.de/ae1930.html).

The immediate observation (without even reading the book, except its title): a few years of correspondence 1929-1932 (39 letters) seems to be a suspiciously long period to settle down a priority claim.

At least some authors of the Rev. Mod. Phys. paper are German speaking and for them the translation of Einstein’s papers is not needed. However they failed to provide references to Einstein’s works (at least in the footnote where they referred to Einstein’s teleparallelism), in particular, to the articles of Einstein and Cartan which they published together in Mathematische Annalen 102 (1930): Cartan’s paper, pp.698-706, follows Einstein’s paper, pp. 685-697. These papers are available online: http://gdz.sub.uni-goettingen.de/dms/load/img/?PPN=PPN235181684_0102 .

In Einstein’s paper we read (translation to English by A. Unzicker and T. Case, http://www.alexander-unzicker.de/einst.pdf):

“I learned, especially with the help of Mr. Weitzenbock and Mr. Cartan, that the dealing with the continua we are talking about is not new. Mr. Cartan kindly wrote an essay about the history of the relevant mathematical topic in order to complete my paper; it is printed right after this paper in the same review. I would also like to thank Mr. Cartan heartily at this point for his valuable contribution.”

These two papers appeared together as the result of Einstein’s proposal expressed in his letter on May 10, 1929 (the reply to the first Cartan letter on May 8, 1929):

“… I make the following suggestion to you: write a short analysis of the mathematical background which we will append to my new review,under your name of course, but integrally joined to my article. You should be doing me a great favour and, at the same time, we should be giving a good example of how similar questions of priority might be handled in a dignified and sympathetic way.”

(from the book “Elie Cartan – Albert Einstein. Letters on Absolute Parallelism 1929-1932”).

The authors of the above mentioned footnote presumably referred to the first Cartan letter (only month is indicated in the footnote), because in the same month Cartan wrote the second letter to Einstein (May 15, 1929):

“I accept with great pleasure your proposal to write, as a companion to you next article in the Zeitschrift fur Physik, a short historical review on absolute parallelism.”

Initially these papers supposed to be published in the Zeitschrift fur Physik, but Einstein changed his mind (the letter to Cartan, August 25, 1929):

“The publication should appear in the Mathematische Annalen because, for the present, only the mathematical implications are explored and not their application to physics.”

The Cartan-Einstein letters (some of them are rather full size scientific papers) are the great and very interesting example of scientific correspondence, we would recommend them for reading. Everybody who will read them (at least, a few first letters) will see the striking difference with what was written in the footnote in the Rev. Mod. Phys. paper, and will recognize that this footnote has a different, neither historical nor scientific, purpose.

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2 Responses to Why the English collection of Einstein’s works does not exist. Part V.

  1. Andrei says:

    Yet again a remarkable piece of truly historical research. However, a paper in APS journal does not imply, that becomes APS view.

  2. Andrei says:

    In the series of your posts you expose a remarkable collection of unknown/forgotten historical facts . UK Physics World publishes short letters. I think this information would be very appropriate to be highlighted in an English speaking country as a letter to Physics World.

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