Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Day Job

Despite my admiration for Sean Carroll as a writer and explainer of science, I came late to his new book From Eternity to Here. At any rate, I'm reading it now, and something in chapter four caught my eye. When we study special relativity in the way Einstein first presented it, it's hard to miss the homely and matter of fact concerns with how we go about making actual measurements and synchronizing clocks.

Quoting another author, Peter Galison, Carroll points out that these matters were very much at the center of concern of the day jobs of Einstein and Poincare, two of the key originators of special relativity. At the time, key problems in the burgeoning world of relatively high speed travel involved keeping track where a train or ship would be be when. These concerns were central to both the French Bureau of Longitude where Poincare presided and the patent office where Einstein was a clerk.