Technological origins of the Einsteinian revolution

Donald Gillies

pp. 97-126

The Einsteinian revolution, which began around 1905, was one of the most remarkable in the history of physics. It replaced Newtonian mechanics, which had been accepted as completely correct for nearly 200 years, by the special and general theories of relativity. It also eliminated the aether, which had dominated physics throughout the nineteenth century. This paper poses the question of why this momentous scientific revolution began. The suggested answer is in terms of the remarkable series of discoveries and inventions which occurred in the preceding decade (1895–1904) and which were the result of technological developments in instrumentation. The paper gives a survey of these inventions and discoveries, which include X-rays, radioactivity (radium and alpha, beta and gamma rays), the electron, wireless transmissions across the Atlantic and the patenting of the first thermionic valve. An attempt is then made to show that it was these developments, which gave rise to special relativity.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s13347-015-0191-1

Full citation:

Gillies, D. (2016). Technological origins of the Einsteinian revolution. Philosophy & Technology 29 (2), pp. 97-126.

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