Henri Poincare

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Henri Poincare : biography

29 April 1885 – 17 July 1912

The two greatest scientists met and had a conversation only once in 1911 at the first congress of Solvay Conference. In his private letter to a friend in Zurich on 16th November 1911, Albert Einstein wrote with sadness that in spite of the fact that Poincare didn’t accept his relative theory, Poincare treated him with great respect. There also remained Poincare’s testimonial about Einstein, which was given by the scientist in the end of 1911. The testimonial for Albert Einstein was demanded by the administration of Zurich high polytechnic school, as they were going to offer Einstein a position of a teacher.

In April of 1909 Poincare arrived in Gottingen with the invitation of Hilbert. In Gottingen he lectured a course, which also included principals of relativity. While lecturing about the topic, Poincare never mentioned not only Albert Einstein, but also Minkovsky, who was from Gottingen. There were several ideas about Poincare’s keeping silence. Some historians of science supposed that the reason was that Poincare bore a grunge against German physical school, which underestimated his contribution in developing the relative theory. Others thought that the explanation was unreasonable, because Poincare had never been noticed it taking offence went it came down to argument about the priority, moreover Albert Einstein’s work was preferred not only in Germany, but also in Great Britain and France. Even Lorentz, the scientists whose theory was developed by Poincare, preferred to talk about Albert Einstein’s principal of relativity after 1905. There also was a supposition that because of Kaufmann’s experiments, which were being held at time period of time, prejudiced the principal of relativity itself and the formulae of inertness on dependence on speed, so it was excluded that Poincare just decided to wait with the conclusions until the questions were cleared up.

Poincare made one very important prophecy in Gottingen, saying that relativistic comments on the theory of gravitation were to explain the one-hundred-years shift of perihelion of Mercury. The prophecy was soon fulfilled, exactly in 1915, when Albert Einstein finished developing the general relative theory.

Poincare’s lecture about space and time, which was presented by him in May of 1912 in the University of London, cleared the situation a little. The scientist considered the principal of relativity and the new laws of mechanics to be the primary issues in the rebuilding of physics. Qualities of space and time, as Poincare thought, were to be derived from those principals or to be fixed conventionally. But Einstein did everything on the contrary, because he took away dynamics out of the new qualities of space and time. Poincare still thought that shifting of physicists to the new mathematical formulation of the relative principal (Lorentz’s transformation instead of Galilean) was just a matter of agreement.

Judging by the words that Poincare said then, it could be explained why he stopped working at the relative theory and even refused to accept the theory that had been already adopted. It could be also derived from the difference between Einstein’s and Poincare’s approaches when comparing them. The things which were understood by Einstein as relative, but objective, were considered by Poincare to be purely subjective, conditional (conventional). The differences between the scientists’ positions and their possible philosophical roots were studied by historians of science in details.

The founder of quantum mechanics, Louis de Broglie, who was the first laureate of Poincare medal in 1929, blamed the scientist’s positivistic views in everything.

Value of Poincare’s contribution to the special theory of relativity

Poincare’s contribution to the development of the theory of relativity was valued by contemporary physics and historians of science of later period in different ways. The spectrum of the variety of their opinions begins with neglecting the value of scientist’s efforts and finishes with understanding that Poincare’s point of view was not less deep or full, comparing with the others’ founders, including Einstein. However, the majority of historians keep to most balancing point of view, giving the both scientists principal roles in the successful development of the relativistic ideas (including Lorentz and also Planck and Minkovski, was joined the development process later).