Henri Poincare

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Henri Poincare : biography

29 April 1885 – 17 July 1912

Historian Kudryavcev highly valued Poincare’s important role in developing the theory of relativity in his course of history of science. He also quoted Fredericks in his words that Poincare’s article ,from the formal point of view, contained not only Einstein’s works which was parallel to Poincare’s one, but also, in some of its parts, included the work of Minkobski which was written much later, almost three years later after those events. Moreover it some issues, it excelled the work by Minkovsky. As for the Albert Einstein’s contribution, Kudryavcev thought that it consisted in the scientist’s generalizing and creating a holistic theory of maximal generality and explaining its physical essence.

that Lorentz’s and Poincare’s achievements would be also mentioned.

Personality and points of views

People mostly had rapturous impressions when they communicated with Poincare. In any situation he invariably chose honest position. He behaved very firmly when it came down to scientific discussions, but at the same time he was rigorously correct. He was never known to be involved in scandals, argument about priority or insulting. The scientists was also indifferent to fame, time and again he voluntarily let other scientists take scientific priority, even when he had reasonable rights for that. For example, Poincare brought in such concepts as “Fuchs’s functions”, “Klein’s group”, “stability of Poisson”, “Betti’s numerals”. All that terms could be called with Poincare’s name. As it was mentioned before, Poincare was the first to adopt Lorentz’s transformations in a modern way, but still, the scientist called them with Lorentz’s name, who had given their partial approximation before. Poincare’s friends knew him to be a modest, quick-witted, tolerant, kind-hearted and well-wising man. Outwardly he might leave an impression of a reserved and unsociable person, but in actual reality such kind of behavior was caused by his shyness and constant concentration.

At the period when nationalism became popular, the scientists condemned people for chauvinistic actions. Poincare also thought that the greatness of his native France could be maintained only by the moral qualities of its people, fame of its literature and arts and the achievements of scientists.

Philosophy

In his book “Science and hypothesis” Poincare wrote that reality that could be absolutely independent from a human mind, learning to understand it, was impossible. He also thought that the main principals of any scientific theory were neither a priori speculative truths (Albert Einstein’s point of view), nor idealized reflections of objective reality (also as Einstein thought). They, as Poincare considered, were conditional agreements in their essence, the absolutely sole condition of which was consistency. The choice between such and such scientific principals out of variety of possibilities, generally speaking, was unconditioned, although a real scientist was guided by wishing to create a maximally simple theory, on the one hand, and by the necessity of creating a practically successful theory, which could be applied, on the other hand. But even if those demands were fulfilled, there was still some freedom of choice, conditioned by the relative character of those demands themselves.

That philosophic doctrine was developed onto conventionalism later. It was well-suited for the practice of choice between mathematical models in natural science, but its applicability to physics, the sphere for which was important not only choice of models, but also conceptions, correlated with reality. That point appeared to be disputable.

in Poincare’s times there appeared the third wave of positivism, gathering strength, in the frame of which, particularly mathematics was supposed to be a part of logics or a content-free collection of axiomatic theories (as Gilbert and representatives of his school thought). Poincare was absolutely against of such kind of formalistic views. The scientists supposed that it was intuition that was put to the base of mathematical activity, and that science itself didn’t allow fully analytical explanations. Logic was necessary only because of the fact that without strict logical explanation no intuitively received statements could be considered to be deserving trust.