FIRST
SCIENTIFIC ESSAY
5
EINSTEIN'S FIRST SCIENTIFIC
ESSAY
The
opening paragraph suggests
that this
essay was
written
for
a specific
audience.
The
manuscript
was
sent to
Einstein's
uncle,
Caesar
Koch
(see
Doc.
6),
but
it
seems
unlikely
that
he
was
the
only
intended
recipient.[1]
In accord with the mechanistic outlook then
prevailing
in
physics,
Einstein
assumes
that
all
electric and
magnetic fields,
both static and
dynamic,
are
states
of
a
mechan-
ical ether.[2]
He
treats
this ether
as an
ordinary
elastic
medium,
a
view that,
though
still
held
by
many physicists,
was
somewhat
antiquated
by
the time the
essay was
written. Einstein
assumes
that
a
static
magnetic
field
is
a
certain
equilibrium
state
of
deformation of this
medium,
which
affects
the elastic forces
resisting
wave
propaga-
tion. Hence
he predicts
a
changed
value for the
velocity
of
electromagnetic
waves
passing through
such
a
magnetic
field[3]
and outlines
a
program
for the
experimental
study
of
magnetic
ether deformations
utilizing
these
velocity
changes.
Although
the
essay
is empirically oriented,
Einstein devotes
a good
part
of
it to
theoretical
justification
of
his
program.
He
bases
one
argument
on
symmetry
con-
siderations,
which
he
regards
as a
priori
clear.
He also
emphasizes
the
need
to
establish
"sicheren
Vorstellungen"
on
the
basis of
qualitative
results before
starting
quantitative investigations.
Although
he
was
only
sixteen when
he wrote
this
essay,
Einstein had
been interested
in
electromagnetic phenomena
for
some
time.
The Einstein
family
firm
had been
involved
in
electrotechnology
since
1882;
his
uncle
Jakob,
an
engineer, patented
a
number of items manufactured
by
the
firm.[4]
One of Einstein's earliest recollections
was
of the wonder
he
felt,
as a
four-
or
five-year-old child, at
the behavior of
a com-
pass
needle.[5] An
older
friend,
Max
Talmey,
noted Einstein's
"particular
inclination
towards
physics"
at
the
age
of
ten.[6]
He
is reported
to
have
explained
the
principles
of the
telephone
to
a
classmate
while at
the
Luitpold-Gymnasium,[7]
and
to
have
solved
a
difficult
machine
design problem
for
the
firm at
about
the time of
this
essay.[8]
Talmey encouraged
Einstein's
early
interest
in
physics by recommending
a
number
of
popular-scientific books,
which
acquainted
him with the
mechanistic outlook
in
[1] Ernesta
Marangoni
recalled that
in 1896
Einstein
gave
her
a
copy,
in his
mother's
hand,
of
an essay
cited
as
"Uber
Elektricitat
und
elektrischen Strome."
A year
later Einstein
asked
his
mother
to
take
it back "because
it
was
wrong" (Marangoni
7955, p.
1).
[2] For Einstein's
account
of
this
outlook,
see
Einstein
1979,
pp.
16-20. For
his
critique
of
it, see
ibid.,
pp.
22-30.
[3]
The
essay
does
not
mention Maxwell's
theory, according
to which
no
such
velocity
change occurs.
[4]
For
information
about the Einstein
firm,
see
MWE,
this
volume,
pp.
li-lv.
See
also
Pyenson
1982,
pp. 378-389, which, however,
contains
some
factual
errors.
[5]
See
Einstein
1979,
p.
8.
[6]
Talmey 1932,
p.
162. Talmey
was a
medi-
cal
student who visited
the Einstein
family
regularly
and befriended the
young
Albert.
[7] See
Franziska
Daxenberger
to Einstein,
25
June
1946.
Her husband Otto
was
Ein-
stein's
classmate at
the
Luitpold-Gymnasium
in
the
fourth,
fifth,
and seventh
years.
[8]
See
Otto Neustätter
to Einstein,
12
March
1929;
quoted
in
MWE,
this
volume, note 62.
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