News, Culture & Society

New letter reveals Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was inspired by Scottish philosopher David Hume

Even geniuses need inspiration! Letter from Einstein shows how his theory of relativity may not have been ‘possible’ without a Scottish philosopher who lived a century before

  • A new letter reveals that Einstein was an avid reader of David Hume’s work 
  • Hume had questioned the ideas of time and space in the context of science 
  • Einstein describes the importance of Hume’s work in helping him shape his own
  • The physicist says that his own theory may not have been possible without Hume

Just like the rest of us, even the world’s greatest genius need a nudge in the right direction sometimes, as a new discovery about Albert Einstein has revealed.  

A newly discovered letter from the University of Edinburgh shows that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was inspired by 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume.

The letter from the German physicist describes his avid reading of David Hume’s ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’, just before proposing his own theory of special relativity in 1905. 

The physicists even admits in the letter that it is ‘very possible’ that he may not have achieved his theory of relativity were it not for Hume’s questions. 

The iconic theory of relativity developed by Albert Einstein (pictured) is one of the central pillars of modern science, but the latest letter discovered at the University of Edinburgh suggests a Scottish philosopher born over a century before helped him

Hume was a famous philosopher, historian and economist was known for his ideas of naturalism and scepticism. 

His book ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’, was first published in 1738, sixty-one-years before the birth of Einstein, and in it he questions the idea of time and space being related in the context of science. 

Hume writes: ‘The chief objection against all abstract reasoning is derived from the ideas of Space and Time. Ideas in everyday life may appear clear and intelligible, but when they pass through the scrutiny of the profound Sciences… they seem full of absurdity and contradiction.’

Hume was a famous philosopher, historian and economist was known for his ideas of naturalism and scepticism. His book 'A Treatise of Human Nature', was first published in 1738, sixty-one-years before the birth of Einstein, and in it he questions the idea of time and space being related in the context of science

Hume was a famous philosopher, historian and economist was known for his ideas of naturalism and scepticism. His book ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’, was first published in 1738, sixty-one-years before the birth of Einstein, and in it he questions the idea of time and space being related in the context of science

Einstein's famous theory of relativity was groundbreaking for proposing that time and space are not constant. The latest letter penned by the physicist in December 1915 says that were it not for Hume's questioning of time and space as constant, it is 'very possible' he may not have come up with the theory of relativity. 

Einstein’s famous theory of relativity was groundbreaking for proposing that time and space are not constant. The latest letter penned by the physicist in December 1915 says that were it not for Hume’s questioning of time and space as constant, it is ‘very possible’ he may not have come up with the theory of relativity. 

Einstein’s famous theory of relativity was groundbreaking for proposing just that: time and space are not constant.

The latest find was penned by the physicist in December 1915 and addressed to physics Professor Moritz Schlick at the University of Vienna.

In it, Einstein describes his enthusiasm for Hume’s work and states rather explicitly its role in helping to generate his own theory.

Einstein wrote: ‘You have correctly seen that this line of thought was of great influence on my efforts and indeed Ernst Mach and still much more Hume, whose treatise on understanding I studied with eagerness and admiration shortly before finding relativity theory.’  

‘It is very possible that without these philosophical studies I can not say that the solution would have come.’

Professor David Purdie at the University of Edinburgh who discovered the letter, told The Telegraph:

‘I was absolutely thrown. I have read all the Einstein papers and there is no mention of Hume. So he sent me to dig out the old letters of Einstein and there he was, filed away and forgotten. I had no idea.

‘Einstein said that Hume more than anyone else had inspired him. It’s amazing to think that someone who lived 100 years before, in an entirely different place, could have had such an impact.’

It is thought that Einstein was first introduced to David Hume’s work at his home in Switzerland where he held the Olympic Academy, a close meeting of scientists and philosophers in the early 1900s.

WHAT IS EINSTEIN’S GENERAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY?

Albert Einstein (pictured) published his General Theory of Relativity in 1915

Albert Einstein (pictured) published his General Theory of Relativity in 1915

In 1905, Albert Einstein determined that the laws of physics are the same for all non-accelerating observers, and that the speed of light in a vacuum was independent of the motion of all observers – known as the theory of special relativity.

This groundbreaking work introduced a new framework for all of physics, and proposed new concepts of space and time.

He then spent 10 years trying to include acceleration in the theory, finally publishing his theory of general relativity in 1915.

This determined that massive objects cause a distortion in space-time, which is felt as gravity.

At its simplest, it can be thought of as a giant rubber sheet with a bowling ball in the centre.

Pictured is the original historical documents related to Einstein's prediction of the existence of gravitational waves, shown at the Hebrew university in Jerusalem

Pictured is the original historical documents related to Einstein’s prediction of the existence of gravitational waves, shown at the Hebrew university in Jerusalem

As the ball warps the sheet, a planet bends the fabric of space-time, creating the force that we feel as gravity.

Any object that comes near to the body falls towards it because of the effect.

Einstein predicted that if two massive bodies came together it would create such a huge ripple in space time that it should be detectable on Earth.

It was most recently demonstrated in the hit film film Interstellar.

In a segment that saw the crew visit a planet which fell within the gravitational grasp of a huge black hole, the event caused time to slow down massively.

Crew members on the planet barely aged while those on the ship were decades older on their return.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


Comments are closed.