Authors: Bernard F. Schutz
Date: 14 Mar 2012
Abstract: I consider the isolation of general relativity research from the rest of theoretical physics during the 1930s-1950s, and the subsequent reinvigoration of the field. I suggest that the main reason for the isolation was that relativists of the time did not develop heuristic concepts about the physics of the theory with which they could communicate with other physicists, and that the revival happened when they began to develop such concepts. A powerful heuristic today is the concept of a black hole, which is a robust and stable component of many astronomical systems. During the 1930s relativists could only offer the "Schwarzschild singularity". I argue that the change occurred at least partly because key theoretical physicists schooled in quantum theory entered relativity research and began to approach problematic issues by asking questions about observable effects and the outcomes of thought experiments. The result was the development of a physical intuition about such things as black holes, which could then be communicated to non-specialists. Only then was it possible to integrate general relativity fully into the rest of physics.
© M. Vallisneri 2012 — last modified on 2010/01/29
Tantum in modicis, quantum in maximis