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70

PRINCIPLE OF RELATIVITY

SPACE AND TIME

A Lecture delivered before the Naturforscher Versammlung (Congress of Natural Philosophers) at Cologne — (21st September, 1908).

Gentlemen,

The conceptions about time and space, which I hope to develop before you to-day, has grown on experimental physical grounds. Herein lies its strength. The tendency is radical. Henceforth, the old conception of space for itself, and time for itself shall reduce to a mere shadow, and some sort of union of the two will be found consistent with facts.


I

Now I want to show you how we can arrive at the changed concepts about time and space from mechanics, as accepted now-a-days, from purely mathematical considerations. The equations of Newtonian mechanics show a twofold invariance, (i) their form remains unaltered when we subject the fundamental space-coordinate system to any possible change of position, (ii) when we change the system in its nature of motion, i. e., when we impress upon it any uniform motion of translation, the null-point of time plays no part. We are accustomed to look upon the axioms of geometry as settled once for all, while we seldom have the same amount of conviction regarding the axioms of mechanics, and therefore the two invariants are seldom mentioned in the same breath. Each one of these denotes a certain group of transformations for the differential equations of mechanics. We look upon the existence of the first group as a fundamental characteristics of space. We always prefer to leave off the second group to itself, and with a light heart conclude that we can never decide from physical considerations whether the space, which is supposed to be