Gravitational waves and Einstein
What did Einstein really say about gravitational waves?
First, the background. In almost twenty five years, no one has answered the objections I raised about Einstein. Namely that he did not fully understand the special theory of relativity invented by Poincare. Special relativity requires functional differential equations, as Poincare realised. But Einstein never understood that till the end of his life, and kept trying to approximate functional differential equations by ordinary differential equations which is manifestly a mistake. See my book Time: Towards a Consistent Theory (Kluwer Academic, 1994).
In the more recent series of articles on FDEs in Physics Education, the first article explains the mistake.
“Functional differential equations.1: a new paradigm in physics”, Physics Education (India), 29(3), July-Sep 2013.
Sadly, though special relativity is a first year undergraduate subject, it continues to be taught incorrectly. Even at that elementary level, scientists go by the force of social authority, and just ignore the force of a scientific argument.
Further, even in the case of general relativity, it is known that Einstein had the wrong equations before Hilbert sent the right equations to him. Withing 5 days he then claimed he had suddenly and coincidentally arrived at the same equations independently of Hilbert, just as he claimed he suddenly and coincidentally arrived at the special theory of relativity shortly after Poincare’s article on it was published!
Now, the popular image of Einstein is as a great mathematician, but knowledgeable people understood that Einstein was ignorant of mathematics: as Hilbert said, “every boy in the streets of Goettingen knows more about 4-dimensional geometry than Einstein”. However, Hilbert was over-smart and also said that Einstein’s ignorance was the cause of originality about special relativity (which theory he attributed to Einstein not Poincare).
In the case of Hilbert vs Einstein in general relativity, some prominent defenders of Einstein went so far as to suggest that it might be Hilbert who changed his equations, at the proof stage. The scandalous fact however is that some dishonest historian who accessed that proof has cut out those parts from that proof.
To the knowledgeable the matter is clear enough: the equations of general relativity are clearly the work of a mathematical mind, for they focus on geometry and neglect the physical description of matter. (The many body problem is hence so difficult in GRT.) All this is also described in the chapter on Einstein and elsewhere in The Eleven Pictures of Time (Sage, 2003).
Now, there is much systematic and institutionalised fraud in the Western/church history of science as succinctly explained in my book Is Science Western in Origin. Western history (and Wikipedia) go by social authority not evidence (as e.g. in the case of Euclid, or Copernicus). On this system, all one has to do is to say like Wikipedia that those who agree with us are reliable, and all critics are unreliable sources. The other con trick systematically used by Western/church historians is to avoid engaging with the evidence or the critique. Typically, the critique is either plagiarised or else caricatured and distorted, to make it easy to condemn the critic in generic terms. But the essence of the method is to avoid engaging openly with the critique or the evidence.
Against this background, what did Einstein really say about gravitational waves? As Einstein wrote to Max Born in 1936,
“Together with a young collaborator, I arrived at the interesting result that gravitational waves do not exist, though they had been assumed a certainty to the first approximation. This shows that the nonlinear general-relativistic field equations can…limit us more than we believed up to now.”
The young collaborator was Nathan Rosen. (Presumably to avoid further exposing his ignorance, as happened with Hilbert, Einstein now worked with collaborators like Rosen and Infeld.)
Along the lines of his letter to Born, on 1 June 1936 Einstein submitted a paper to the Physical Review claiming that gravitational waves did NOT exist. However, the paper was rejected by the referee, H. P. Robertson. What was Einstein’s reaction? On 27 July 1936 wrote to John Tate, the then editor of Physical Review, “We (Mr Rosen and I) had sent you our manuscript for publication and had not authorized you to show it to specialists before it was printed.” The former patent clerk well understood how easy it was for an unscrupulous person to claim credit for an unpublished or recently published work!
The story had an ironical ending. After Rosen left, Einstein started collaborating with Infeld, who struck up a friendship with Robertson. The latter explained the error in the paper. As Infeld recounts in his autobiography, when he told Einstein about the error, Einstein claimed that by a remarkable coincidence he had reached the same conclusion the previous night! We have heard stories of such remarkable coincidences from other great men like Michael Atiyah. Indeed, Western history of science abounds in such fairy-tale coincidences, since Copernicus and Newton. This historical way of determining scientific greatness is anchored on the principle of criminal law which gives benefit of doubt even when there is a long chain of such remarkable coincidences. My epistemic test exposes such claims of coincidences for the frauds they often are.
Anyway, having realised his error, Einstein did now publish in the opposite direction on gravitational waves. However, he conveniently forgot his earlier remark to Born that gravitational waves had been “regarded a certainty” from at least a decade earlier. He did not cite those earlier references to gravitational waves. This was like the case of his special relativity paper which cited no references at all.
BTW, it is not true that Einstein never cited references, he cited them selectively. As pointed out in The Eleven Pictures of Time, he got annoyed with Paul Drude, editor of the Annalen der Physik, and wrote to a friend that he would
“’make it hot for Drude’, by publishing his criticism of Drude in a humiliating article. (He didn’t: in his 1905 paper on light quanta, for which he got the Nobel prize, Drude led all the rest in the list of references, and Einstein did not criticise Drude’s methods.)”