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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Hume’s Influence on Einstein

David Hume has had a massive influence on all areas of philosophy and a variety of scientific and economic disciplines. Several prominent philosophers, scientists, and economists have acknowledged that they owe a debt to his philosophy. Here’s an excerpt from Matias Slavov’s essay, “No absolute time,” which is on the influence that Hume has exercised on Albert Einstein’s conception of time and his theory of relativity:

“Einstein learned an empiricist theory of concepts from Hume (and plausibly from Mach and the positivist tradition). He then implemented concept empiricism in his argument for the relativity of simultaneity. The result is that different observers will not agree whether two events are simultaneous or not. Take the openings of two windows, a living room window and a kitchen window. There is no absolute fact to the matter of whether the living room window opens before the kitchen window, or whether they open simultaneously or in reverse order. The temporal order of such events is observer-dependent; it is relative to the designated frame of reference.

“Once the relativity of simultaneity was established, Einstein was able to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable aspects of his theory, the principle of relativity and the light postulate. This conclusion required abandoning the view that there is such a thing as an unobservable time that grounds temporal order. This is the view that Einstein got from Hume.”

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