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Material history and imaginary clocks: Poincaré, Einstein, and Galison on simultaneity. (English) Zbl 1134.01011
This extended review of P. Galison’s [Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps: Empires of Time (2003; Zbl 1066.01005)] provides a critical survey of the main claims of the book, along with some suggestions for how these claims can be strengthened and weakened by additional appeal to the extant historical evidence. Galison’s main aim in the book is to link Poincaré’s and Einstein’s scientific innovations to the broader technological context in which they worked, especially concerns surrounding the synchronization of clocks. Martínez seems to concede these links for Poincaré, but successfully challenges their significance for our understanding of Einstein’s special theory of relativity. On the historical side, Martínez points out that an anecdote central to Galison’s case, involving Einstein explaining his theory by reference to bell towers, is not adequately supported by any documentary evidence. On the conceptual side, the fact that “the question of simultaneity is independent and prior to the question of clock synchrony” (232) makes Galison’s preoccupation with clock synchrony less persuasive.

MSC:
01A60 History of mathematics in the 20th century
83-03 History of relativity and gravitational theory
01A05 General histories, source books
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