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Space, time and gravitation (1920) PDF by Arthur Stanley Eddington

Space, time and gravitation: an outline of the general relativity theory

Space, time and gravitation

By his theory of relativity Albert Einstein has provoked a revolution of thought in physical science. The achievement consists essentially in this: Einstein has succeeded in separating far more completely than hitherto the share of the observer and the share of external nature in the things we see happen. 

The perception of an object by an observer depends on his own situation and circumstances; for example, distance will make it appear smaller and dimmer. We make allowance for this almost unconsciously in interpreting what we see.

 But it now appears that the allowance made for the motion of the observer has hitherto been too crude a fact overlooked because in practice all observers share nearly the same motion, that of the earth. Physical space and time are found to be closely bound up with this motion of the observer, and only an amorphous combination of the two is left inherent in the external world. 

When space and time are relegated to their proper source the observer the world of nature which remains appears strangely unfamiliar; but it is in reality simplified, and the underlying unity of the principal phenomena is now clearly revealed. 

The deductions from this new outlook have, with one doubtful exception, been confirmed when tested by experiment. It is my aim to give an account of this work without introducing anything very technical in the way of mathematics, physics, or philosophy. 

The new view of space and time, so opposed to our habits of thought, must in any case demand unusual mental exercise. The results appear strange, and the incongruity is not without a humorous side. For the first nine chapters, the task is one of interpreting a clear-cut theory, accepted in all its essentials by a large and growing school of physicists although perhaps not everyone would accept the author's views of its meaning. Chapters x and xi deal with very recent advances, with regard to which opinion is more fluid. As for the last chapter, containing the author's speculations on the meaning of nature, since it touches on the rudiments of a philosophical system, it is perhaps too sanguine to hope that it can ever be other than controversial.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington OM FRS was an English astronomer, physicist, and mathematician. He was also a philosopher of science and a populariser of science. The Eddington limit, the natural limit to the luminosity of stars, or the radiation generated by accretion onto a compact object, is named in his honour.


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