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Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps
Peter Galison (univ. Harvard)

5 janvier 2006

In the standard picture of the history of special relativity, Einstein’s reformulation of simultaneity is considered a quasi-philosophical intervention, a move made possible by his *dis*-connection from the standard physics and technology of the day. Meanwhile, Einstein’s engagement at the Patent Office enters the story as a lowly day job, offering him some technical training but essentially irrelevant to his scientific work. *Einstein’s Clocks* argues that, on the contrary, Einstein’s patent work located him squarely in the middle of a wealth of technological developments, cultural discussions about the meaning of time, and important patents that accompanied the coordination of clocks along railway lines and throughout the cities of central Europe. And Henri Poincare, far from being lost exclusively in the far reaches of mathematics, was at the same time profoundly involved with the use of precision coordinated clocks for long-distance longitude determination. --Indeed, at a crucial moment in the development of his own thoughts on relativity theory he was presiding of over the Paris Bureau of Longitude. By understanding the history of coordinated clocks, Einstein’s and Poincare’s work in relativistic physics shines in a very different light: the "modern" of "modern physics" stood was the intersection point of physics, technology, and philosophy.

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Peter Galison Peter Galison (univ. Harvard)
Peter Galison, Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University. In 1997, he was named a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellow; in 1999, he was a winner of the Max Planck Prize given by the Max Planck Gesellschaft and Humboldt Stiftung.