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Relativity: The Special and General Theory
Albert Einstein: Relativity
Part II: The General Theory of Relativity
In What Respects are the Foundations of Classical Mechanics and of the
Special Theory of Relativity Unsatisfactory?
We have already stated several times that classical mechanics starts out from the following law:
Material particles sufficiently far removed from other material particles continue to move uniformly
in a straight line or continue in a state of rest. We have also repeatedly emphasised that this
fundamental law can only be valid for bodies of reference K which possess certain unique states of
motion, and which are in uniform translational motion relative to each other. Relative to other
reference−bodies K the law is not valid. Both in classical mechanics and in the special theory of
relativity we therefore differentiate between reference−bodies K relative to which the recognised "
laws of nature " can be said to hold, and reference−bodies K relative to which these laws do not
But no person whose mode of thought is logical can rest satisfied with this condition of things. He
asks : " How does it come that certain reference−bodies (or their states of motion) are given priority
over other reference−bodies (or their states of motion) ? What is the reason for this Preference? In
order to show clearly what I mean by this question, I shall make use of a comparison.
I am standing in front of a gas range. Standing alongside of each other on the range are two pans
so much alike that one may be mistaken for the other. Both are half full of water. I notice that steam
is being emitted continuously from the one pan, but not from the other. I am surprised at this, even
if I have never seen either a gas range or a pan before. But if I now notice a luminous something of
bluish colour under the first pan but not under the other, I cease to be astonished, even if I have
never before seen a gas flame. For I can only say that this bluish something will cause the
emission of the steam, or at least possibly it may do so. If, however, I notice the bluish something in
neither case, and if I observe that the one continuously emits steam whilst the other does not, then
I shall remain astonished and dissatisfied until I have discovered some circumstance to which I can
attribute the different behaviour of the two pans.
Analogously, I seek in vain for a real something in classical mechanics (or in the special theory of
relativity) to which I can attribute the different behaviour of bodies considered with respect to the
reference systems K and K1.1) Newton saw this objection and attempted to invalidate it, but without
success. But E. Mach recognsed it most clearly of all, and because of this objection he claimed that
mechanics must be placed on a new basis. It can only be got rid of by means of a physics which is
conformable to the general principle of relativity, since the equations of such a theory hold for every
body of reference, whatever may be its state of motion.