Matterless Motion Wins Again

This is a review of "E=mc2: A biography of the world's most famous equation" by David Bodanis, Walker & Company, NY, 2000, 337 p.

If you are looking for the real biography of E=mc2 , this isn't it. If you are looking for the usual glorification of Einstein and cohorts, this will do. In tune with the second objective rather than the first, there is the usual absence of the long history of the equation, which stems from Newton's implication that matter and the motion of matter somehow were related. Hegel's dictum on inseparability ("Just as there is no motion without matter, so there is no matter without motion") is nowhere to be found. And like Einstein's 1905 paper, there is little or no mention of those, such as Preston, Poincaré, and De Pretto, who were important in the development of the equation. Like Einstein, Bodanis completely omits Hasenöhrl's work, which was published in the same journal a year earlier, with a very similar equation (m = (8/3)E/c2 ) and a very similar title ("On the radiation of the bodies in motion" vs. Einstein's "On the electrodynamics of the bodies in motion"). Like most modern physicists and cosmologists, Bodanis perpetuates the conception that matter can, with a wave of the magic wand, turn into "pure energy." One never finds out exactly what that "pure energy" is supposed to be. The fact is, that the equation merely describes the conversion of one type of the motion of matter into another type of the motion of matter. This can be done with the use of classical mechanics simply by assuming that the supposed "empty space" of Einstein contains matter capable of receiving motion released from the atom during fission or fusion. Einstein's premature rejection of the ether therefore gave scientific credence to the idea of "matterless motion," an oxymoron near and dear to the hearts and "souls" of the religiously trained and mystically inclined populace. With that background, Einstein could speculate that space was nevertheless "curved" even though it supposedly contained nothing at all. The speculation has continued to be evermore rampant and ridiculous, with the whole universe supposedly exploding out of nothing, 13 dimensional "strings," and the equally oxymoronic parallel and multi-universes. On the plus side, Bodanis has some interesting gossip about the physics establishment before and after 1905. He tries better than most to give credit for the women, such as du Chatelet, who made significant, mostly unheralded contributions mostly to the scientific end of things. I didn't mind the advertised dumbed-down aspect of the book so much as the fact that we never really found out what it was that matter was turning into. Bodanis fell for the indeterministic "pure energy" propaganda hook line and sinker. Penance for writing this book should include repeating Hegel's most important assumption out loud 100 times: "Just as there is no motion without matter, so there is no matter without motion," "Just as there is no motion without matter, so there is no matter without motion”…


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