Albert Einstein and the Theory of the Ether

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Scientific Paper
Title Albert Einstein and the Theory of the Ether
Author(s) Ludwig Kostro
Keywords Ether
Published 1989
Journal None
Pages 137-162

Abstract

As is well known, Einstein, having introduced the Special Theory of Relativity in 1905, proceeded to deny the existence of the 19th century liminiferous ether both in his technical papers as well as in his articles for the general public.  This fact has occasioned that among scientists and subsequently among the general public he has acquired the reputation of being the destroyer of the ether concept in general.

Such an opinion is today propagated in textbooks, encyclopedias and scientific reviews.  Therefore most physicists and philosophers are convinced that Einstein has removed the notion of the ether from physics forever.  This opinion, however, is not precisely correct; because since 1916 the notion of the ether has found in Einstein's Relativity Theory a new and interesting application and development.  Einstein himself emphasized this fact in the following words:

"This word ether has changed its meaning many times in the development of science... Its story, by no means finished, is continued by relativity theory."  (Einstein and Infeld 1938).

The main aim of this paper is to present a historical outline of Einstein's ideas concerning the ether, especially the new relativistic ether (in the first part) and to discuss its physical meaning and physical properties (in the second part).