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$1.2 MILLION, EVENTUALLY, FOR LOSING A DEBATE WITH EINSTEIN

THIS IS A WIN-WIN story in the annals of theoretical physics. In 1905, Albert Einstein published the equation E = mc2, thus positing that energy and mass are essentially two different forms of the same thing. Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which refined views on space and time, was announced at the same time. His theory of general relativity (1915) further revolutionized science in its understanding of gravity. 

In 1912, Ludwik Silberstein spoke at the International Congress of Mathematicians at Cambridge; his topic, “Some Applications of Quaternions.” This resulted in a paper, “Quaternionic Form of Relativity,” in Philosophical Magazine 14, 1912.  The following year, Silberstein’s book The Theory of Relativity was published.

The Theory of Relativity, by Ludwik Silberstein, Palala Press, 2016.

Indie Bookfinder writes, “This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.”

The 1935 Debate. Einstein and Silberstein had differing views on general relativity that resulted in a 1935 debate. Wikipedia discusses the result: “This led Silberstein to claim that Einstein’s theory was flawed, in need of a revision. In response, Einstein and Nathan Rosen published a Letter to the Editor in which they pointed out a critical flaw in Silberstein’s reasoning.”

“Unconvinced,” Wikipedia continues, “Silberstein took the debate to the popular press, with The Evening Telegram in Toronto publishing an article titled ‘Fatal Blow to Relativity Issued Here’ on March 7, 1936.”

“Nonetheless,” Wikipedia and science hold that “Einstein was correct and Silberstein was wrong.”

Albert Einstein, 1879-1955, German-American physicist extraordinaire. Ludwik Silberstein,1872–1948, Polish-American physicist. This and other images credited to RR Auction from livescience.com.

Continued Correspondence. The two rivals in relativity theory continued to correspond. In a letter to Silberstein on October 26, 1946, Einstein answered a query by writing, “Your question can be answered from the E = mc2 formula, without any erudition.”

The full letter, in German.

The RR Auction. As described in Live Science, “The letter remained in Silberstein’s archives and was recently auctioned off by his family. The document was expected to sell for $400,000, but ended up going for three times that after a late bidding war between two parties on May 18, according to RR Auction, the Boston-based company that sold the letter.”

The letter’s importance lies in being one of only four known citations of E = mc2 in Einstein’s hand.

A closeup of the rare citation.

A Win-Win. Ultimately, Einstein won the debate. The Silberstein family, and his memory, is enriched by $1.2 million. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021  

3 comments on “$1.2 MILLION, EVENTUALLY, FOR LOSING A DEBATE WITH EINSTEIN

  1. sabresoftware
    June 14, 2021

    Silberstein or Silberman family (note in last paragraph)?

  2. Jack Albrecht
    June 25, 2021

    Interesting that they corresponded in German if Silberstein was Polish. I would guess because when he was born it was part of Prussia and he spoke German. I find the letter extra interesting as the penmanship is like my paternal grandmother’s, who spoke German as a first language even though she was American (born in 1897). German cursive is different in many key letters from English cursive that I think no one learns anymore.

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