Might have Minkowski discovered the cause of gravitation before Einstein?


There are two reasons for asking such an apparently unanswerable question. First, Max Born's recollections of what Minkowski had told him about his research on the physical meaning of the Lorentz transformations and the fact that Minkowski had created the full-blown four-dimensional mathematical formalism of spacetime physics before the end of 1907, both indicate that Minkowski might have arrived at the notion of spacetime independently of Poincare and at a deeper understanding of the basic ideas of special relativity independently of Einstein. So, had he lived longer, Minkowski might have employed successfully his program of regarding four-dimensional physics as spacetime geometry to gravitation as well. Moreover, Hilbert had derived the equations of general relativity simultaneously with Einstein. Second, even if Einstein had arrived at what is today called Einstein's general relativity before Minkowski, Minkowski would have certainly reformulated it in terms of his program of geometrizing physics and might have represented gravitation fully as the manifestation of the non-Euclidean geometry of spacetime exactly like he reformulated Einstein's special relativity in terms of spacetime. [NOTE: The text of two explanations was taken from my previous paper "Is Gravitation Interaction or just Curved-Spacetime Geometry?" because those explanations had to be repeated in the present paper anyway.]

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Vesselin Petkov
Minkowski Institute

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