Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Einstein on empirical support for theory

"We have seen how experience led to the introd. of the concept of the quantity of electricity. it was defined by means of the forces that small electrified bodies exert on each other. But now we extend the application of the concept to cases in which this definition cannot be applied directly as soon as we conceive the el. forces as forces exerted on electricity rather than on material particles. We set up a conceptual system the individual parts of which do not correspond directly to empirical facts. Only a certain totality of theoretical material corresponds again to a certain totality of experimental facts.

We find that such an el. continuum is always applicable only for the representation of el. states of affairs in the interior of ponderable bodies. Here too we define the vector of el. field strength as the vector of the mech. force exerted on the unit of pos. electr. quantity inside a body. But the force so defined is no longer directly accessible to exp. It is one part of a theoretical construction that can be correct or false, i.e., consistent or not consistent with experience, only as a whole

(EA 3-007, ECP 3-11, 325)

This is from here. I poked around the Einstein archives but can't figure out this citation system and therefore when and where he wrote this (does anyone know?).


  1. Hey Daniel, if you've never read it, I highly endorse Richard Feynman's "The Character of Physical Law." (I just read the booklet, but I think you can watch the actual lectures on YouTube if you prefer that.) That solidified for me what it is that physicists "do" in their jobs.

  2. When he lectured at the University of Zurich in the Winter of 1910/11.

    The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volume 3. The Swiss Years: Writings, 1909-1911. M. J. klein et al. Princeton, 1993, p. 325.


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