At the heart of Special Relativity lie the Lorentz transformations, invented by the Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (the name of the transformation was given by Poincaré in 1905). He wrote them down well before Einstein came up with his SR in 1905.

It was devised as a theoretical transformation which makes the velocity of light invariant between different inertial frames.

Lorentz believed in the aether as most physicists did in that time. But nevertheless, the transformations emerged from his mind.

Einstein, on the contrary, didn't believe in the aether and showed that the transformations followed from his Principle of Relativity and the constancy of the speed of light in every inertial frame (for which the transformation was devised in the first place; see citation). But he didn't invent the transformations.

Has Einstein gotten the credits of inventing (discovering) SR because of his Principle of Relativity, denying the aether, uniting space and time to an absolute spacetime, and declaring that the speed of light is constant in every inertial frame (which also followed from the Lorenz transformations)?

For sure, Einstein didn't discover (invent) the transformations. He "only" showed that they follow from the constancy of the speed of light in every inertial frame.


closed as primarily opinion-based by ACuriousMind Jun 16 at 12:37

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ If you are interested in the actual historical development, consider asking at History of Science and Mathematics, but as it stands, the motivations for assigning credit to individual physicists does not seem to me to be a question about physics as such (as it may well involve politics equally, if not more). $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Jun 16 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ I think your curious mind is right! But that's just an opinion... $\endgroup$ – descheleschilder Jun 16 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ It seems to be rather unknown, but if you have a look at the original paper from Lorentz, the transformation equation is totally wrong! Poincarré has given a correct form and has been kind enough to name it after Lorentz. Einstein paper was radically different, though, and both path have been parallel without interaction. Einstein's one, based on relativity principle, was more interesting for physicists, this is why his name has been tied to SR. $\endgroup$ – Matt Jun 16 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ So Einstein constructed the transformations himself (without knowing that Poincaré made the same transformation)? $\endgroup$ – descheleschilder Jun 16 at 15:35

There's indeed some controversy over exactly how much credit to give, but Einstein really did make an important independent contribution.

Lorentz thought about the transformations as being due to ether: in his model the ether physically squeezed objects smaller and interfered with measurements of time. Einstein just postulated that space and time simply behaved that way, i.e. that there wasn't a "true" length and time that the ether "distorted". Though the equations look similar, the interpretation is radically different.

  • $\begingroup$ Lorentz himself said as much, in 1927: "I considered my time transformation only as a heuristic working hypothesis. So the theory of relativity is really solely Einstein's work. And there can be no doubt that he would have conceived it even if the work of all his predecessors in the theory of this field had not been done at all. His work is in this respect independent of the previous theories." $\endgroup$ – Michael Seifert Jul 15 at 17:57

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