Geometrization vs. unification: the Reichenbach–Einstein quarrel about the Fernparallelismus field theory

Synthese 200 (3):1-44 (2022)


This study reconstructs the 1928–1929 correspondence between Reichenbach and Einstein about the latter’s latest distant parallelism-unified field theory, which attracted considerable public attention at the end of the 1920s. Reichenbach, who had recently become a Professor in Berlin, had the opportunity to discuss the theory with Einstein and therefore sent him a manuscript with some comments for feedback. The document has been preserved among Einstein’s papers. However, the subsequent correspondence took an unpleasant turn after Reichenbach published a popular article on distant parallelism in a newspaper. Einstein directly wrote to the Editorial Board complaining about Reichenbach’s unfair use of off-the-record information. While Reichenbach’s reply demonstrates a sense of personal betrayal at Einstein’s behavior, his published writings of that period point to a sense of intellectual betrayal of their shared philosophical ideals. In his attempts to unify both electricity and gravitation, Einstein had abandoned the physical heuristic that guided him to the relativity theory, to embrace a more speculative, mathematical heuristic that he and Reichenbach had both previously condemned. A decade-long personal and intellectual friendship grew fainter and then never recovered. This study, relying on archival material, aims to revisit the Reichenbach–Einstein relationship in the late 1920s in light of Reichenbach’s neglected contributions to the epistemology of the unified field theory program. Thereby, it hopes to provide a richer account of Reichenbach’s philosophy of space and time.

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Marco Giovanelli
Università di Torino

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