Discovering the relativity of simultaneity how did Einstein take "the step"?


Authors
John D. Norton
University of Pittsburgh
Abstract
It is routinely assumed that Einstein discovered the relativity of simultaneity by thinking about how clocks can be synchronized by light signals, much in accord with the analysis he gave in his 1905 special relativity paper. Yet that is just supposition. We have no real evidence that it actually happened this way. In later recollections, Einstein stressed the importance of several thought experiments in the thinking that led up to the final theory. They include his chasing a light beam thought experiment and his magnet and conductor thought experiment. They do not include thought experiments on clocks and their synchronization. My goal here is to show that other pathways to the relativity of simultaneity are quite plausible. In several places Einstein stressed the importance in his discovery of special relativity of stellar aberration and Fizeau's measurement of the speed of light in moving water. The results can be seen as direct observational expressions of the relativity of simultaneity, if one knows how to read them. I will suggest that, thanks to his knowledge of Lorentz's 1895 Versuch, Einstein did know how to read them, and that it is quite possible that these observations first led Einstein to the relativity of simultaneity.
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