ALS in German, signed “A. Einstein,” on a 3.5 x 5.5 postcard, May 1, 1920. Letter to Ludwik Silberstein, Polish-American physicist and author of The Theory of Relativity. In full (translated): “I live permanently in Berlin. The Stokes-Planck Aether leads to a hopeless accumulation of independent hypotheses. Of course such an intrinsically unfinished theory is irrefutable. The problem of connected masses can be treated first off as an approximation, as Newton does. Newton’s theory is really just a preliminary approximation. A more precise calculation is made possible only on the basis of Continuity-Mechanics/relativistic elasticity theory, since the stress-energy tensor of the connection has influence on the motion and does not permit the connection to be considered as merely kinetic. I think, however, that a rigorous treatment of this problem would by no means be worth the trouble.” Einstein has addressed the correspondence panel of the postcard, signing again at the bottom in the return address underneath, “Abr. A. Einstein.” In very good condition, with even overall toning, Einstein’s signature fairly light, but still legible, some light edge wear and creasing, and ink and pencil notations to correspondence side.
A docent of mathematical physics at the University of Rome, Ludwik Silberstein had been corresponding at length with Einstein since 1918, mostly concerning the still controversial theory of relativity; their correspondence continued as Silberstein left Rome for the US in 1920. Written as a direct response to a March 10th letter from Silberstein, this postcard concerns two different topics. The first—the so-called Stokes-Planck Aether, on which Silberstein had recently published a paper—is quickly dismissed as “intrinsically unfinished” and therefore “irrefutable.” Using Newton’s theory as a starting point, Einstein introduces the second topic—the problem of connected masses. This reference to his revered predecessor is especially noteworthy, acknowledging one of his greatest influences and reflecting back to the famous London Times article in which Einstein wrote, ‘Let no one suppose, however, that the mighty work of Newton can really be superseded by relativity or any other theory.’ He continues with the topic at hand, claiming that connected masses could be precisely calculated “only on the basis of Continuity-Mechanics/relativistic elasticity theory” but is “by no means…worth the trouble.” The two would continue to debate this area of the theory for over a decade, their ideas culminating in a very public debate in 1935 that helped solidify Einstein’s theory while disproving Silberstein’s. With his reference to Newton and such explicit scientific content regarding his most famous theory as it was developing, written the year before he received his Nobel Prize, this is a truly remarkable letter! Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.