Theory of relativity

04.11.2015 |

Episode #9 of the course “Ideas that changed the world”


The theory of relativity, proposed by Albert Einstein, is summarized with the idea that time is relative to the speed of movement of any object that has mass. Einstein introduced his “theory of special relativity” in 1905 and the “theory of general relativity” 10 years later. While the mathematical formula that represents the complicated idea (E=mc2) has come to universally represent “genius,” the complexities of this theory single-handedly changed the world.

Albert Einstein was studying light’s movement through space when he calculated that light bends to navigate space. He theorized that light bends because of gravity, leading him to further investigate light and gravity’s relationship in space. By basing his observations on Newtonian physics—the standard accepted physics of the time—he could not reasonably solve the problem. So he calculated his own explanation of physics and revolutionized all of science.


9.2 Albert EinsteinAlbert Einstein


Einstein inspired a re-evaluation of reality. Because of this, science made giant leaps forward, such as space travel, during the half-century that followed Einstein. Relativity opened up new branches of study, such as particle physics, which continue to make discoveries about the nature of the universe every day. In addition, relativity and its implications on the nature of time have inspired thousands of philosophers, writers, and scientists to re-evaluate and re-define this “fourth dimension” of existence.

The Theory of Relativity also changed the way that scientists understand the nature of energy in the universe, which has given rise to technologies ranging from GPS locators and solar panels to nuclear power plants that keep cites functioning 24 hours a day. With wider implications, the philosophy of relativity—that the truth about physical relationships in the universe is dependent on the perspective—inspired generations of thinkers to question whether there could be absolute truths, giving rise to a post-modern ideology in the latter half of the 20th century.



“If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare me a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.” by Albert Einstein

“Since the mathematicians have invaded the theory of relativity I do not understand it myself any more.” by Albert Einstein

“The future is not a gift-it is an achievement.” by Albert Einstein

“Einstein, in the special theory of relativity, proved that different observers, in different states of motion, see different realities.” by Leonard Susskind

“After all, what is art? Art is the creative process and it goes through all fields. Einstein’s theory of relativity – now that is a work of art! Einstein was more of an artist in physics than on his violin. Art is this: art is the solution of a problem which cannot be expressed explicitly until it is solved.” by Piet Hein


Recommended books

“Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson

“A Briefer History of Time” by Stephen Hawking


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