Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Einstein, Argentina, relativity, 1925 and the discurso inédito paper
Almost 85 years ago Albert Einstein accepted an invitation from the University of Buenos Aires to give a lecture on relativity.
"Immediately after Einstein’s visit, Mauricio Nirenstein published a short paper in which he made some interesting remarks on the visit and the visitor. His paper was presented as a dialogue, a personal conversation in which Einstein outlined his views on the epistemology of the physical sciences."
"Einstein’s Unpublished Opening Lecture for His Course on Relativity Theory in Argentina, 1925" by Alejandro Gangui
In 1922 the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) Council approved a motion to send an invitation to Albert Einstein to visit Argentina and give a course of lectures on his theory of relativity. The motion was proposed by Jorge Duclout (1856-1927), who had been educated at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich (ETH). This proposal was the culmination of a series of initiatives of various Argentine intellectuals interested in the theory of relativity. In a very short time Dr. Mauricio Nirenstein (1877-1935), then the university’s administrative secretary, fulfilled all the requirements for the university's invitation to be endorsed and delivered to the sage in Berlin. The visit took place three years later, in March-April 1925.
The Argentine press received Einstein with great interest and respect; his early exchanges covered a wide range of topics, including international politics and Jewish matters. Naturally, the journalists were more eager to hear from the eminent pacifist than from the incomprehensible physicist. However, after his initial openness with the press, the situation changed and Einstein restricted his public discourse to topics on theoretical physics, avoiding some controversial political, religious, or philosophical matters that he had freely touched upon in earlier interviews.
Immediately after Einstein's visit, Mauricio Nirenstein published a short paper in which he made some interesting remarks on the visit and the visitor. His paper was presented as a dialogue, a personal conversation in which Einstein outlined his views on the epistemology of the physical sciences. In a footnote, Nirenstein explained that Einstein's thoughts on epistemology were based on an unpublished text. However, in his reference to Einstein's text on epistemology, he indicated that Einstein's remarks were given in response to a recent newspaper article. He did not mention that Einstein, in fact, had written this text for his opening lecture at the UBA. Consequently, he did not explain why he did not publish it verbatim or in translation.
Einstein’s unpublished piece on the epistemology of physics became known in Argentina as the discurso inédito and it was rumored that Einstein had left it in the hands of Nirenstein. Six years after the visit, in 1931, an avant-gard literary journal, La Vida Literaria, published a Spanish translation of the inédito as well as photographs of two fragments of the manuscript, which serves to test the quality of the Spanish translation and shows that it was addressed to the UBA audience. The note in La Vida Literaria also referred briefly to Einstein’s encounters with the local press and to the impact these meetings may have had on his decision not to use the inédito as an introduction to his set of lectures.
The English translation of the inédito is based on three sources: the Spanish translation of the German text, written by Baldomero Sanín Cano and published in La Vida Literaria, Buenos Aires, 1931, which covers the whole text; photographs of pages 1 and 5 of the manuscript in German in Einstein’s hand, reproduced in the same journal; and transcribed excerpts from Einstein’s manuscript printed in J. A. Stargardt’s catalogs number 615 (1978), 117, and number 683 (2006), 188.
This introduction gives a brief account of the individuals, institutions, and events related to the inédito and compares it with the text of several lectures given by Einstein in Argentina where he briefly considered matters related to the philosophy of science. Einstein’s lecture may not rank among the best of Einstein’s pieces on epistemology, but it is, nevertheless, a succinct and candid account of his views on the subject in the year 1925. For the background and details on Einstein’s visit to Argentina and its impact there and in Uruguay, the reader is referred to the monograph Ortiz 1995.