Physics + Math

27
Feb

Einstein’s Lost Theorem, Revealed

A once-hidden Einstein manuscript is rattling the scientific community.

While it’s practically just a scrap in the tome of Einstein’s calculations, the paper shows that Einstein may have supported the idea of a steady-state universe—or at least hoped that it could be true. Championed by astrophysicist Fred Hoyle in the latter part of the 20th century, the steady-state theory is the skeptic’s response to the Big Bang theory. It predicts that the universe is eternally expanding and adding new matter to occupy the new space.

For a long time, Hoyle was seen as the lone and stubborn dissenter. Other physicists were much more willing to embrace the Big Bang theory than he was, but Hoyle’s persistence was so hard to ignore that his theories eventually catalyzed new ideas, even if his central tenet of a steady state universe wasn’t accepted, according to astrophysicist Mario Livio. Hoyle suffered the consequences of his unpopular theory. But now, Einstein’s lost manuscript shows that Hoyle was not alone in his thinking; Einstein, too, flirted with the steady-state theory before accepting the Big Bang.

einstein-chalkboard
Scientists discovered a lost document that reveals Einstein's temporary interest in the steady-state theory of the universe.

Here’s Davide Castelvecchi, writing for Nature News:

The newly uncovered document shows that Einstein had described essentially the same idea much earlier. “For the density to remain constant new particles of matter must be continually formed,” he writes. The manuscript is thought to have been produced during a trip to California in 1931 — in part because it was written on American note paper.

It had been stored in plain sight at the Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem — and is freely available to view on its website — but had been mistakenly classified as a first draft of another Einstein paper. Cormac O’Raifeartaigh, a physicist at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland, says that he “almost fell out of his chair” when he realized what the manuscript was about.

Hoyle’s model was mathematically consistent, so if Hoyle had known that Einstein had also used the equations of general relativity to support steady-state, it’s possible he could have used that as leverage in debates with other scientists. What’s more, the document provides evidence that Einstein was averse to the idea of a changing universe. He preferred to think of the universe as static—but since other astrophysicists had found proof of the universe’s expansion, the steady-state theorem would have been, to his mind, the lesser of two evils.

Watch "Einstein’s Big Idea" to learn more about the revered scientist’s work and his ultimate claim to fame.