10 Public Reception of Unified Field Theory at the Time

We must distinguish between the acceptance of unified field theory in academic circles and its reverberations in the general press. Of course, Weyl could further his own theory through his well received book [396]. His unification of electricity and gravitation was also given room in Eddington’s monograph “Space, Time, and Gravitation” of 1920 [57]. In German scientific handbooks on physics and monographs on relativity theory at the time, there are long articles on special and general relativity, but unified field theory is mentioned only in passing, and with the names of Weyl, Eddington, and Kaluza stressed instead of Einstein’s ([194], pp. 576–579, and [9], pp. 378–383). Perhaps, it was too early for Born to mention Weyl in his book on Einstein’s relativity theory of 1920 [19]. In the third edition of 1922, he entered a single sentence after he had lauded Einstein for his derivation of the field equations of general relativity:

“Hilbert, Klein [i.e., Felix Klein] and other mathematicians have taken part, have researched in depth and illuminated the formal structure of Einstein’s formulas.”283View original Quote ([20], p. 248)

After Pauli’s handbook article, Weyl hardly could have been overlooked. Nevertheless, the 2nd volume of Laue’s book did not even mention Weyl’s theory, nor did Levi-Civita’s book in its English or German versions of 1927 and 1928 [387205]. In contrast, Schouten’s and Eddington’s monographs treated Weyl extensively [30060]. Already in 1921, Fabre’s weak presentation of “Les théories d’Einstein” [125] had an admiring but irrelevant appendix on Weyl’s unified field theory, while, in 1922, J. Becquerel in Paris and E. Neumann in Marburg in their books on relativity had brief presentations of Weyl’s theory [23610]. One or the other philosopher of science took into account some of the developments, mostly Weyl’s theory, as did Reichenbach in 1928 [267]. In his book on “The present world view according to the natural sciences”, Wenzl discussed Einstein’s theory of distant parallelism but cautioned that this theory, as a physical theory was not on the same level as general relativity: It seemed unclear whether the new theory would predict new phenomena that could be empirically tested [394].

As to the impact on the public at large, Einstein’s fame as the creator of the empirically tested general relativity continued to shine over his successive attempts at unified field theory. Chandarsekhar reports an after-dinner chat in 1933 in which Rutherford made Eddington responsible for Einstein’s fame; he nailed it to the headlining, in the British papers, of the meeting of the Royal Society, at which the results of the British Solar Eclipse Expedition were reported:

“[...] the typhoon of publicity crossed the Atlantic. From that point on, the American press played Einstein to the maximum.” ([42], p. 28)

Also, from 1930, Einstein’s yearly travels to the United States and his sojourns there brought about increased publicity for his research on unified field theory. Thus, a “preliminary announcement for the Josiah Macy, Jr., Foundation” of his paper with his assistant Mayer on the 5-vector formulation of Kaluza’s theory [107] was printed in full in Science about a month before the publication appeared [94]. However, it seems safe to say that reports on Einstein’s newest unified field theory in the dailies, whether seen as an educational affair or as part of entertainment, must have strained the general public’s intellectual abilities.


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