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‘Geometrization of Physics’ vs. ‘Physicalization of Geometry.’ The Untranslated Appendix to Reichenbach’s Philosophie der Raum-Zeit-Lehre

Giovanelli, Marco (2019) ‘Geometrization of Physics’ vs. ‘Physicalization of Geometry.’ The Untranslated Appendix to Reichenbach’s Philosophie der Raum-Zeit-Lehre. [Preprint]

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Abstract

This article provides an overview of the Appendix to Reichenbach’s 1928 Philosophie der Raum-Zeit-Lehre, which was not included in the widely read English translation of the book published 30 years later. The Appendix, after a lengthy introduction of the basic concepts of differential geometry and of the problem of the their physical interpretation, presents an intentionally artificial example of geometrization of the electromagnetic field, by allowing spacetime to have torsion, in addition to curvature. At that time, it was a widespread opinion that, after Einstein’s ‘geometrization’ of the gravitational field, the ‘geometrization’ program should be extended to the other known field, the electromagnetic field. However, Reichenbach aimed to prove that dressing a physical field in a geometrical ‘cloak’ is a display of mathematical sophistication, not of physical insight. A geometrical ‘cloak,’ as Reichenbach put it, is useful only if it reveals something new about the shape of the ‘body’ under it, the physical field. The present study, through comparison of Newtonian gravitation (Newton-Cartan theory) with Friedrichs’s geometrization, indicates that Reichenbach’s geometrization attempt was doomed to failure. Nevertheless, it is argued, the philosophical message of the Appendix should be considered an integral part of the line of argument of Philosophie der Raum-Zeit-Lehre, particular its last chapter on general relativity. The book’s main message was that general relativity was not the beginning of the new era of ‘geometrization of physics,’ but the culmination of a historical process of ‘physicalization of geometry.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Giovanelli, Marcomarco.giovanelli@uni-tuebingen.de
Keywords: Reichenbach, Hans - General Relativity -Unified field theory - Geometrization. Newton-Cartan Theory
Subjects: General Issues > Conventionalism
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Operationalism/Instrumentalism
General Issues > Philosophers of Science
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
Depositing User: PD Dr. Marco Giovanelli
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2020 17:02
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2020 17:02
Item ID: 16831
Subjects: General Issues > Conventionalism
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Operationalism/Instrumentalism
General Issues > Philosophers of Science
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
Date: December 2019
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/16831

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