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The Historical Origins of Spacetime



The idea of spacetime investigated in this chapter, with a view toward understanding its immediate sources and development, is the one formulated and proposed by Hermann Minkowski in 1908. Until recently, the principle source used to form historical narratives of Minkowski’s discovery of spacetime has been Minkowski’s own discovery account, outlined in the lecture he delivered in Cologne, entitled “Space and time”. Minkowski’s lecture is usually considered as a bona fide first-person narrative of lived events. According to this received view, spacetime was a natural outgrowth of Felix Klein’s successful project to promote the study of geometries via their characteristic groups of transformations. Minkowski’s publications and research notes provide a contrasting picture of the discovery of spacetime, in which group theory plays no direct part. In order to relate the steps of Minkowski’s discovery, I begin with an account of Poincaré’s theory of gravitation, where Minkowski found some of the germs of spacetime. Poincaré’s geometric interpretation of the Lorentz transformation is examined, along with his reasons for not pursuing a four-dimensional vector calculus. In the second section, Minkowski’s discovery and presentation of the notion of a worldline in spacetime is presented. In the third and final section, Poincaré’s and Minkowski’s diagrammatic interpretations of the Lorentz transformation are compared.
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halshs-01234449 , version 1 (26-11-2015)



Scott Walter. The Historical Origins of Spacetime. Abhay Ashtekar, V. Petkov. The Springer Handbook of Spacetime, Springer, pp.27-38, 2014, ⟨10.1007/978-3-662-46035-1_2⟩. ⟨halshs-01234449⟩
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