The Development of Machian Themes in the Twentieth Century

Julian Barbour

in The Arguments of Time

Published by British Academy

Published in print March 2006 | ISBN: 9780197263464
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734748 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Centenary Monographs

The Development of Machian Themes in the Twentieth Century

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This chapter charts the complicated legacy of Mach's critique of absolute space and time. In 1902, Poincaré achieved a clear formulation of what a truly Machian mechanics should accomplish: it should permit a unique prediction of future motion on the basis of just the relative separations of bodies, and these separations' rates of change. However, this work made no impact on Einstein, despite his admiration for Mach. The discussion explains how several independent ideas that dominated Einstein's thinking about space, time and matter led him to a quite different interpretation (or misinterpretation) of Mach. This chapter also argues that, despite the misinterpretation, general relativity is perfectly Machian (in a sense that is the analogue for field theories of Poincaré's criterion), and that this shows general relativity to be ‘timeless’ in a certain sense, which is suggestive of quantum gravity.

Keywords: absolute space; absolute time; Mach; quantum gravity; general relativity; Albert Einstein

Chapter.  12240 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

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