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EINSTEIN, Albert (1879-1955). Autograph letter signed ('Albert') to Michele Besso, [Princeton], 29 July [1953].
EINSTEIN, Albert (1879-1955). Autograph letter signed ('Albert') to Michele Besso, [Princeton], 29 July [1953].
EINSTEIN, Albert (1879-1955). Autograph letter signed ('Albert') to Michele Besso, [Princeton], 29 July [1953].
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EINSTEIN, Albert (1879-1955). Autograph letter signed ('Albert') to Michele Besso, [Princeton], 29 July [1953].

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EINSTEIN, Albert (1879-1955). Autograph letter signed ('Albert') to Michele Besso, [Princeton], 29 July [1953].

In German, two pages, 278 x 214mm. Envelope. Provenance: by descent from Michele Besso.

On 'time's arrow'.

Besso's last letter has seen him venturing onto what Einstein terms 'black ice', in terms of physics at least: 'This is the question of where the arrow comes from, to which physical time appears to be attached'. Besso has connected explanations of this 'arrow-like' behaviour with the inability of the general theory of relativity to integrate quantum physics. 'But the whole problem with explaining time's arrow has absolutely nothing to do with the relativity problem. Picture the Brownian motion of a particle which has been cinematographically recorded with the images preserved exactly in chronological order ...; only it is not indicated whether the right chronological ordering is from A to Z or from Z to A. Even the smartest person would be unable to detect time's arrow in the whole thing. Conclusion: there is absolutely no "time's arrow" in what happens in thermodynamic equilibrium'. Einstein points out that in terms of the physics, Brownian motion and diffusion are identical, except that in the case of diffusion there are certain instances in which time's arrow does appear, even if these are – 'sub specie aeternitatis' – extremely improbable.

'I think that it is the same in all cases, i.e. that time's arrow is absolutely bound to thermodynamic conditions. // If the fundamental series of events [of the universe] depended on time's arrow, then the appearance of a thermodynamic equilibrium would be absolutely incomprehensible'. Statistical quantum mechanics also fulfills this 'arrow-lessness' of the elementary processes; relativity could not do otherwise. In fact, Besso has himself explained the origins of his mistake: 'You cannot get used to the idea that subjective time with its "Now" has no objective meaning'. Einstein goes on to compare current cosmological theories with the biblical creation narrative, observing that the former are scarcely more 'scientific' than the latter. But he will not allow the comparison to extend to the theoretical sciences, even if taken as a whole they produce rather a chaotic effect, and 'there are as far as I know no serious efforts being made to represent in a unified way all of the essential elements'. He concludes with a critique of Arthur Eddington (the British physicist who in 1919 had provided a key experimental confirmation of general relativity), whom he considers 'brilliant but uncritical': 'With his philosophy he reminds me of a prima ballerina who does not herself believe in the legitimacy of her elegant leaps'.

Published (in French and German) in Pierre Speziali (ed. and tr.). Albert Einstein. Michele Besso. Correspondance 1903-1955. Paris: Hermann, 1972. No. 197.

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