The Relativity of Discovery: Hilbert's First Note on the Foundations of Physics
Abstract
Hilbert's paper on ``The Foundations of Physics (First Communication),'' is now primarily known for its parallel publication of essentially the same gravitational field equations of general relativity which Einstein published in a note on ``The Field Equations of Gravitation,'' five days later, on November 25, 1915. An intense correspondence between Hilbert and Einstein in the crucial month of November 1915, furthermore, confronts the historian with a case of parallel research and with the associated problem of reconstructing the interaction between Hilbert and Einstein at that time. Previous assessments of these issues have recently been challenged by Leo Corry, Jürgen Renn, and John Stachel who draw attention to a hitherto unnoticed first set of proofs for Hilbert's note. These proofs bear a printer's stamp of December 6 and display substantial differences to the published version. By focussing on the consequences of these findings for the reconstruction of Einstein's path towards general relativity, a number of questions about Hilbert's role in the episode, however, are left open. To what extent did Hilbert react to Einstein? What were Hilbert's research concerns in his note, and how did they come to overlap with Einstein's to some extent in the fall of 1915? How did Hilbert and Einstein regard each other and their concurrent activities at the time? What did Hilbert hope to achieve, and what, after all, did he achieve? With these questions in mind I discuss in this paper Hilbert's first note on the ``Foundations of Physics,'' its prehistory and characteristic features, and, for heuristic purposes, I do so largely from Hilbert's perspective.
 Publication:

arXiv eprints
 Pub Date:
 November 1998
 arXiv:
 arXiv:physics/9811050
 Bibcode:
 1998physics..11050S
 Keywords:

 Physics  History of Physics;
 General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology
 EPrint:
 65pp.LaTeX