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Obama vs. Einstein

UPDATE (2/7/10): It has been called to the attention of Pajamas Media that Obama may not be a full co-author of the article in question, but merely an "analytic and research assistant," and we are contacting the writer of  the piece below to verify this. In the meantime, read the original article by Laurence Tribe here.  More on the authorship question here. -- Ed.

According to the Washington Post, David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s senior advisor, said that the president worked with "[Harvard professor] Laurence Tribe on a paper on the legal implications of Einstein's theory of relativity.” I’ve read that paper, “The Curvature of Constitutional Space.” It’s complete nonsense. It shows no understanding of Einstein’s theory of relativity, or of the relationship between relativity theory and Newton’s theory.

I -- to use Obama’s favorite word -- do understand relativity theory. I was trained in relativity theory by the best. I was the post-doc of the late Princeton professor John A. Wheeler, who was himself the post-doc of Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr.  Wheeler’s most famous student was Nobel Prize Winner Richard Feynman. I was also the post-doc of the late Oxford professor Dennis Sciama, who was a student of Nobel Prize winner Paul Dirac. Sciama’s most famous student was Stephen Hawking.

The key thesis of the paper is contained in the opening sentences of its abstract: “Twentieth-century physics revolutionized our understanding of the physical world. Relativity theory replaced a view of the universe as made up of isolated objects acting upon one another at a distance with a model in which space itself was curved and changed by the presence and movement of objects. Quantum physics undermined the confidence of scientists in their ability to observe and understand a phenomenon without fundamentally altering it in the process.”

All of these sentences are completely wrong. In Newtonian theory, gravity is space-time curvature just as it is in general relativity. In fact, Einstein's general relativity is just a special case of Newtonian gravity theory incorporating the ether.  Quantum physics is also just a special case of Newtonian mechanics in its wave-particle formulation (called Hamilton-Jacobi theory) incorporating the very modest requirement that this formulation be mathematically consistent. Hamilton-Jacobi theory is deterministic, hence quantum mechanics is equally deterministic. There was absolutely nothing revolutionary about twentieth century physics. There has been no “paradigm shift” in physics. The magnificent intellectual edifice created by Isaac Newton stands unshaken.

The fact that Newtonian gravity is curvature just like Einsteinian gravity was established by the greatest geometer of the twentieth century, the French mathematician Elie Cartan, in the year 1922, before either Tribe or Obama were born. Cartan and Einstein corresponded about this mathematical fact, so Einstein -- and I, and the rest of the world’s relativity experts -- are aware of it, if not Obama and Tribe. A detailed mathematical proof that Newtonian gravity is curvature can be found in Gravitation, the co-authored by my teacher John A. Wheeler.