p. 153 of

quotes (but does not cite) Einstein saying that

without the discoveries of Lie, the Theory of Relativity would probably never have been born.

Did Einstein actually say this (or something similar)?

I can only find a few references to Sophus Lie in the Einstein Papers, and they are only in letters addressed to Einstein.


1 Answer 1


It is hard to prove that answer is negative, but I suspect that that's the case. That sentence looks familiar. In fact, in his book Relativity: The Special & the General Theory, Einstein wrote “Without it the general theory of relativity […] would perhaps have got no farther than its long clothes.” But here Einstein is talking about his former teacher Hermann Minkowski, not about Sophus Lie.

The only connection I can think of between the origin of the General Theory of Relativity and Lie's theory lies in the contribution of Emmy Noether. She created her theorems about how to derive conserved quantities from symmetries in the context of General Relativity and she had to use Lie's theory. But I don't think that that was enough to call Einstein's attention to it (although he seems to have been quite impressed by Emmy Noether's contribution).

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ There's no need to go through Noether. Minkowski's work (which Einstein was praising) is exactly the approach to relativity that would have not been possible without the work of Lie, as neatly explained, by example, in Freeman Dyson's famous "missed opportunities" projecteuclid.org/download/pdf_1/euclid.bams/1183533964 $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 19:01

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