On page 326 of his 2008 book, Jeremy Gray writes matter-of-factly that Albert Einstein "found he got a better hearing from Hilbert and Klein in Göttingen than he did from his colleagues in Berlin". What is the background that would explain such a difference of attitude toward Einstein's work?

  • $\begingroup$ Hilbert's closest friend was Minkowski. $\endgroup$
    – user2255
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ I know that. And therefore what? @FranzLemmermeyer $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ Minkowski had been interested in Einstein's work almost from the beginning (space time etc.). You know that too. So why do you ask? $\endgroup$
    – user2255
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ @FranzLemmermeyer, I don't think the friendship between Hilbert and Minkowski explains everything. For one thing, Minkowski may have had friendly relations with leading faculty at Berlin as far as I know. If friendship is the sole explanation then one would have to explain why those possible friends were not more interested in Einstein's theory. Do you have any information in this direction? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 12:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think Gray refers to the the reception of the general relativity theory in 1915, when Minkowski was already dead. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 14:09

1 Answer 1


There were a number of chemists in the Prussian Academy of Sciences, most notably Nernst and Fischer. They had hoped that Einstein would engage in atomic theory and bring about a better understanding of chemical processes. However, according to Jürgen Neffe's Einstein biography, nothing came of it. A new theory of gravitation was the least thing they were interested in. Quite contrary to David Hilbert, who from 1912 on worked on a unified theory of gravitation and electromagnetism: http://www.tau.ac.il/~corry/publications/articles/pdf/mie.pdf

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, that's helpful. Do you have the impression that Gray is referring to reception from chemists rather than mathematicians? From having read his book I thought perhaps the mathematicians, but maybe you feel differently. Which department was Einstein in anyway? Was there a notion of "department" as there is today? the page you linked in Neffe's book is not accessible from where I am. What does he say exactly? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ Upon a second try I was able to access the page. It says there that he was head of institute of theoretical physics. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, Einstein was made the head of the newly founded Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for theoretical physics, which consisted of just him and a secretary. In the 1920s Max von Laue became the second member, plus a number of collaborators, of whom Lanczos and Müntz may be the most well known. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ So probably Gray is not referring to the reception at the hand of the chemists :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ I think that the Berlin mathematicians of that time (Schwarz, Frobenius and Schottky) were fundamentally disinterested in physics, as opposed to Klein and Hilbert. Of the physicists, maybe Planck was the only one who could follow Einstein's reasonings. Another academy member was the astronomer Schwarzschild who was on the eastern front in 1915, where he famously calculated the Schwarzschild radius. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 14:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.