Einstein’s third major paper in 1905, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” contained what became known as the special theory of relativity. Since the time of the English mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, natural philosophers (as physicists and chemists were known) had been trying to understand the nature of matter and radiation, and how they interacted in some unified world picture. The position that mechanical laws are fundamental has become known as the mechanical world view, and the position that electrical laws are fundamental has become known as the electromagnetic world view. Neither approach, however, is capable of providing a consistent explanation for the way radiation (light, for example) and matter interact when viewed from different inertial frames of reference, that is, an interaction viewed simultaneously by an observer at rest and an observer moving at uniform speed.
In the spring of 1905, after considering these problems for ten years, Einstein realized that the crux of the problem lay not in a theory of matter but in a theory of measurement. At the heart of his special theory of relativity was the realization that all measurements of time and space depend on judgments as to whether two distant events occur simultaneously. This led him to develop a theory based on two postulates: the principle of relativity, that physical laws are the same in all inertial reference systems, and the principle of the invariance of the speed of light, that the speed of light in a vacuum is a universal constant. He was thus able to provide a consistent and correct description of physical events in different inertial frames of reference without making special assumptions about the nature of matter or radiation, or how they interact. Virtually no one understood
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