Before Einstein

«…the relativity theory, by the way, is much older than its present proponents. It was advanced over 200 years ago by my illustrious countryman Ruđer Bošković, the great philosopher, who, not withstanding other and multifold obligations, wrote a thousand volumes of excellent literature on a vast variety of subjects. Bošković dealt with relativity, including the so-called time-space continuum …»

– Nikola Tesla, unpublished interview, 1936, quoted in “Nikola Tesla: Lecture Before the New York Academy of Sciences – 6 April 1897”, reconstructed by L. Anderson, 1994.

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«Of Space and Time

1. I do not admit perfectly continuous extension of matter; I consider it to be made up of perfectly indivisible points, which are non-extended, set apart from one another by a certain interval, & connected together by certain forces that are at one time attractive & at another time repulsive, depending on their mutual distances. Here it is to be seen, with this theory, what is my idea of space, & of time, how each of them may be said to be continuous, infinitely divisible, eternal, immense, immovable, necessary, although neither of them, as I have shown in a note, have a real nature of their own that is possessed of these properties.

2. First of all it seems clear to me that not only those who admit absolute space, which is of its own real nature continuous, eternal & immense, but also those who, following Leibniz & Descartes, consider space itself to be the relative arrangement which exists amongst necessity things that exist, over and above these existent things ; it seems to me, I say, that all must admit some mode of existence that is real & not purely imaginary ; through which they are where they are, & this mode exists when they are there, & perishes when they cease to be where they were. For, such a space being admitted in the first theory, if the fact that there is some thing in that part of space depends on the thing & space alone ; then, as often as the thing existed, & space, we should have the fact that that thing was situated in that part of space. Again, if, in the second theory, the arrangement, which constitutes position, depended only on the things themselves that have that arrangement ; then, as often as these things should exist, they would exist in the same arrangement, & could never change their position. What I have said with regard to space applies equally to time. (…)

19. Hence it follows that, if the whole Universe within our sight were moved by a parallel motion in any direction, & at the same time rotated through any angle, we could never be aware of the motion or the rotation. Similarly, if the whole region containing the room in which we are, the plains & the hills, were simultaneously turned round by some approximately common motion of the Earth, we should not be aware of such a motion; for practically the same ideas would be excited in the mind. Moreover, it might be the case that the whole Universe within our sight should daily contract or expand, while the scale of forces contracted or expanded in the same ratio; if such a thing did happen, there would be no change of ideas in our mind, & so we should have no feeling that such a change was taking place.

20. When either objects external to us, or our organs change their modes of existence in such a way that that first equality or similitude does not remain constant, then indeed the ideas are altered, & there is a feeling of change; but the ideas are the same exactly, whether the external objects suffer the change, or our organs, or both of them unequally. In every case our ideas refer to the difference between the new state & the old, & not to the absolute change, which does not come within the scope of our senses. Thus, whether the stars move round the Earth, or the Earth & ourselves move in the opposite direction round them, the ideas are the same, & there is the same sensation. We can never perceive absolute changes; we can only perceive the difference from the former configuration that has arisen. Further, when there is nothing at hand to warn us as to the change of our organs, then indeed we shall count ourselves to have been unmoved, owing to a general prejudice for counting as nothing those things that are nothing in our mind; for we cannot know of this change, & we attribute the whole of the change to objects situated outside of ourselves. In such manner any one would be mistaken in thinking, when on board ship, that he himself was motionless, while the shore, the hills & even the sea were in motion.»

Ruder Boscovic (1711-1787), “Theoria Philosophiae Naturalis“, pp. 393-409.

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