Davenport: Relation to Relativity

Frank Neufeld // Western News

Dear Professor Christopher J Smeenk,

I greatly enjoyed your short piece in Western News, Empty out the drawer: Following Einstein’s path to General Relativity, and those of your colleagues, in the section last month which marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein’s papers on General Relativity (Of Time, Space and The Mind, Nov. 19).

Those articles brought back warm memories of my Dad, who passed on his love of mathematics to me. He was an engineer and enjoyed mathematical puzzles. I asked him once what would happen if I travelled to the end of the universe – if there was a wall, what would be on the other side? His answer involved Einstein and Relativity.

I am sure I didn’t understand a word of it, but it created a lifelong interest for me.

I remember my first reading of Robert March’s Physics for Poets (still on my shelf) and wondering at Einstein’s genius. I grew up in New Jersey, about 40 miles from Princeton where he lived until his death in 1955.

A second reason for enjoying those articles is also about memories, that of Joe Rotman, whose name honours the institute you direct. I came to know Joe over a number of years, when I visited him in his Toronto office. Joe appealed to me as a man of great devotion to the life of the mind. He was equally passionate about the sciences and the humanities, which are wonderfully united in the institute he created.

I know he would be very proud of the tribute to Einstein you and your colleagues carried out in Western News. He would especially have liked the way your work reaches out to the general public and informs non-specialists like me, which carries on a long tradition in Western’s Department of Philosophy. I recall attending a fascinating public lecture on relativity by Robert DiSalle one evening in downtown London.

And thank you for the holiday reading tip: I am having a ball with John Norton’s online book, Einstein for Everyone.  

With best wishes for continued success at the Rotman Institute of Philosophy,

Paul Davenport
Former President, Western University