The Unified Field: an unfulfilled aspiration

Texts by Dr. Antonio Moreno González

In Max Born's (1882 - 1970) comments on the letter he wrote to Einstein from Gottingen (7/4/1923), he says: "The rumours about Einstein's new research to try to merge his own theory on the gravitational field with Maxwell's electromagnetic field proved to be true. It was at this juncture that he began his attempts, often repetitive but ultimately futile, to create a unified field theory". Einstein saw this attempt as "a compilation of all the forces of nature, born out of the theory of relativity".

He hoped that the "physics of the future" would be a combination of classical physics--in the purest Newtonian sense and thus irrefutable in questions of physical reality and causal determinism--and quantum mechanics, which he considered to be not so much erroneous as incomplete.

Because of Einstein's popularity, the press was always out for news, the more unexpected or bizarre the better. In 1950, Einstein he expressed his irritation at this constant pestering in a note to Born: "The excesses of the press with regard to my latest work is very annoying". He was referring to the commotion American and European journalists had raised about a remark he had made about finally achieving a "unified field theory".

By the end of his life he had had to accept defeat in the challenge he had set himself, frustrated at not having achieved the scientific ideal he always pursued by applying the principle of economy his erstwhile mentor, Ernst Mach, had applied to nature. Einstein pursued the unification of physical laws, convinced that nature was ultimately ruled by the aesthetic of the simple and the universal. But he had to resign himself to "hoping that someone else" would achieve unification of the gravitational and electro-magnetic fields. He aspired to an extemporary goal, and this was not the time to achieve it; even today, when we know the other forces of nature, weak and strong, no one has achieved this great goal and physicists are not even sure how it can be. Doubting that unification as proposed by Einstein was possible, Pauli declared: "what God has put asunder, let no man join together".


Max Born (1882 - 1970)