"But One Must not Legalize the Mentioned Sin". Phenomenological vs. Dynamical Treatment of Rods and Clocks in Einstein's Thought

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Giovanelli, Marco
preprint description
The paper offers a historical overview of Einstein's oscillating attitude towards a "phenomenological" and "dynamical" treatment of rods and clocks in relativity theory. Contrary to what it has been usually claimed in recent literature, it is argued that this distinction should not be understood in the framework of opposition between principle and constructive theories. In particular Einstein does not seem to have plead for a "dynamical" explanation for the phenomenon rods contraction and clock dilation which was initially described only "kinematically". On the contrary textual evidence shows that, according to Einstein, a realistic microscopic model of rods and clocks was needed to account for the very existence of measuring devices of "identical construction" which always measure the same unit of time and the same unit of length. In fact, it will be shown that the empirical meaningfulness of both relativity theories depends on what, following Max Born, one might call the "principle of the physical identity of the units of measure". In the attempt to justify the validity of such principle, Einstein was forced by different interlocutors, in particular Hermann Weyl and Wolfgang Pauli, to deal with the genuine epistemological, rather then physical question whether a theory should be able or not to described the material devices that serve to its own verification