Might have Minkowski discovered the cause of gravitation before Einstein?
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There are two reasons for asking such an apparently unanswerable question. First, Max Born's recollections of what Minkowski had told him about his research on the physical meaning of the Lorentz transformations and the fact that Minkowski had created the full-blown four-dimensional mathematical formalism of spacetime physics before the end of 1907 (which could have been highly improbable if Minkowski had not been developing his own ideas), both indicate that Minkowski might have arrived at the notion of spacetime independently of Poincare (who saw it as nothing more than a mathematical space) and at a deeper understanding of the basic ideas of special relativity (which Einstein merely postulated) independently of Einstein. So, had he lived longer, Minkowski might have employed successfully his program of regarding four-dimensional physics as spacetime geometry to gravitation as well. Moreover, Hilbert (Minkowski's closest colleague and friend) had derived the equations of general relativity simultaneously with Einstein. Second, even if Einstein had arrived at what is today called Einstein's general relativity before Minkowski, Minkowski would have certainly reformulated it in terms of his program of geometrizing physics and might have represented gravitation fully as the manifestation of the non-Euclidean geometry of spacetime (Einstein regarded the geometrical representation of gravitation as pure mathematics) exactly like he reformulated Einstein's special relativity in terms of spacetime. [NOTE: The text of two explanations (on the reality of spacetime and on the status of gravitational energy) was taken from my previous paper "Is Gravitation Interaction or just Curved-Spacetime Geometry?" because those explanations had to be repeated in the present paper anyway.]