Saturday, March 23, 2013

501 and 502: Einstein and Eddington

We've seen the first half of this film. Because of the blood drive (thanks for participating!!), we're scheduling the second half for the second week of April--IF we have a class that week. In the meantime, here are synopsis, discussion questions, and the full film itself. Feel free to make comments.

UPDATE: We've now seen both halves of the film.
The main plot:
Arthur Eddington, newly-appointed chief astronomer at Cambridge University, is expected to defend Isaac Newton's theories, which are believed to be a complete explanation for the mechanics of the universe. An anomaly in Mercury's orbit leads Eddington to look to physicist Albert Einstein for an alternative explanation, based on their mutual interest in gravity. Their correspondence leads to Eddington's idea for an expedition to West Africa, where observations during a solar eclipse in 1919 might result in Newton's vindication--or his dethronement in favor of Einstein's radical new ideas.

Subplots:
Most of the film takes place during World War I. Eddington is under pressure to submit to wartime hyper-patriotism, which included prejudices against Germans (even German scientists) and against conscientious objectors (отказники по убеждениям; he is a Quaker). Likewise, Einstein is under equivalent pressures in Germany, and is shocked to see his scientific colleagues participating in weapons development and testing. 

Eddington's dearest friend William Marston dies in battle; this death and the massive battle deaths generally cause a crisis of faith for Eddington, much to the concern of his sister and housekeeper Winnifred.

When German physicist Max Planck invites Einstein to leave his professorship in Zurich and return to Germany, Einstein's marriage to Mileva Marić is already under strain. In Berlin, Einstein falls in love with his cousin Elsa Löwenthal; they get married in 1919, a few months after Einstein's and Marić's divorce.

Discussion questions:
  1. What are the men hauling up the mountain in West Africa, and why?
  2. What did Arthur Eddington’s and William Marston’s opponents advise Eddington to do at the end of the tennis match? What does Winnifred advise him to tell Marston?
  3. According to Sir Oliver Lodge, what is Eddington’s new job? Why was the committee a bit concerned about Eddington’s suitability? Why was Eddington the best man for the job, in Lodge’s mind?
  4. Why is Mileva Einstein upset with her husband just before Max Planck comes to visit? What is Planck’s offer to Einstein, and what might Einstein have to sacrifice?
  5. According to Isaac Newton, what is the force that orders everything in the universe? How did Newton reconcile himself to the invisibility of this force?
  6. In his conversation with the “fat industrialist,” Max Planck explains what Einstein offers Germany. What is it?
  7. Eddington presents a summary of Einstein’s thought up to 1905. What, according to the seminar participants, are some of the weaknesses in Einstein’s theory of time? What did Eddington not tell the seminar participants?
  8. After the meeting in which Eddington assures the Mullers that they are welcome, we see an angry crowd outside. Why are they angry?
  9. What document does Einstein refuse to sign?
  10. Oliver Lodge warns Eddington that “consorting with the enemy”—even with the scientists of “barbaric” Germany—is a treasonable offense. Does the film show the relationships between British scientists and the war effort?
  11. Why is Mercury a problem for Newton’s theory? Why does Eddington decide to write to Einstein? What is Einstein’s reaction to Eddington’s letter?
  12. When Einstein bursts into the Common Room, why is he so angry? At the same time, Eddington is also devastated—why?
  13. What does Einstein want, according to Eddington at the meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society? How does Lodge counter Eddington’s question about Mercury?
  14. Why was Einstein not allowed to enter the gates at the University?
  15. What advantage does a solar eclipse give in providing an opportunity to test Einstein’s theory?
  16. As the war ends, Eddington is aghast at the loss of life. As Winnifred leaves on a Quaker relief team to Germany, she’s worried about her brother. Why?
  17. How long did Eddington and Dyson have to take their photos of the Sun and the stars made visible by the eclipse?
  18. What might Winnifred be thinking from her balcony vantage point during Eddington’s presentation of the photographic results?
  19. Why have reporters gathered outside Einstein’s home?
Oh leave the Wise our measures to collate
One thing at least is certain, light has weight
One thing is certain and the rest debate
Light rays, when near the Sun, do not go straight.

--Arthur Eddington
Here's the film itself:

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