Near the beginning of this book, Dr. Firk gives the following long quote from Einstein:
...the concepts and fundamental principles which
underlie a theoretical system of physics are free inventions of the human
intellect, which cannot be justified either by the nature of that intellect or in
any other fashion a priori. If, then, it is true that the
axiomatic basis of theoretical physics cannot be extracted from experience but
must be freely invented, can we ever hope to find the right way? ... Can we
hope to be guided safely by experience at all when there exist theories (such
as Classical (Newtonian) Mechanics) which to a large extent do justice to
experience, without getting to the root of the matter? I answer without
hesitation that there is, in my opinion, a right way, and that we are capable of
finding it. Experience remains, of course, the sole
criterion of the physical utility of a mathematical construction. But the
creative principle resides in Mathematics. ... I hold it true that pure thought
can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed.
This is a misleading use of the quote, and a poor way to start off a book intended for a general audience. First, Firk fails to note that Einstein's attitude was, and still is, far outside the mainstream of physics. Firk is also being misleading by removing the quote from its historical context and presenting it to laypeople who don't know the history; Einstein invented relativity because he was unsatisfied with the then-standard description of light as an electromagnetic wave, which had been derived entirely from experiments.
This book follows the same philosophy and order of topics as Firk's much more mathematical book Essential Physics: relativity is introduced before Newton's laws, and is initially justified based on a metaphysical argument about the symmetry of space and time that bears no resemblance to Einstein's reasons for inventing it, and makes no reference to observable reality.
For the reader who wants a nonmathematical, free introduction to relativity, I'd suggest simply reading Einstein's own popularization of his work, titled Relativity, which is now in the public domain, and available on the web. It covers much of the same ground, at the same level, and without making the same mistakes.
Disclaimer: I knew Dr. Firk, although not well, when I was a graduate student at Yale.
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