Ernst Mach

Ernst Waldfried Josef Wenzel Mach ( born February 18, 1838 in Chirlitz - Turas, Empire Austria, † February 19, 1916 in Vaterstetten, Deutsches Kaiserreich ) was an Austrian physicist, philosopher and philosopher of science.

Today, he is primarily known for the eponymous Mach number, which describes the speed in proportion to the speed of sound. Besides physics, he was primarily involved with philosophy. He is considered one of the most influential or even as co-founder of Empiriocriticism. In psychology, he made himself as a pioneer of Gestalt psychology and Gestalt theory a name.

  • 2.1 Doppler effect
  • 2.2 "Working on symptoms in flying projectiles "
  • 2.3 Criticism of the Newtonian mechanics
  • 2.4 sense psychology and philosophy
  • 3.1 reception
  • 3.2 Honours

Life and work

Background and education

Mach's family belonged to the German-speaking minority in Moravia. His father Johann Mach was only tutor and after the purchase of an item in Untersiebenbrunn Bauer. Other ancestors of the paternal line were small farmers and weavers. The maternal line consisted of doctors, lawyers and officers.

Ernst Mach was born in 1838 in Chirlitz ( Chrlice ) in Moravia and baptized in the neighboring Turas ( Tuřany ). The education of Ernst Mach consisted of the lessons by his parents until 15 years of age substantially. Also in the farm work he was instructed by them. He also completed an apprenticeship in carpentry. After he had ever visited before briefly Stiftsgymnasium Seitenstettengasse, he went from 1853 back to Moravia to the Kremsier ( Kroměříž / ) Piaristen High School where he acquired after two years, the Matura.

Mach studied from autumn 1855 Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Vienna and graduated in 1860 with a dissertation entitled On electric charges and induction at Andreas von Ettingshausen from.


On August 1, 1867 Ernst Mach in Graz married seven years younger orphan Marussig Louise, with whom he had five children: Louis ( 1868-1951 ), Caroline ( 1873-1965, moved to her son in the U.S.), Heinrich ( 1874 -1894, studied chemistry ), Felix ( 1879-1933, painter) and Victor (* 1881).

Academic career

1861 Habilitation Mach and then worked as a lecturer. He applied for the professorship of his diseased doctor father who was not awarded to him. Mach Then took a job as a mathematics professor at the University of Graz as he time and again stayed at the now Good to Veliki Slatnik at Novo Mesto in Lower Styria in present-day Slovenia drawn parents where Father John also ran sericulture. He remained in Graz until the summer of 1867, where he worked as a professor of physics from 1866. In the winter semester 1867/68 he received the call of the Karl- Ferdinand University in Prague, where he was also director of the Institute of Physics at the same time. He remained there until the year 1895. 1872 / 73 he was Dean of the Faculty of Arts and in 1879/ 80 as well as 1883/84 even Rector of the University. This period also saw the division of the University (1882 ), in their environment Mach took a liberal attitude was, although he belonged to the united front of the German minority in Bohemia and Moravia. Also, he used just at this time ostentatiously a friendly correspondence with the Czech physicist August Seydler ( 1849-1891 ). His political attitude and mindset delayed his appointment at the University of Vienna for several years. He was not called as a physicist, but to the newly created Chair of " philosophy, especially history of the inductive sciences." Here Mach had a very productive phase, in which he published lectures and earlier books revised and much new.

Political Views

As was already evident in the disputes over the division of the university, Mach had inherited his parents house is a deeply liberal and humanistic attitude. Later, he turned entirely uncommon for his stand and the time of social democracy to and was a good friend of the president of the Austrian Social Democrats, Viktor Adler. Became famous his comment " The Viennese have chosen as the fool. All the priests have won against the Social Democrats. "Which he gave on the occasion of the Austrian Parliament elections in 1897 by himself. He also had an agnostic to be designated as atheistic or better mental attitude.


End of the 19th century, the " workaholic " Ernst Mach began to subside after a stroke in the summer of 1898. Although he was never a supporter of the theory of relativity, which (also because sensually experienced directly ) seemed too exotic, but its now almost unknown, very great influence in science and the public it is thanks to that, particularly in Vienna and Austria many and important research projects were carried out. The electron and quantum were ideal for Mach, as measurable and dimensioned objects of physical research, which so filled the descriptive and reductionist claim Mach to the physics sense. In 1913 he moved to his eldest son, Louis Vaterstetten near Munich. He died there on 19 February 1916 an obituary Einstein summed up 1916 in the journal Physical Mach mindset of that time together. :

" Mach was his intellectual development by not a philosopher, the science selected as an object of his speculations, but a broad range of interests, industrious naturalist, the research also outlying from the focus of general interest questions of detail clearly made ​​pleasure. "

The urn Ernst Mach was buried at the request of surviving in a common grave at the Munich North Cemetery. In his memorial stone between the southern and northern arcades, the burial ground 94, is the ashes of his son Louis ( 1868-1951 ).

Scientific achievements

Besides physics, Mach also conducted research in psychology (or more precisely the sense psychology), philosophy, methodology and history. Most of his works were written in his Prague time, including his most significant works on the physics and sense psychology. He also began here to deal with questions of epistemology and the history of physics. Important research areas Mach were:

Doppler effect

Already directly after his studies confirmed Take the Doppler effect experimentally, thus ending the debate about the correctness of the theory. In this context, he suggested Kirchhoff right to determine the relative motion of the fixed stars spectroscopically. However seeped these efforts and were only decades later implemented by Pickering and bird.

"Working on symptoms in flying projectiles "

In the summer of 1886, Mach was the first time to make by means of the Toepler Schlieren photography and developed by Momentografie compression cone visible from the air against projectiles. This Mach experimentally confirmed theories of Balli sufferer Louis Melsens. He experimented in connection with larger calibers, however, this is no longer in his institute, but at the firing Krupp and the Imperial and Royal Naval Academy of Fiume. To improve the measurement he developed together with his son Ludwig Mach, who served as his assistant, the Mach- Zehnder interferometer. From the data thus obtained Mach was able to show that the shock wave is compressed by up to 50 times. He also proved the existence of a tail shaft behind the projectile in addition to the bow wave ahead of the projectile. At the latest with the " reversal " of the experiment in 1889 /90 that is, by the idea of ​​using air to blow on a stationary projectile Mach created as the fundamentals of gas dynamics, which was then further developed by Ludwig Prandtl. The significance of these findings is reflected not least in the words still in use shear Mach cone, Mach number, Mach meters and Mach wave. The military aspects of such research distressed Mach, whereupon he pointed in many lectures.

Critique of Newtonian mechanics

Mach questioned intensively by the positivist and empiricist point of view, the foundations of Newtonian mechanics and came across questions that he was trying to solve by means of Mach's principle. In the course of many well-known books, the most well-known book emerged, including " The mechanics in their development " (1883 ). Here he talks, contrary to the spirit of the times, the mechanics of its universal validity and tries consistently due to the mechanics observations. So he formulated the law of inertia in his Mach 's principle to:

" Now, instead of a moving body to relate K to the space ( a coordinate system), we want to look directly at his behavior to the bodies of space through which that coordinate system can be determined alone. From each other very distant bodies which move in relation to other distant downer body with constant direction and speed, change their mutual distance proportional to the time [ ... ] show just made observations that we have not needed the law of inertia to a particular absolute space to relate. Rather, we recognize that both those masses which carry on the ordinary mode of expression forces on each other, as well as those that exert none, stand to each other in quite similar acceleration relations, namely one can regard all masses as standing on their relationship. [ ... ] Although I also expect that astronomical observations are first make only very insignificant corrections necessary, so I consider it possible that the inertia set in its simple Newtonian form for us humans has only local and temporal significance. "

Mach's statements meant that some see him as a pioneer of general relativity. Einstein described himself initially as a "student " Mach, distanced himself but later from its philosophical views.

Sense psychology and philosophy

As an ardent follower of the Enlightenment and a staunch opponent of all forms of metaphysics Mach advocated a methodical economy of thought, by which he means the greatest possible economy in conceptual and speculative purposes. Knowledge of nature has its foundation in the experience - mediated either directly through sense impressions or measuring instruments. It is therefore to be regarded as an empiricist. Furthermore Mach seen as representatives of positivism. For Mach positivism essentially meant:

In psychology Mach profiled by the thesis that man always select them the most economical process of perception.

" All human actions and costumes is determined by the desire for self-preservation. The formation of the higher intellectual functions just those innate qualities and reflexes are replaced, allow the lower organisms, their existence. "

In the philosophy of science, he understood the sciences as a means to the world and the feelings of the people as simple as possible and to describe neutral. He also demanded as a model of a scientific reductionism without compromise. For this reason he saw as the true basis of an enlightened understanding of the world of physics and psychology. Theories are similar to psychological, only mathematically organized descriptions of nature. Discussions about the veracity of theories are therefore superfluous. But the benefit is relevant. Truth exists not for itself but as a temporary Discussion truth that comes by evolutionary laws into being: Only the strongest, so economical and empirically clearest ideas prevail.

Effect and aftereffect


The discussion of these ideas that were popular in the early 20th century and were often discussed, was carried out in different circles. Max Planck, for example, criticized his evolutionary theory of ideas as metaphysical speculation.

Mach was studied by Marxists such as Lenin, " Materialism and Empiriocriticism " the philosophical ideas of Mach underwent a fundamental critique in his work by claiming, inter alia, solipsistic implications of Mach's theory.

The book Lenin is not only a criticism of Alexander Bogdanov, Pavel Yushkevich, Vladimir Bazarov, Nikolai Valentinov and their philosophical teachers - Richard Avenarius and Mach - who had tried according to Lenin in their work to develop a more refined idealism, as a counterweight to the Marxist materialism. Lenin arrives in his book to the following conclusions against what he sees as the philosophical- theoretical revisionism of Avenarius and Mach:

The reception of Mach's contributions to the analysis of the sensations of honor by Christian rock led to the formulation of Gestalt theory. The Vienna Circle ( formerly Ernst Mach Society) with, inter alia, Rudolf Carnap, Kurt Gödel leaning next to Ludwig Wittgenstein on Mach. But writers such as Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler and Robert Musil - even on the Mach doctorate - and Albert Einstein also recognized its importance.


In 1919 ( 2nd District ) Mach square was named after him in Vienna Leopoldstadt; In 1960, the traffic area in Machstraße has been renamed.

In 1970, a lunar crater named after Ernst Mach ( Mach crater ) was.

Opened in 1972, Ernst-Mach -Gymnasium in hair, near his death place bears his name, and, since 2004, established in 1961, Ernst-Mach -Gymnasium Hürth, continue the Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed ​​Dynamics, Ernst- Mach- Institut (EMI ), Freiburg and Efringen churches.

The Austrian Academy of Sciences (AAS, ICT) has been held since 2003, the " ernst mach forum. sciences in a dialogue. " the Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts has awarded since 1996, the Ernst Mach Medal of Honor in physics.

Honorary Memberships

Ernst Mach was since 1885 an honorary member of the Prague university singers shaft " Bard" (now in Munich ), the former House Corporation of the University of Prague.