Albert Einstein: A Mind Apart
In 1931, a jovial physics teacher and his wife accepted an invitation from a movie studio in California. They were asked to sit on a Model T, which was then hoisted by invisible wires, and with the help of some young crew member, made the little car bounce as though moving down a country road. The couple was requested not to look at the big screen behind them however, and they exchanged puzzled whispers about these strange proceedings.
Afterwards, they all trooped to the projection theater, and as Jack Warner Jr. wrote, “Suddenly, an ordinary scene became extraordinary. The white background vanished, and the Ford was flying over Niagara Falls, then swooping above Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, diving over the boardwalk at Atlantic City and zooming low through the grand Canyon, passing through a cloud and coming high above Warner Brothers in Burbank!”
They all turned expectantly at the professor. If the scene was extraordinary, so was he. Albert Einstein “let out a great peal of laughter.” He “waved his hands in delightful bewilderment. There was a gleam in his eyes and the bounce of sheer joy in his step…He shook his head again in wonder as we came out into the sunshine, and laughed like a happy schoolboy.”
Years Of Statelessness
Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Würtemberg, Germany. His interest in science was first kindled in 1884, when his electrochemical engineer father gave him a compass, puzzling the 5-yearl old on what made the needle point consistently northwards. Two years later, with a religious and musically inclined mother, he began school, violin lessons, and religious instructions on Judaism simultaneously
In 1891, he began studying Calculus, and three years later, at the age of 15, he chose to remain in Munich when his family moved to Milan. As a sign of protest against the government’s military aggression, he quit prep school and renounced his German citizenship. He failed the exams for electrical engineering at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), so he enrolled at Aarau, planning it as a detour to ETH, where he eventually graduated in 1900 and started teaching mathematics and physics at the Technical Highschool in WinterHur.
It was in 1901 when he ended his years of statelessness and was granted Swiss citizenship, at the same time avoiding being drafted for military service He held a temporary job teaching in Schaffhausen but he was beginning to despair of his repeated failures of securing an academic post. Fortunately, the father of one of his friends at ETH, Marcel Grossman, recommended him to the patent office in Berlin, and Einstein was hired as a Technical Expert 3rd Class in 1902, and in 1906, was promoted to Technical Expert 2nd Class.
Milestones In History
It was 1905, however, that proved to be his most auspicious year. His thesis, On A New Determination Of Molecular Dimensions, earned him a doctorate from the University of Zurich, and which he dedicated to Grossman. It was also during this time that he wrote three papers which would later galvanize the entire world and become milestones in history. The first was an examination of Max Planck’s theories on radiation from electromagnetic energy being directly proportional to the frequency of radiation – and their contradictions on Maxwell’s equations and the laws of thermodynamics. This eventually became the basis for the Photo-Electric Effect Theory
The second paper was essentially the fundamentals of his special Theory of Relativity, and the third was on Statistical Mechanics, also citing the extensive studies of Ludwig Boltzman and Josiah Gibbs.
Research On Gravitation
In 1908, after submission of his thesis Consequences For The Constitution Of Radiation Following From The Energy Distribution Law Of Black Bodies, he became a lecturer at the University of Bern. In 1909, he became professor of physics at the University of Zurich, and in 1911, was appointed full professor at Karl Ferdinand University in Prague.
In 1912, he returned to Zurich and finally achieved his dream: a chair at the ETH. He also started to refine his research on gravitation with help from the mathematician Grossman, expressing them in terms of Civita and Curbastro’s work on Tensor Calculus. In 1914, he accepted a research position and a chair in the Prussian Academy of Sciences at the University of Berlin, and in late 1915, published the definitive version of his famous theory.
Theory of Relativity
Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity was based on his reinterpretation of the accepted principle of relativity, where the laws of physics have the same form in any given frame of reference. His theory contended that the speed of light remained constant, as reflected in Maxwell’s principle, but that there was no such thing as ‘empty space’ in the sense that physical objects are extended and connected spatially. According to meta-physicist Geoff Haselhurst, Ph.D., “The physical reality of space is represented by a field whose components are continuous functions of four independent variables – the (4) coordinates of space and time.” The idea that physical reality was indistinguishable from a continuous field raised questions on the fundamental concepts of motion and particles. Therefore, a particle, in Einstein’s theory, can only exist as a limited area in space where the density of energy, or field strength, is highest.
Einstein himself summarized his theory in one sentence, “Time and Space and Gravitation have no separate existence from Matter.” Hence, the equation E = mc2 (Energy is equal to Mass multiplied by the Speed of Light squared).
His theory made significant contributions to the field of Quantum Mechanics, and also extended to the acceleration phenomenon. Also known as the Principle of Equivalence, it held that gravitational acceleration was indistinguishable from acceleration though mechanistic factors. In other words, inertial mass was identical to gravitational mass.
To prove his equation, he had hypothesized in 1911 that a ray of light from a distant star would appear to be slightly bent towards the sun as it passed it’s gravitational field. British eclipse expeditions in 1919 confirmed this, and Einstein was suddenly catapulted into the spotlight of international superstardom. On November 7 1919, the London Times bannered, “REVOLUTION IN SCIENCE – NEW THEORY OF THE UNIVERSE – NEWTONIAN IDEAS OVERTHROWN.”
A Deep Moral Sense
In 1920, Einstein’s lectures were repeatedly disrupted by demonstrations brought about by the insidious rise of the anti-Semitic madness in Germany. According to the Man of the Century feature of Time, “He had a deep moral sense. At the height of World War 1, he risked the Kaiser’s wrath by signing an anti-War petition, one of only four scientists in Germany to do so.”
Undaunted, he defiantly went to the United States for the first time the following year to help raise funds for the construction of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and was surprised when he was awarded the Barnard Medal.
The Photo-Electric Effect
In 1921, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his 1905 paper on the Photo-Electric Effect. Simply stated, a newly polished, negatively charged material with a short wavelength loses it’s charge upon exposure to ultraviolet light. This has baffled the scientific community: the photo- electric phenomenon only appeared under a certain level of wavelength specific to the given material – though not in pronounced wavelengths despite intensive exposure.
It was Einstein who solved the puzzle. “Light is made up of photons, the energy of which is proportional to the frequency of the light. Depending on the material, a specific energy is required to remove an electron from the surface of the solid body, or work function. If the photon’s energy level is higher, the electron will be emitted. This was illustrated by his equation E kin = hf – W, where is Ekin is the maximum kinetic energy of an emitted electron, h is the Planck constant (6.626 x 10 –34 Js), f is the frequency, and W is the work function.
True Intellectual Superiority
Proving his self-description as a “Jew with liberal international convictions,” he made numerous lectures in various parts of the world, including Paris in 1922 and Palestine in 1923. It was in 1924 when he published his last major scientific dissertation on the association of waves with matter. In 1925, he went to South America, later receiving the Copley Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, and in 1926, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.
In the Solvay Conference of 1927, he showed true intellectual superiority in a debate with a panel comprised by Bohr, Planck, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Dirac. Einstein never forwarded a paper and “said hardly anything beyond presenting a very simple objection to the probability interpretation…Then he fell back into silence.”
In 1928, Einstein suffered physical collapse due to over-exhaustion, but quickly recovered so that by 1930, he was back in the U.S. again. His third visit in 1932 came with an offer from Princeton University. He took it and never returned to Germany, for, barely a few weeks after, Adolf Hitler had risen to power.
It was not without irony that he mused on his hardships of 1901 of obtaining a university position, with offers in 1933 from Oxford, Glasgow, Brussels, Jerusalem, Leiden, Madrid, Paris and Zurich. In 1940, he became an American citizen, and in 1944, as a testament to his kinship with humanity, he had handwritten his 1905 paper on special relativity and put it up for auction as his contribution to the war effort. Originally sold for $6M, today the manuscript is in the Library of Congress.
In 1949, he became seriously ill, and shortly after, drew up his will, with his scientific papers to be bequeathed to the Hebrew University. Another significant event was about to take place. In 1952, after the death of President David Ben-Gurion, the government of Israel extended to him an unprecedented offer: the position of second president. He declined however, and a week before his death, signed his last letter. It was to Bertrand Russell, where he expressed his desire to have his name on a manifesto addressed to all nations to destroy all their nuclear weapons.
In another letter he had written, “How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us here for a brief sojourn…But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that exists for other people.” Einstein death came on April 18 1855 at Princeton New Jersey. That same day, after the pathologist stole his brain, his remains were cremated at Trenton at 4PM, and his ashes was scattered at a secret location.
A Sense Of Distance
Albert Einstein’s rightful place in history is deeply imbedded like the Rock of Gibraltar. In our collective human pilgrimage for knowledge, he has become a beacon lighting our quest. But who was the real Albert Einstein? How does one approximate the personhood of such a beautiful mind? In his own words, “My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a ‘lone traveler’ and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart. In the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude.” The most decent way to celebrate the life of one who had shifted our perspective of the universe is to apply to our own lives the insights gleaned from his enigmatic brilliance.
His political ideal was democracy. He wrote, “An autocratic system of coercion soon degenerates. Force attracts men of low morality. In broader sense, “The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the political state, but the creative, sentient individual, the personality. It alone creates the noble and the sublime, while the herd as such remains dull in thought and dull in feeling.”
A champion of intellectual liberty, his life was marked by his struggles against convention and his intense animosity towards the “worst outcrop of herd life: the military system.” World peace and harmony can never exist side by side with “heroism on command, senseless violence and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by name of patriotism – how passionately I hate them!”
Cradle of True Art
His search for the hidden meanings of the universe had taken him to a higher level. “I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves…The ideals that have lighted my way…have been Kindness, Beauty and Truth.” Distaste for trivialities led him to declare, “The trite objects of human efforts – possessions, outward success, luxury – have always seemed to me contemptible.”
Probably the most unforgettable legacy of Einstein is the injunction to never lose that sense of wonder in our lives. “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. The experience of mystery is the wellspring of religion, the “knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate…It is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity.”