Einstein archives go online

Today ‘5000 searchable documents from the first 44 years of Einstein’s life’ will go online ‘free in their original German and in English translation. The letters, diaries and scientific papers represent the contents of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein from Princeton University Press, and cover the time up to Einstein’s Nobel Prize in physics for the photoelectric effect in 1921, and his long voyage to the Far East the following year.

More volumes will be added to the collection as they are printed.’

I read the above from an online science website two days ago, under the title ‘Albert Einstein archive reveals the genius, doubts and loves of scientist.’ It began with ‘Early note shows delight at birth of his daughter while later years show fame was beginning to be a trial.’ It quotes from a letter written by the 22-year-old Albert Einstein which ‘revealed his delight at fathering a daughter, Lieserl, with his sweetheart, former classmate and future wife, Mileva Marić.’ The letter ‘conveys Einstein’s excitement at hearing of his daughter’s birth at Marić’s family home in Serbia, but swiftly launches into questions about the new arrival’s health and appearance. “Is she healthy and does she already cry properly?” Einstein asked. “What kind of little eyes does she have? Whom of us two does she resemble more? Who is giving her milk? Is she hungry?”’

Only shows that scientists are just as human as any other, although the geniuses among them, like Einstein, seem to live most of the time in the clouds! Reminds me of our great maths teacher Robert d’Unienville at the Royal College Curepipe, whom we used to consider as a genius. One day when I was in Upper VI 3 he was teaching the expansion of series, and was writing on the long rectangular blackboard fixed on the wall. As he was doing so, his writing was slanting upwards as the right side of the equation got longer. Because he was such a gentle and understanding teacher, and we were treated as relatively mature at that stage, I ventured to interrupt him by asking, ‘Sir, at the rate you are going you will soon reach the sky!’

He turned round and, looking at me with a faint smile, he said: ‘Well, you know, we mathematicians are always up there in the clouds. Sometimes we do come down on earth to help our poor friends the physicists, chemists and… biologists!’ Of course the whole class laughed, because plus touché que ça tu meurs!

As I have had occasion to point out before, maths was never my forte, and I found physics too rather forbidding because it depended a lot on mathematical equations and calculations. Although my numerical and computational skills were limited, at some stage I did begin to realise and appreciate that the fundamental quest of physics – which was not the level at which we were taught at the college then – was the search for the ultimate reality of the universe, and as such is the ‘primary’ science of all branches of science. Being a science, it proceeds from an analysis of the external world which it expresses in mathematical language.

I found myself attracted to physics less as an exam subject – which was no longer of any relevance to me as I had already set course on medicine – than as that quest for the ultimate reality, that singular Truth of the universe, because this is also Hinduism’s quest. Only, the methodology is the exact opposite of science: whereas the latter proceeds from the external world which is observable to look for the underlying common ground, the rishis of Hinduism first plunge deep into the inner world through meditation: theirs is the ‘intuitive approach’ rather than the objective approach of science, of the physicist. Which is nevertheless equally fascinating, and anyone interested has only to delve into famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking’s (with colleague Mlodinow) The Grand Design. This search in Hinduism constitutes the philosophy of Vedanta, which has great appeal among all genuine seekers of truth across the world.

But to come back to Einstein: Our only inkling of him in HSC was his famous formula E = mc2, where E is energy, m is mass and c is the velocity of light. This formula expresses the equivalence of mass and energy; in layman’s term, that energy and mass are two side of the same coin.

However, we got a chance to learn a little more about Einstein when Mr Kishtoe, who taught physics at the Royal College Port Louis, was invited to deliver a talk on the great man by the Philosophical Society at RCC, which I attended. I still remember his opening words, to the effect that it would be impossible to give a real picture of Einstein and his work in the brief space of one hour, and he would try to give us a reasonable idea. My immediate thought was, ‘ONE HOUR! And he says it’s not enough!’ Now I know better.

Anyway, one thing leading to another, I have found myself probing Einstein’s ideas and opinions, looking for material which spares me from too much of equations and the like. Inevitably this has resulted in my collecting several books on the subject, starting early on in Kolkata and much later at the Boston Science Museum, including a sizeable biography by Isaacson which I received as a gift from my son.

The first book I bought was by a Russian author, B. Kuznetsov, published by Progress Publishers Moscow in 1965 and titled simply ‘Albert Einstein.’ A few extracts from the book will throw some light on the man and his quest.

‘The basic, dominant purpose of his life became cognition of the objective “extra-personal” world.’ ‘Cognition of the world is a process of approximation to the truth.’ One of the essays that was set to us in the General Paper class was ‘Scientific laws are but an approximation to the truth. Discuss.’ That is how, I believe, our learning and interests became so open and broad-based.

In his Autobiographical Notes, Einstein went on to describe ‘how the desire gradually grew in him to discover the rational laws of the universe.’ He proceeded from the consideration that ‘speculative reasoning, even if its logical structure is beyond reproach, cannot by itself unravel the laws of nature’ – and this is the stand that Vedanta had taken thousands of years earlier.

Kuznetsov observes, ‘we can say that Einstein did discover the new “tablets of the Law”, the new world equations, confirmed by experiment, which invalidated the old tablets, but it was not a case of bringing the law from Mount Sinai. On the contrary, he elevated principles discovered here on earth to the status of world equations.’ Further, ‘the disciples of founders of dogmatic doctrines are prone to elevate their masters to divine status. Einstein is not threatened with such a fate’ – he did say, though, that God does not play dice.’ But, continues Kuznetsov, ‘as he saw it, ratio, order, harmony are characteristics of the “extra-personal” world, which is independent of the conscience.’

It is the relativity theory for which Einstein is most known. Kuznetsov underlines that ‘relativity theory is more than just another milestone in the history of science. It has changed the very mode of thinking of men, it is a milestone in the history of man’s spiritual development.’ (italics added)

Relativity and spirituality? – and that too from a Soviet at the height of communism! Einstein’s conception of spirituality is perhaps contained in these words of his: ‘I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves… Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.’

However, it seems he died an unhappy man for not having resolved his metaphysical doubt. So I understood from a discussion we had with a lovely couple who came to attend the Mahakumabhishekam of the Chinmaya temple in Beau-Bassin about ten years ago. As disciples of Swami Pranava, Spiritual Head of the local Chinmaya Mission, they were practitioners of Vedanta, and both were highly placed professionals with a scientific background, based in the Netherlands where the husband Pieter came from. Maritz, his wife, was German. She is the one who, at one stage of our exchanges, said: ‘It’s a pity, he died unhappy. All he had to do was to make that little step beyond space-time,’ symbolizing it with a flip-over movement of her right thumb over the index finger, ‘but he could not do that.’

But I guess the great man must surely be happy in eternity now…

RN Gopee

25 Life Lessons from Albert Einstein

1. Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.

2. Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized.

3. Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.

4. If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.

5. A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.

6. Love is a better teacher than duty.

7. If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

8. No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

9. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

10. Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.

11. It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.

12. Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.

13. Force always attracts men of low morality.

14. Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler.

15. A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.

16. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

17. A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.

18. It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

19. Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.

20. Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.

21. Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

22. Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.

23. Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.

24. Information is not knowledge.

25. Never lose a holy curiosity.

 

 

* Published in print edition on 12 December 2014

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