Albert Einstein 1879-1955
German-born American physicist and philosopher.
Einstein is generally acknowledged as the preeminent scientist of the twentieth century who challenged and disproved fundamental ideas concerning the physical universe. Specifically, Einstein's theory of relativity reconfigured notions of time, space, and matter that had been formulated by Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century. Ranked with Archimedes, Galileo Galilei, and Newton, Einstein is crucial for the ideas he contributed to science as well as those he helped abolish; there is not an area of intellectual life that has not been affected by his theories.
Born in Ulm, Germany, on March 14, 1879, Einstein was not an especially remarkable student; in fact, his parents, who ran a company that made and sold electrical equipment, even suspected that he was mentally retarded. In 1895 his family moved to Milan, Italy, leaving him behind to finish school. Instead, Einstein stopped attending school and independently engaged in studying mathematics and other scientific disciplines. In 1896 he was admitted to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. His subsequent job at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern left him time to continue scientific investigations of his own, which resulted in a series of papers, one of which was accepted as a doctoral dissertation at the University of Zurich in 1905. His discoveries proving the existence of molecules and light's dual nature—as a wave or a particle—were eclipsed by his Special Theory of Relativity. Einstein served as a professor of physics at universities in Zurich and Czechoslovakia. In 1914 he was appointed professor at the University of Berlin and director at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics. There he developed the General Theory of Relativity and adopted his lifelong pacifist position. Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921, in addition to many other awards. His pacifism and Zionism led to friction with the increasingly powerful National Socialists; he left Germany in 1933, settling in Princeton, New Jersey, where he taught at the Institute for Advanced Study until his retirement in 1945. With the advent of World War II, Einstein recognized the threat posed by Germany's hegemonic ambitions and advanced scientific knowledge, and actively encouraged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to develop the atomic bomb. Though he remained politically active for the last part of his life, much of it was given over to work on what he termed the grand unified theory of physics, a formulation that would define the properties of energy and matter. He was unable to achieve this goal before his death at 76 on April 18, 1955.
Because of the revolutionary nature of his scientific theories, Einstein became known beyond the sphere of science. Although many fellow scientists dismissed the Principle of Relativity when it was first published, by the time he published Über die spezielle und die allgemeine Relativitdtstheorie (Relativity, the Special and the General Theory: A Popular Exposition), the validity and importance of his work was recognized. By 1919, British astronomers had confirmed Einstein's prediction that gravity could bend light: pictures of a solar eclipse showed that the positions of star images changed in response to the gravitational effects of the sun. By the early 1930s, Einstein expanded his concerns beyond science, publishing such works as About Zionism, Cosmic Religion, with Other Opinions and Aphorisms and Why War?, which he wrote with Sigmund Freud. While Einstein was not directly involved in producing the atom bomb, his work was seminal to its development and he encouraged the bomb's use, tempering his support with the qualification that it should not be used on people. A committed pacifist, his Essays in Humanism and Ideas and Opinions reflect his determination to limit the development of nuclear arms. Later he chaired the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, which encouraged peaceful use of atomic energy.
Jamie Sayen has written that Einstein "came to play a critical role in the public life of his epoch as the preeminent moral figure of the Western world." Even with his stature as a spokesman for peace and humanism, he is primarily regarded as a scientist and a philosopher. Einstein once remarked: "Politics is for the present, but an equation is something for eternity." Nonetheless, Einstein's theories—particularly the idea of relativity—have influenced virtually every aspect of twentieth-century intellectual life, from scientific study to literary criticism.
Eine neue Bestimmung der Moleküldimensionen (nonfiction) 1905
"Entwurf einer verallgemeinerten Relativitdtstheorie une eine Theorie der Gravitation "[with Marcel Grossman] (essay) 1913
"Die Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitdtstheorie" [included in The Principle of Relativity, 1920] (essay) 1916
Über die spezielle und die allgemeine Relativitdtstheorie, gemeinverstdndlich [Relativity: The Special and the General Theory: A Popular Exposition] (nonfiction) 1917
The Principle of Relativity: Original Papers by A. Einstein and H. Minkowski (nonfiction) 1920
Äther und Relativitdtstheorie [included in Sidelights on Relativity, 1922] (lecture) 1920
Geometrie und Erfahrung (nonfiction) 1921
The Meaning of Relativity: Four Lectures Delivered at Princeton University (lectures) 1921
Sidelights on Relativity (nonfiction) 1922
Untersuchungen uber die Theorie der Brownschen Bewegungen [Investigation on the Theory of Brownian Movement] (nonfiction) 1922
Grundgedanken und Probleme der Relativitdtstheorie (nonfiction) 1923
About Zionism: Speeches and Letters (speeches and letters) 1930
Cosmic Religion, with Other Opinions and Aphorisms (philosophy and...
(The entire section is 325 words.)
SOURCE: "Einstein's Theory," in Essays in Science and Philosophy, Philosophical Library, 1947, pp. 332-42.
[A distinguished English mathematician, philosopher, and educator, Whitehead collaborated with Bertrand Russell on the latter's Principia Mathematica (1910-13), a three-volume treatise on the relationship of logic to mathematics that would eventually inspire the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in his ground-breaking studies. In the following essay, originally published in the Times Educational Supplement in 1920, Whitehead seeks to explain the major principles of Einstein's work.]
Einstein's work may be analysed into three factors—a principle, a procedure, and an explanation. This discovery of the principle and the procedure constitute an epoch in science. I venture, however, to think that the explanation is faulty, even although it formed the clue by which Einstein guided himself along the path from his principle to his procedure. It is no novelty to the history of science that factors of thought which guided genius to its goal should be subsequently discarded. The names of Kepler and Maupertuis at once occur in illustration.
What I call Einstein's principle is the connexion between time and space which emerges from his way of envisaging the general fact of relativity. This connexion is entirely new to scientific thought, and is in some respects very...
(The entire section is 3832 words.)
SOURCE: "Einstein's Conception of Science," in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, revised edition, edited by Paul Arthur Schlipp, The Library of Living Philosophers, 1970, pp. 387-408.
[Northrop was an American author and educator who specialized in the fields of law, science, philosophy, and economics. In the following essay, originally published in 1949, he argues that understanding Einstein's views of the scientific method requires a well-honed "epistemological philosophy."]
Albert Einstein is as remarkable for his conception of scientific method as he is for his achievements by means of that method. It might be supposed that these two talents would always go together. An examination, however, of statements upon scientific method by truly distinguished scientists indicates that this is far from being the case. Nor is the reason difficult to understand. The scientist who is making new discoveries must have his attention continuously upon the subject matter of his science. His methods are present, but he must have them so incorporated in his habits that he operates according to them without having to give any conscious attention to them. He is like the truly natural athlete, who performs spontaneously, but who often cannot teach others how he does it. Albert Einstein, however, is an exception to this frequently illustrated rule. He has given as much attention consciously and technically to the...
(The entire section is 7325 words.)
SOURCE: "The Philosophic Dialectic of the Concepts of Relativity," in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, revised edition, edited by Paul Arthur Schlipp, The Library of Living Philosophers, 1970, pp. 565-80.
[Bachelard was an influential French philosopher and critic. Many of his writings focus on poetic imagery and its relation to the creative process, and their approach is characterized by an emphasis on psychoanalytic theory. Unlike Sigmund Freud, who regarded dreams as manifestations of an individual's motivations, Bachelard, like Carl Jung, considered dreaming to be a revelation of the collective unconscious. Bachelard thus looked to dreaming, or reverie, for certain primitive archetypes—especially the traditional elements of earth, air, fire, and water—and studied representations of each in poetic imagery. In the following essay, Bachelard discusses the ways in which Einstein's relativity created "upheavals" among many of the fundamental principles of science and philosophy.]
Philosophers have removed the great cosmic drama of Copernican thought from the dominion of reality to the dominion of metaphor. Kant described his Critical philosophy as a Copernican revolution in metaphysics. Following the Kantian thesis, the two fundamental philosophies, rationalism and empiricism, changed places, and the world revolved about the mind. As a result of this...
(The entire section is 5205 words.)
SOURCE: "Einstein: The Passion of Pure Reason," in Commentary, Vol. 10, No. 3, September, 1950, pp. 216-24.
[Kristol is an American author and editor. In the following essay, he discusses Einstein's religious beliefs—particularly his sometimes conflicted ties to the Jewish faith—and the ways in which they ran in opposition to his devotion to reason.]
In Philipp Frank's biography, Einstein: His Life and Times, we read the following anecdote:
"Einstein was once told that a physicist whose intellectual capacities were rather mediocre had been run over by a bus and killed. He remarked sympathetically: 'Too bad about his body!'"
Of course it is probable that Einstein was having his own quiet little joke, making a gesture to the public image of himself as an abstracted, bloodless intellect floating languidly in the stellar spaces. And indeed, according to Einstein's way of thinking, body is body and mind is mind, and it is hard to think of a logical reason why one should have anything to do with the other. The body grows old, but that is hardly worth a thought: Einstein believes birthday celebrations are for children. The body perishes and is buried—of what interest is this to a mature mind? ("Attending funerals is something one does to please the people around us. In itself it is meaningless.") Men are prone to make spectacles of themselves,...
(The entire section is 5824 words.)
SOURCE: "Harbinger of the Atomic Age," in Books That Changed the World, revised edition, American Library Association, 1978, pp. 374-82.
[Downs was an American librarian, author, and editor whose professional life was committed to championing intellectual freedom and opposing literary censorship. In the following essay, originally published in the first edition of Books That Changed the World, he discusses various concepts rooted in Einstein's special and general theories of relativity and their impact on scientific study.]
Albert Einstein is one of the rare figures in history who succeeded in becoming a legend of heroic proportions during his own lifetime. The more incomprehensible to the lay public his ideas appeared, the more intriguing they seemed, and the more Olympian their progenitor. As Bertrand Russell aptly remarked, "Everybody knows that Einstein has done something astonishing, but very few people know exactly what it is that he has done." To be told, though inaccurately, that there are scarcely a dozen men in the entire world who fully grasp Einstein's theories of the universe, challenges and intrigues. The incomprehensibility of Einstein's theories stems from the complex nature of his field of operation. One point of view was expressed by George W. Gray:
Inasmuch as the theory of relativity is presented by its author in mathematical language, and...
(The entire section is 3529 words.)
SOURCE: "Discussion: Is Einstein a Positivist?" in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 30, No. 2, April, 1963, pp. 173-88.
[In the following essay, which originally appeared as part of a doctoral dissertation presented at Yale University in 1959, Neidorf considers whether or not Einstein's theories fit a positivistic epistemology.]
There are in fact two cases to be decided, one textual and one technical. The textual question: Does Einstein, in his thinking and writing about the philosophy of science, advocate a positivistic (or empiricist) position? Most of the literature on this subject, both by Einstein and by commentators, turns on the special theory of relativity; accordingly, the discussion which follows will be oriented mostly towards that theory. The technical question: Does Einstein's work, particularly his presentation of the special theory of relativity with its associated critique of classical physics, commit one to a positivistic philosophy of science? I begin with the latter problem.
1. THE TECHNICAL QUESTION: THE CASE FOR AN AFFIRMATIVE ANSWER.
The nerve of Einstein's special theory of relativity is contained in his redefinition of simultaneity for spatially separate events. To see the sense in which Einstein appears to be applying or recommending a positivistic epistemology, we need first to examine the reasons why a redefinition...
(The entire section is 8996 words.)
SOURCE: "Is Einstein's Work Relevant to the Study of Literature?" in After Einstein: Proceedings of the Einstein Centennial Celebration at Memphis State University, 14-16 March 1979, edited by Peter Barker and Cecil G. Shugart, Memphis State University Press, 1981, pp. 203-11.
[In the following essay, which was originally presented at the Einstein Centennial Celebration at Memphis State University in 1979, Creed contends that Einstein's theories may be successfully applied to the study of literature; however, Creed stresses that Einstein's belief in the fundamental value of experience in understanding and interpreting reality runs counter to much literary theory that emphasizes the importance of knowing reality only through abstract constructs such as language.]
I am going to give a positive answer to the question my title poses: Einstein's work is relevant to the study of literature. But before I do, I must make some negative remarks.
First, Einstein had very little to say directly about literature. I know of only a few scattered comments in his letters, and these comments are rather ordinary. He was certainly not hostile to literature—in fact, he had a deep respect for writers as different as Dostoyevsky and George Bernard Shaw; but I find his remarks on literature of minor interest.
Second, although I am convinced that Einstein's physics can...
(The entire section is 3543 words.)
SOURCE: "Einstein's Image of Himself as a Philosopher of Science," in Transformation and Tradition in the Sciences: Essays in Honor of I Bernard Cohen, edited by Everett Mendelsohn, Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 175-90.
[In the following essay, Hiebert explores Einstein's position as a philosopher of science—as opposed to merely being a scientist—and his own views of himself as such.]
Since antiquity, natural philosophers and scientists have expressed the conviction that the observational and experimental study of nature brings with it a good measure of intellectual and aesthetic satisfaction. Indeed, scientists on the whole claim to derive considerable personal pleasure from their work. I believe these claims are true. Now it seems plausible to assert that the machinery of human perception and cognition is both biologically structured and socially motivated to accentuate certain characteristic benchmarks of excellence in human performance. These distinctive characteristics are by no means the property of scientists. They certainly are seen to be prominent as well in the arts and humanities. Still, they are glaringly visible in the work of scientists.
To be more specific, we might mention in this context a number of criteria of excellence: structure, order, and symmetry; the power of metaphor and analogical reasoning; comprehensiveness; simplicity—or a move...
(The entire section is 8169 words.)
SOURCE: "Primitive, Newtonian, and Einsteinian Fantasies: Three Worldviews," in The Scope of the Fantastic-Theory, Technique, Major Authors, edited by Robert A. Collins and Howard D. Pearce, Greenwood Press, 1985, pp. 69-75.
[In the following essay, Ziegler argues that the Weltanschauung—or world-view—of any given time period necessarily places restraints on the creative imagination, but remains hopeful that the fantasy genre will benefit from the societal move from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian worldview.]
Fantasy, as a genre of the creative imagination, can be described as a chimerical or fantastic notion, where "fantastic" connotes unrestrained extravagance in the creations of the imaginative faculty. Despite this definition, fantasy, like all other human activities, cannot be wholly unrestrained. Restraints are placed on humans not only by their biological, psychological, and social natures but by the Weltanschauung of their times. Thus fantasy must be redefined as an extravagance in the creations of the imaginative faculty within the constraints of human nature and of worldviews. I will leave to biologists, social scientists, theologians, and philosophers the problem of human nature and address the problem of restraints imposed on the creative faculty by the worldview current at the time in which fantasists create their works.
(The entire section is 2951 words.)
SOURCE: "The Circuitous Path: Albert Einstein and the Epistemology of Fiction," in Einstein and the Humanities, edited by Dennis P. Ryan, Greenwood Press, 1987, pp. 125-34.
[In the following essay, Hauptman and Hauptman argue that Einstein's theories were fundamental to the development of absurdist fiction.]
When I examine myself and my methods of thought I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.
The zeitgeist and the general inferences drawn from Einstein's work come to bear most seminally on a group of philosophically oriented novelists conveniently termed absurdists, authors who believe that man is, in Heidegger's phrase, "thrown" into a world devoid of absolutes, order, and meaningfulness. The world that these novelists depict is one in which external meaning is elusive, metaphysical underpinnings are questioned, and knowledge is ephemeral. If this is the antipode of the harmonious world that Einstein demanded spiritually, it is nonetheless a valid hypostatization that follows logically from his physical theorizing. It is small consolation that the man who helped to destroy the harmony of the universe, failed to accept the consequences of his own work and spent the rest of his life attempting to prove that the universe is indeed...
(The entire section is 3705 words.)
SOURCE: "Post-Einsteinian Physics and Literature: Toward a New Poetics," in Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, Vol. XXII, No. 3, Summer, 1989, pp. 19-30.
[In the following essay, Bohnenkamp discusses the effects of Einstein's physics on the modern literary temperament.]
C. P. Snow's now infamous 1959 lecture, "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution," popularized the notion that science and literature held two irreconcilable world views and "had almost ceased to communicate at all." It may be true that technology, applied science and literature are often at odds, but not literature and scientific theory. Snow's allegation that "It is bizarre how very little of twentieth-century science has been assimilated into twentieth-century art" is preposterous. Even if scientists and writers do not always communicate as well as they might, there is at least a semblance of cultural continuity in any given age; the thinkers in any time share certain assumptions about the laws that govern their particular reality. Thomas S. Kuhn provides the term "paradigm" to describe this gestalt or mindset of a particular era.
It does seem that every three or four hundred years scientific revolutions take place that radically modify our picture of the universe and of ourselves. Kuhn places these paradigm shifts closer together, identifying them as "Copernican, Newtonian,...
(The entire section is 5403 words.)
SOURCE: "Albert Einstein: A Necrological Approach," in The Centennial Review, Vol. 35, No. 3, Fall, 1991, pp. 591-606.
[In the following essay, Kaplan contends that Einstein's Autobiographical Notes must be examined as a necrology-or obituary-largely because of Einstein's professional and personal connections to both the Jewish Holocaust of World War II and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, by the United States, which Kaplan considers "the twin catastrophes at the limits of twentieth-century history and its meaning. "]
This essay offers a close reading of a repeated figure in the autobiographical narrative of a survivor and a mourner whose life and work are bound up with the disasters which are evoked under the impossible names of Hiroshima and the Holocaust. Upon first impression, one might not think that an autobiographical text whose stated purpose is to review the philosophical achievements and the scientific discoveries of one of the most renowned thinkers of this century could be marked as a discourse of mourning, survival, and commemoration. But the Autobiographisches/Autobiographical Notes of Albert Einstein insists upon the generic status of Nekrolog, and it asks its readers at a number of points to be taken as an obituary. Whether by a throw of the dice or a divine providence, Albert Einstein always had to live with the...
(The entire section is 5353 words.)
SOURCE: "Einstein's Dream," in Black Holes and Baby Universes, and Other Essays, Bantam Books, 1993, pp. 69-83.
[Hawking is an English physicist, author, and educator renowned for his significant contributions to contemporary scientific theory. In the following essay, which was originally presented as a lecture at the Paradigm Session of the NTT Data Communications Systems Corporation in Tokyo in 1991, he describes relativity and quantum mechanics and explains their implications for contemporary science and culture.]
In the early years of the twentieth century, two new theories completely changed the way we think about space and time, and about reality itself. More than seventy-five years later, we are still working out their implications and trying to combine them in a unified theory that will describe everything in the universe. The two theories are the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. The general theory of relativity deals with space and time and how they are curved or warped on a large scale by the matter and energy in the universe. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, deals with very small scales. Included in it is what is called the uncertainty principle, which states that one can never precisely measure the position and the velocity of a particle at the same time; the more accurately you can measure one, the less accurately you can measure the other. There is always an element...
(The entire section is 4894 words.)
SOURCE: "Einstein on Religion," in The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. XXXV, No. 2, Winter, 1994, pp. 186-97.
[Crosby is an American author, educator, and minister specializing in philosophy and religion. In the following essay, he explains Einstein's religious beliefs.]
Albert Einstein was a devoutly religious man, although he did not believe in a personal God or align himself with the teachings or practices of any particular religious community. In his lifetime he wrote and lectured on many topics other than mathematical physics, including the topic of religion. In what follows, I first discuss his view of the nature of religion in general and of the proper way of conceiving its relations to science. Then I turn to his personal religious vision, which he sometimes called "cosmic religion." I will make some critical observations as I proceed.
In two lectures delivered in 1939 and 1941, Einstein relegates religion and science to separate spheres, each with its own specific problems and concerns. He contends that when each is conceived in this way, conflict between them is impossible. Science deals solely with what is, with facts and relations of facts. Its task is the purely descriptive one of discovering laws which can best explain the regularities of nature. From its sheer descriptions no valuative conclusions can be drawn. Since Einstein virtually identifies science with rationality, i.e.,...
(The entire section is 3679 words.)
Bernstein, Jeremy. Einstein. New York: Penguin, 1973, 242 p.
This introduction to Einstein pivots on the three main themes of Einstein's career—the special theory of relativity, the general theory of relativity, and quantum physics.
Clark, Ronald W. Einstein: The Life and Times. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1971, 718 p.
Overview of Einstein's personal and professional life; includes bibliography.
Frank, Philipp. Einstein: His Life and Times. Translated by George Rosen. Edited by Shuichi Kusaka. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1947, 298 p.
Posits that understanding Einstein is a key to understanding "something of the contradictory and complicated twentieth-century world."
Hermanns, William. Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man. Brookline Village, Mass.: Branden Press, 1983, 151 p.
Outline of Einstein's pacifist ideas, the need for what he termed "holy curiosity."
Ireland, Karin. Albert Einstein. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Silver Burdett Press, 1989, 109 p.
Examination of the effects of Einstein's work on daily life in America, aimed at young adults.
Pais, Abraham. 'Subtle is the L o r d … V The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press,...
(The entire section is 659 words.)