DEAR DR. EINSTEIN Q&A
1. Do you see connections between art and science?
“Science is conveyed in the language of logic. Art is portrayed through connections not accessible to the conscious mind and recognized intuitively as meaningful. Common to both is the loving devotion to whatever transcends our personal concerns. I have just enough intelligence to see how inadequate my intelligence is when confronted with the transcendence of art and science and what exists.” “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility… The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.”
2. How do I walk my own path in life?
“The life of an individual has meaning only insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful. Life is sacred…it is the supreme value. Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
3. How do you think? Do you have any pointers that might help us think smarter?
I find it hard to explain my thought patterns. They are often unconscious and spontaneous. “The words of the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought.”
“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing absolute knowledge.” Maybe sometimes I think in images. Maybe sometimes I think in equations. Sometimes in both. I am not sure that my mechanism is transferrable. “All my life I have been a friend of well-chosen, sober words and of concise presentation. Pompous phrases and words give me goosebumps when they deal with the theory of relativity or with anything else.”
But what is transferrable and irreplaceable is persistence and determination. Nothing, not even genius or education or talent, will take the place of persistence and determination! Stay with the problem until you conquer it. “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master.”
4. What is the MEANING OF LIFE?
This is a very hard, and yet at the same time easy question to answer. Hard, if you’re a pessimist. Easy if you’re an optimist. A short answer from an optimist: my purpose is “to create satisfaction of desires and needs of all… and to achieve harmony and beauty in human relationships. Fulfillment comes to those who love and understand creatures, plants, and stars… so that every joy becomes your joy, and every pain becomes your pain. Out to friends of friends of friends.” Joy cubed. Pain cubed.
My father gave me a small magnetic compass when I was a little boy. I played with it for hours. How could it “know” how to point North all the time? Mysterious! It made an enormous impression on me and played a major role in my life ever after. Its mystery became a compelling reason to move ahead with my life. Yes, even one of many reasons for living. Music became another. And the pursuit of harmony [[in]] and beauty in mathematics, in physics, and in friendships. I always felt my own life was interesting and worth living. I guess that makes me an optimist. So I am convinced you can find meaning the same way i did…by following your interests, your curiosities, your passions. it works. try it!.
5. Did you ever make a mistake, or regret anything you said or did?
In my professional life, I made two serious blunders. One is signing the letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suggesting that the Nazis might be ahead of the U.S. in weaponizing nuclear fission. I believed at the time that if Hitler developed the atomic bomb before us, he might have ruled the world. As it turned out, we were mistaken. The Nazis were behind us. I regretted the loss of life at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the bomb shortened World War II. And changed history. “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I never would have lifted a finger.”
The second is the cosmological constant. I added this constant to my gravitational field equations to account for the observation at the time that the Universe appeared to be neither expanding nor contracting. It was thought to be in a “steady state” in 1915, which meant that ordinary gravity was attractive (objects fell to Earth; they didn’t fall up!)
I added a term in my equation to produce some kind of repulsive gravitational force to keep everything in a steady state. Ironically, once Hubble discovered that the Universe is expanding, we found that the constant added as a “blunder” at the time turned out to be prescient, in that it became needed to produce what is now called “dark energy” of repulsion which makes up about 85 percent of the observable mass-energy of the Universe! So what I thought was a blunder turns out to be profound. The joke is “I was wrong once; on that occasion, I said I was wrong and I was right”.I have made some other blunders of a personal nature, but I prefer to leave these in the dark.
6. How come mathematics can describe reality so well?
It’s hard to escape the feeling that beautiful mathematical formulas have an independent existence and an intelligence of their own. That they are wiser than we are. That we get more out of them than we originally put into them.
Eugene Wigner remarked on this phenomenon — the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in describing the natural and physical world. He said, “The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve”.
7. Hitler disparaged you and your proven Special and General Theories of Relativity as “Jewish science”. What was that all about?
“In Hitler we have a man with limited intellectual abilities, unfit for any useful work, bursting with envy and bitterness against all of those whom circumstance and nature had favored over him. He picked up human flotsam on the street and in the taverns and organized them around himself”. Hitler thought “Aryan science” was superior to ”Jewish science” because “Aryan science” was rooted in experiment, whereas “Jewish science” was inferior according to Hitler because it was theoretical, argumentative, “Talmudic”. Hitler put a price on Einstein to have him assassinated, but Einstein was able to leave Germany unharmed. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton was created by the wealthy Bamberger family as a safe haven and permanent home for Einstein when he arrived in the U.S in 1933 and resided there until his death in 1955.
Recently, someone pointed out that maybe Hitler was on to something, in that there is a Talmudic quality to Special and General Relativity. In the study of the Jewish scriptures, students learn in study pairs, so that two viewpoints can always be brought to bear on the sacred texts. One student can always disagree with the other, and they can argue “on the one hand, on the other hand”. This has a parallel in Relativity, where two different “frames of reference” are invoked and imagined, in order to form profound conclusions. However, anti-Semitism, not this benign interpretation, was what Hitler had in mind.
8. Please explain why the 1919 observation of the bending of starlight was “front-page physics”? Did a heavenly star make you a celebrity star?
I suggest you look at the diagram below, “Bending of Starlight”. In the upper left corner is an image of our Sun with the distant starlight appearing to bend as the starlight grazes the edge of the Sun. (Technically this had to be done during a total eclipse of the Sun so the bending could be seen without the blinding sunlight.) Notice how the image of the Sun rests on a two-dimensional grid, where the grid lines bend to suggest that the space around the Sun is “curved”. The cannonball resting on a mattress is another way of imagining how the light travels around the massive Sun. “Mass tells space-time how to curve, and space-time tells mass or light beams how to move”, according to John Wheeler.
In the lower-left part of this diagram, you see how slight an angle the light beam was deflected. By an amount equal to the size of a quarter (about an inch) as seen at a distance of four miles. On the right side of the diagram, you see how the bending of starlight can mimic a convex lens. This becomes the basis for “gravitational lensing” and a new field of observational astronomy. Astronomers can see behind or beyond distant objects like stars or galaxies using my equations, to see further than ever.
9. What is the greatest invention of all time?
I wish I had said it. People attribute witty or wise sayings to me as a form of flattery, or as a way of exaggerating my fame and enhancing my already unearned reputation for doing what comes natural to me. People quote me as saying that the most powerful force in the Universe, the greatest invention of all time, is “compound interest”. I’m not sure I actually said this. But as the Italians say: “If it’s not true then it’s well-invented”.
10. Before you became a world famous celebrity because of the bending of starlight, you were known among scientists for outstanding work you did in 1905. What was that all about?
Yes, it’s true. I published four papers that year that were considered worthy of four Nobel prizes. One on the Photo-electric effect, for which I was awarded the Nobel in 1921. One on Brownian motion. One on Special Relativity. And my most famous discovery: the equivalence of mass and energy E=mc2.
11. Would you please explain the photo-electric effect?
When light falls on certain metals, electrons are ejected. The intensity of the light determines how many electrons. The color of the light determines whether or not electrons are ejected at all. Red light does not eject photoelectrons (even if it is very bright). Greenlight does eject photoelectrons (even if it is very dim). If the light is considered a wave, the electron-ejection phenomenon cannot be explained. But I considered light to come in small energetic bundles, or particles, or “quanta”. The bluer the light, the more energetic the bundle is. Above certain energy of the light bundles (at a certain degree of blue-ness), electrons were ejected. And below this energy, none were emitted. I took this to mean that the light quanta had enough energy to un-bind or to pry- away from the electron from the atom it was bound to. For this was the first instance when a quantum theory was used, in order to correctly explain an experimental result. Much later on, I was not fond of “quantum mechanics” and Neils Bohr’s interpretation of it as sharp images of a blurry reality. I believed quantum mechanics provided a blurry image of a sharp reality.
12. How about Brownian motion?
The Roman philosopher Lucretius (60BC) wrote “On The Nature of Things”: “Observe what happens when sunbeams are admitted into a building and shed light on its shadowy places. You will see a multitude of tiny particles mingling in a multitude of ways… their dancing is an actual indication of underlying movements of matter that are hidden from our sight… It originates with the atoms which move of themselves [i.e., spontaneously].” The idea that molecules of a liquid or gas are constantly in motion, colliding with each other and bouncing back and forth, is a prominent part of the kinetic theory of gases to explain heat phenomena. According to the theory, the temperature of a substance is proportional to the average kinetic energy with which the molecules of the substance are moving or vibrating. It was natural to guess that somehow this motion might be imparted to larger particles that could be observed under the microscope; if true, this would be the first directly observable effect that would corroborate the kinetic theory. And that’s what I did using statistical mathematics.
13. How hard is it to be a theoretical physicist?
Dear ‘theoretical physicist’:
Is that what you want to be? “The scientific theorist is not to be envied. Because ‘Nature’, or more precisely ‘Experiment’, is not a very friendly judge of a theorist’s work. In fact, it often seems to be your Enemy. It never says “Yes” to a theory. In most favorable cases, it says “Maybe”, which often really means “No”. And in the great majority of cases, it says, simply, “No”. Think twice before you decide to become a theorist! How wretchedly inadequate a theoretical physicist as he stands before Nature—and before his students!” If I had to choose my career all over again, I would probably be a musician, since I get great pleasure from playing the violin.
14. I’ve been told that Special Relativity is harder to explain or understand than General Relativity, which you already explained in a way that I think I sort-of get. Can you do the same for Special Relativity?
I will try my best. So here goes.
In this diagram, on the left side, imagine a woman is on a train and she sends a beam of light from the floor to the ceiling and back to the floor.
The amount of time the beam takes from her vantage point inside the train is the beam’s path (2L) divided by the speed of light (c).
The right-hand diagram visualizes what a man on the platform would see of her train moving past him from his vantage point. The light beam would appear to slant right and upwards and then slant right and downwards due to the motion of the train rightwards. The path is longer D from his point of view, so the time of flight the man observes is 2D divided by the speed of light(c).
Here’s the hard part. The speed of light(c) observed by the woman in her apparently stationary train is exactly the same speed of light(c) observed by the man on the platform watching her train move past him. This result is based on the famous surprising Michaelson-Morley experimental result that showed the speed of light is always the same no matter what is the speed of the source of light or the speed of the observer! So this means that the man will observe a longer time interval as viewed from the platform than the woman observes as viewed from inside the train. In other words, time will appear to slow down in moving systems observed from a stationary system. This result has been confirmed many times by observing the half-life of decaying particles at rest compared with their half-life when they are moving near the speed of light. This is one of the counter-intuitive results of Special Relativity.
Another counterintuitive result is that events that are simultaneous in a stationary frame of reference (see diagram above) are not simultaneous in a moving frame of reference (see lower diagram). The Michelson Morley experimental apparatus looks like this. It allows the speed of light to be compared in two directions perpendicular to each other by splitting the beam into two and then recombining them. If the apparatus is moving to the right, then the light wastes time chasing the apparatus transverse to the direction of motion. When the role of the two arms is exchanged by rotating the apparatus there should be a change in the train-and-platform experiment from the reference frame of an observer onboard the train Reference frame of an observer standing on the platform (length contraction not depicted)
travel times if the speed of light depends on the source or the observer. But no. The result was the speed of light was independent of the speed of the source or the speed of the observer. The length in the direction of motion must also contract in the direction of motion… another shocking result.
15. How about E=mc2?
If a body emits energy E in the form of radiation, its mass decreases by an amount equal to E/c2. In other words, mass and energy are both different manifestations of the same thing. This is a somewhat unfamiliar conception for the average person to accept. I can derive this result but it would take several pages here. So instead I have decided to show you the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the ENTERPRISE with the result emblazoned on its deck. It must be true if someone thought to do this.
16. Is it true what you said about the wireless telegraph?
Do you mean this? “The telegraph is very similar to a very long cat, where you pull its tail in New York, and it meows in Los Angeles. The wireless is exactly the same — only there is no cat.” Well, as I said before if it’s not true, it’s well-invented. That sounds like something I could have said. People attribute lots of wise sayings to me I never said or forgot I said.
For example, my so-called ‘rules of work’: “1. Out of clutter, find simplicity; 2. Out of discord, find harmony; 3. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Maybe I said this and forgot. There were 897 books about me and relativity in the U.S. Library of Congress, 19 of them by yours truly. Do you think I remember everything I said or wrote?
17. What good are numbers? What good is physics? What practical use are your theories? Relativity? Photo-electric effect?
Dear, what good is:
Could you have tea for two without the two? Or three blind mice without the three? Or four corners of the Earth without the four? Numbers are beautiful, and this is a good enough reason to have them. But they are also useful in life, in science, in art. I guess you already know this, but can you think of your life without your phone numbers, your address, your age?
Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) came into use after I expired in 1955. But I’ve been following their progress. Originally put up into orbit around the Earth for military purposes at great cost, they have many civilian uses.
If your smartphone communicates with one satellite, you could be at many spots. Communicating with two satellites, you could be at two places. But with three, your exact location is determined, by “triangulation”. A fourth satellite synchronizes the clocks in the receiver and in the satellites. There are now 24 satellites in Earth orbit, which can pinpoint your location to within a few feet or even inches. But these will not work without correcting for the well-known but unusual effects of Special and General Relativity.
Each satellite has an atomic clock accurate to billionths of a second. According to Special Relativity, time in a moving object (the satellite) slows down if observed from a stationary observer (our smartphone on the ground). The GPS has to be corrected for this discrepancy. According to General Relativity, time in an object in a weak gravitation field (the GPS) speeds up compared to a strong gravitational field (your smartphone on the ground). So your smartphone will not work unless these physics corrections are taken into account.
What good is physics? I don’t know where to begin. The movement of the planets and stars is explainable with Newton’s Laws of Motion. The nuclear reactions in our Sun and the distant stars explain how they generate energy. Your beating heart is a living embodiment of the physics of fluid dynamics. All need physics principles to explain. Billiards! Tennis! Golf! Football! Baseball! Physics is everywhere. Just look around you. “Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn a living at it!”
18. How can I visualize four dimensions and the curvature of space?
A lot of people ask this question. Let me see if I can help you here. My colleague, Professor Banesh Hoffmann* (*the man Dr. Rosen learned Relativity from) said this: “Do not waste your time trying to visualize four dimensions; it is simply not possible.”
What he meant by this is that mathematicians do not need to “visualize” space curvature because they can do it by cleverly using the ideas of mathematics. One way is by analogy with two dimensions and three dimensions. Another way is by using the Pythagorean Theorem. In this analogy, imagine a cannonball resting on a mattress. The mattress is a two-dimensional surface. The cannonball represents the Sun, and the depression in the mattress represents, is analogous to, how the mass of the Sun distorts or “curves” or “bends” space around it. The curvature is “perpendicular” to the two-dimensional mattress surface, in a way that’s analogous to the way time is sort-of “perpendicular” to the three-dimensions of ordinary space. You can’t “visualize” this precisely, but you can sort-of “imagine” it in your mind’s eye or metaphorically.
The Pythagorean Theorem, remember from plane geometry, says that in a plane right triangle, the sum of the squares of the two sides of the triangle equals the square of the hypotenuse. Now, this is true only in a two-dimensional flat plane. On the surface of a sphere like the Earth, the curvature of the triangle (in a plane perpendicular to the plane of the triangle) distorts the Pythagorean Theorem relationships between the three sides of the triangle. The curvature in this third perpendicular direction can be measured by how far the Pythagorean Theorem no longer works. In other words, the degree of departure from “Pythagorean-icity” is an index of the curvature of space. This kind of thinking takes getting used to.
19. What’s the simplest way to explain your principle of relativity?
“The laws of nature perceived by an observer are independent of his state of motion.” In other words, if a car accident occurs at 42nd Street and Broadway at noon, the same laws of motion for the accident apply whether you the observer are standing nearby — or you the observer are on an airplane flying above the accident. The physics of the accident does not depend on the coordinates, location, or motion of whoever is watching the accident, the observer. “The laws of nature are to be formulated free of any specific coordinates because a coordinate system does not conform to anything real.” A yardstick is still a stick of the same length whether you measure it in inches, centimeters, or miles. It does not matter where the observer is or what she is doing. There is no preferred or absolute frame of reference for an observer. “All of science is nothing more than the refinement of everyday thinking.”
“I have to say that I never understood why the theory of relativity, with its concepts and problems so far removed from practical life, should have met with such a lively, indeed passionate, reception among a broad segment of the public.”
20. Did you like being famous?
No. At first, it was amusing. Being a celebrity quickly became a nuisance. I call it “celebrity fatigue”. Reporters asked to interview me. I told them I was not Dr. Einstein. They said, “Yes, you are. We recognize you from your newspaper photos”. I said: “Who should know better…me, or you?” Or I told interviewers, “People tell me that I resemble Dr. Einstein”. I also avoided reporters by dressing sloppily and letting my hair grow wild.
Here’s a picture of me wearing a Hopi Indian head-dress! Now, why should I be honored for doing what comes easily and naturally to me? I’m not an Indian Chief — but according to Hopi folk-lore and culture, I am. Who told them about me? Why did they believe it? I’m sure the Indian Chief had to earn his head-dress. Just imagine what he had to do. But I did nothing to earn this honor.
And of course, anyone who is sufficiently popular or notorious as I am can become victimized by such deceptive zealous interviewers.
Here’s an example…
One day, a gentleman of the press comes to me and asks me to give him a few details concerning my best friend, a Mr. X. Amazed, and maybe a bit annoyed by the intrusion on my privacy, I say: “My dear friend Mr. X is a cheerful straight-forward man, much liked by all his friends. He can find a bright side to any situation. His enterprise and industry know no bounds; his job takes up his entire energies. He is devoted to his family, and lays everything he possesses at his wife’s feet.”
And here’s what this excitable sensationalist reporter writes for his newspaper:
“Mr. X takes nothing seriously. He has the knack of making people like him, chiefly because he flatters everyone. He is such a slave to his profession that he has no time – doubtless no inclination – for intellectual pursuits. He is weakly indulgent to his wife; in fact, he is entirely under her thumb, mere putty in her hands.”
So how do you think I felt about this cheap parody of what I said? I took the reporter’s question seriously, and I end up looking like a buffoon. I can assure you: I’m not a buffoon. I’m a seeker after cosmic beauty, an appreciator of the orderly laws of the Universe. Just look at this cartoon from a century ago. It shows newspaper reporters peddling fake news, cheap sensation, humbug news! That’s what they’re really like! Prevaricators! Maybe they flatter you to get your attention… But watch out! They’re slimy phonies. And all because of the fame game. That’s why I say my secret of happiness is “read no newspapers!”
A good day, for me, is spent at the black-board or at my desk, smoking my pipe, and pondering the mysteries and meanings of life… the harmonies of the spheres, cosmology, the physics of black holes, gravitational waves, and so on. I’ve often thought that the hurly-burley of every-day life is so stressful. “I have always loved my solitude, a trait which tends to increase with age. The monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” What’s unpredictable and changeable is often the least important in my life. But what is most important in life is what does not change: the eternal verities…the laws of nature, love, justice, truth, beauty.
21. Friends call me the “class clown”. I love making people laugh. I say or do dumb things spontaneously. But now when I want people to take me seriously, they won’t. Help!
Well, hello “class clown”. I have a soft spot in my heart for your ‘problem’…if it is a problem. I see humor as a great gift. A joke is the shortest path from the boredom of here and now to an instant vacation. “Once you understand that the Universe is matter expanding into nothingness, wearing stripes with plaid becomes easy.”
When my sister Maja was born, I was two and a half years old. I was told I would have a new toy to play with. Upon seeing her for the first time, I said: “Yes. But where are the wheels?”
So you see, I myself was something of a “smart-aleck” or “wise-guy”. In school, I remember once a teacher made a mistake in counting, so I said, “There are three kinds of teachers: those who can count…and those who can’t.” For this I was sent to the headmaster to learn respect. It didn’t help. Eventually, “to punish me for challenging authority, the Fates made me an authority.”
22. Do you ever worry about what people say or think or write about you?
“Since the light deflection result became public, such a cult has been made out of me that I feel like a pagan idol. There have also been a bucketful of such brazen lies and utter fictions published about me that I would long since have gone to my grave if I had let myself pay attention to them. I console myself the Time has a sieve, through which these foolish remarks will run into the ocean of oblivion. It never occurred to me that every casual remark of mine would be snatched up and recorded. So another reason to crawl into my shell. Despite being an old gypsy, nevertheless, I still have a tendency to respectability inherent in old age.”
As I told my good friend Elisabeth, the Queen Mother of Belgium: “Because of a peculiar property I have acquired, anything I do is likely to develop into a ridiculous comedy”. “Yesterday idolized, today hated, tomorrow forgotten, and the day after tomorrow promoted to Jewish sainthood.” This seems to be my destiny, my bashert as we say in Yiddish.
“With fame I became more and more stupid.” People always wanted a piece of me. Advice. On any topic: politics, international relations, philosophy, art. I kept getting invited to dinners and for interviews. “You can’t go wrong quoting Einstein”, reporters said. I developed a strange sort of King Midas touch. Everything he touched turned into gold. Everything I said turned into print.
“An awareness of my limitations pervades me all the more keenly because my faculties have been quite overrated since a few consequences of general relativity theory have stood the test.”
23. I never know what to do or say in public situations. I’m anxious figuring out how the other person is seeing me, what they think of me, instead of just being myself
I have put my foot in my mouth in public because I was interviewed so many times. For example, when asked about Americans I foolishly said, “American men, though they are hard-working, are nothing more than toy dogs of their women, who like to spend money and wrap themselves in veils of excess.” This insult was not forgotten for a long time. However, I also said that “smiles on the faces of Americans are symbolic of their greatest assets: friendliness, self-confidence, optimism!”
When I was in my twenties, I worried and wondered what people thought of me. When I was in my forties, I didn’t care what they said or thought about me. When I reached my sixties, I discovered they were not always talking or thinking of me at all. In my seventies, I cannot hear what they are saying at all. So maybe you just wait until the problem solves itself by fatigue, death, or “benign neglect”.
24. How do I get people to take my ideas seriously? To treat me as a person? To maintain my own self-esteem?
“Anyone who reads too much and uses her brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” Vicarious living through others’ ideas is not as engaging as developing one’s own authentic “voice”, one’s own worldview, one’s own set of opinions. I remember hearing someone say “Oh, New York City: That’s the place where they quote the New York Times back and forth to each other every day and call it ’conversation’”.
25 Do you have any advice about dealing with intimacy and the opposite sex? And sex education?
The Japanese characters for “relativity principle” are very similar to those for “love” and “sex”. Hence I was received with great enthusiasm when I visited Japan. I have been married twice. I conclude that “marriage is the unsuccessful attempt to make something lasting out of an incident”. When I was rejected by the opposite sex, “I decided to seek in the stars that which was denied to me on Earth.” I have had some personal experience in these matters. I am not an expert, however. ACTUALLY, I WAS SO FOCUSED ON MY WORK THAT I WAS PROBABLY NOT ATTENTIVE ENOUGH TO MY WIFE AND TO MY CHILDREN. Gravitation cannot be held responsible for falling in love. I would say that the most important attitude to adopt is “no secrets!”.
26. Many friends and I get stressed out about finding a balance between school and outside of school. Juggling our work, family, and self. It seems an ongoing struggle. Was it like that for you?
I’m sorry to say I was not great at balancing my life, my family, my work. I enjoyed a mixture of activities… hiking, sailing, playing my violin. But the obsessive hard-won focus on my work was paramount. Because of this, I was not a great husband or father. Perhaps you should ask someone else?
“I am truly a ‘lone traveler’ and have never belonged to my country, my home, or even my immediate family with my whole heart. In the face of this, I have never lost the need for solitude.”
“A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer lives are based on the labors of other people, living and dead and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received.”
“There is no greater satisfaction for a well-meaning person than the knowledge that she has devoted her best energies to the service of a good cause.”
27. I read that you were kicked out of school or asked to leave certain classrooms because you made wisecracks about your teachers. What did you think of school in general?
Mature wisdom is not the product of schooling, but of a lifelong attempt to acquire mature wisdom. It is an immature thought in itself to believe that mature wisdom depends on chronological age. Some of my teachers were imperfect beings, and I made fun of their failings. Later in life, I would have ‘cut them some slack so to speak (as Americans say), and not embarrass them in front of their students.
Beliefs & Opinions
28. My friends tease me about my crazy hair. I’m worried I won’t get a job. Did you ever get in trouble because of your hair?
I’m probably not the best person to ask about hair because I mostly ignore my own. “If I were to start taking care of my grooming, I would no longer be my own self… so to hell with it. I have reached an age when, if someone tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to. When I was young I found out the big toe always ends up making a hole in a sock. So I stopped wearing socks.” Even when I met with President Roosevelt at the White House. But I sympathize with your concern. Wait until you’re settled in a fire-proof job before you start experimenting with your appearance. That’s what I did. Always be yourself—unless you’re a fool. In that case, you should be someone else.
29. Are you religious? Do you believe in God?
“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe…a spirit vastly superior to that of humans.” With our modest powers, we must feel humble in the face of this mystery. I believe in cosmic beauty and the experience of the mysterious.
“In my opinion, to know that what is impenetrable really exists, revealing itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty…this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness.” I do not believe in actual physical immortality, despite the notion that some individuals (like Dr. Rosen) consider me spiritually immortal. * *(People go to houses of worship for different reasons: Cohen goes to the synagogue to talk to God; Schwartz goes to the synagogue to talk to Cohen.)
30. I like to read science fiction. Do you?
Dear “science fiction”:
I believe that people should not read science fiction because it distorts science and gives people the illusion of understanding science. Facts are stranger than fiction. For example: “Mass tells space-time how to curve, and space-time tells mass how to move.”
31. Are you afraid of dying? Should I be?
“I wish to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share. When it is time to go, I will do it elegantly”. But I am at an advanced age when almost everything I wanted to do I did. “I lived long enough to learn to be happy through the good fortunes and joys of my friends.” I hope and pray that you have accomplished all you set out to do. And that you’ll live a long and productive life. “A simple and unassuming life is good both physically and mentally for everybody.”
The ingredients of success are “work” plus “play” plus “keeping your mouth shut”. However, “becoming a person of value is more important than becoming a success.” If arrange your life so that your work has given substance to your life and the lives of others, then you can leave life gracefully. “I have firmly resolved to bite the dust, when my time comes, with a minimum of medical assistance, and up to then I will sin to my wicked heart’s content.”
32. Do you believe in “luck”? Are you lucky?
I may have been lucky in discovering E=mc and in stumbling upon curved space as the source of gravitation. My insight into the nature of gravity came about because when I was working at the Swiss patent office, I looked out my window whilst daydreaming and saw a workman fall off the roof, and at that moment I realized he would experience no gravitation during his fall. Thus his acceleration erased gravity and was therefore equivalent!
It was Louis Pasteur who said, in referring to his discoveries, that “Chance favors the prepared mind.” He meant that sudden flashes of insight don’t merely happen by themselves. They are the result of deep and thorough preparation, which is the key to success in science, and many other careers. No luck. So my mind was “prepared” to be “lucky” to discover equivalence. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, thought I was very lucky because he said very few people are capable of judging my work – since it required deep knowledge of physics to criticize it. But Freud’s own work was subject to scrutiny by everybody – even if they did not know anything about psychology. He was unlucky and brilliant, and most of his ideas were nonsense.
But I was also unlucky. “It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few individuals for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. Why is it that nobody understands me, yet everybody likes me? It is a strange thing to be so widely known and to be so lonely. I’m also a magnet for all the crackpots in the world.”
33. Can an equation be more intelligent than a person?
This is a very intelligent question. Not so easy to answer. My own equations of gravitation are more intelligent than I am. I’m not sure why this is true, but it demonstrates the power of mathematics and the power of specific examples flowing from general principles. An example is Newton’s observation of an apple falling from a tree. He reasoned that if the Earth attracted an apple, then the Moon must also be attracted to the Earth…but instead of it falling downward, it is falling sideways, so to speak.
Imagine a cannon on top of a mountain. You can drop the cannonball, and it would fall straight down, like the apple. You can fire the cannon horizontally, and the cannonball would start moving horizontally, but eventually, its path would curve downward due to gravity. But suppose you could fire the cannon horizontally at such a speed that it would go into orbit around the Earth as the Moon does?
Well, Newton’s Laws of Motion and Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation are generalizations from specifics that are true for other specific situations. So they are smarter than Newton because they apply to circumstances different from the original ones. In that sense, the equation is smarter than its originator. You might even say that his equations are eternal, even though Newton is merely immortal! Eternity is a very long time—especially towards the end.
34. Which is more important – what’s visible, or what’s invisible?
Dear ‘more important’:
You’ve asked a profoundly interesting question! Let me try to address it. The great genius Buckminster Fuller said that the greatest discovery of the twentieth century is that the invisible is more important than the visible. I imagine he was referring to Sigmund Freud, who “discovered” the human unconscious or subconscious…which is not visible like our external bodies are. But it nevertheless exists, and maybe sometimes influences our activities and actions and dreams and thoughts. But he may have been referring to my theory of gravitation, and four-dimensional space-time, and the curvature of space. None of these are obvious or “visible” to the naked eye. You need very sensitive instruments to detect the bending of distant starlight by the gravitational field of our Sun. This is an example of what is invisible to the naked eye (bending of starlight) being more important than what is visible to the naked eye (no bending of starlight). I hope I explained this to your satisfaction.
By the way, many religious ideas — like moral and ethical principles — are sort-of invisible, and maybe much more important than visible material objects like cars and clothes.
35. What kind of music do you like?
I love Mozart. I love playing Mozart when I play chamber music. I think Mozart and I live well together; we’re sort-of brothers under the skin. Birds of a feather. Kindred spirits. What’s the phrase…’bromance’? Someone (maybe it was Dr. Rosen?) said there are two kinds of genius: the ordinary garden-variety kind, and the other kind which appears to have come from another planet. Dr. Rosen said Mozart and I appeared as if we came from another planet. His reasoning was that Mozart could write a symphony – at age eleven yet! – whilst playing a game of billiards. And Einstein, he said, started thinking about Relativity at age sixteen. Maybe he was on to something.
But I truly believe I am not a genius! I merely stay with a problem longer! That’s a good lesson to take away from knowing about me. Think about it! Perspiration more than Inspiration wins in the long run. Another way of saying this: “Inspiration is for amateurs.”