Albert Einstein is of course well-known for his theory of relativity, and E = mc2 and other cool phy sics stuff. Max Born, giant of 20th century physics, called his theory of relativity ”the greatest feat of human thinking about nature.” But there is a lot more than that to Albert.
Einstein published hundreds of books and articles on all kinds of topics. He thought widely. But perhaps the books, the theories, and the smart reputation as a genius, all the intellectually fancy stuff, has kept us from the man.
Einstein, the man, is worth knowing. He was not just smart; he was fun. He was not just brilliant; Albert was very human. In fact at the very time that he was publishing his theory of relativity, he was in conflict with his estranged wife and wrestling to find a meaningful way to relate to his children. But for all his serious family problems and serious scientific theories he was not just serious, he was droll and naughty in a schoolboy kind of way.
He wrote: “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”
I like it! I’m still trying to recover from common sense, to finally think at least something uncommon.
Einstein also iconclastically quipped, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
Touche, even if it wasn’t entirely true! Curiosity and imagination and research lead him far beyond the classroom.
He said that “The only source of knowledge is experience,” and he practiced that, except of course for all the math and physics he learned in the classroom! He never lost his “holy curiousity.”
It’s the bit of rogue in him that I like, the maverick, the unconventional thinker, his,”Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
He advised against reading too much. “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” I like it; I read too much, and if I can take Albert’s wry advice, there may be hope for me yet.
Einstein came at God this way, sideways, obliquely, interestingly. He said, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” He also said, “I am a deeply religious non believer.” His “God doesn’t play dice with the world” has been widely repeated and widely misunderstood.
There is also the down to earth, kind of pure, in-the-moment Einstein. ”I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.” It did for him — relatively.
And there is the Einstein who saw all the evils that could come from stupid national loyalties and from war. I like his passion for peace, his love of our race, his desire to protect, his anger. He roared, ”Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”
He also said, “Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how passionately I hate them!”
Albert was a complicated man, with some complicated family relationships and some complicated math in his head, and yet he wrote,”Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler,” and “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Before World War II, Einstein was so well-known in America that he it was said that he would be stopped on the street by people wanting him to explain “that theory.” He finally figured out a way to handle the question. He told the people who stopped him, ”Pardon me, sorry! Always I am mistaken for Professor Einstein.”
He was practicing his belief: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” The wild man with the wild hair and the wild brain — it would have been fun to trade a few quips with him.