His genius changed the world in far-reaching ways that are still being understood today
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was the pre-eminent scientist in a century dominated by science. The touchstones of the era- the Bing Bang, the Bomb, quantum physics and electronics, all bear his clear imprint.
“I never came upon any of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.” — Albert Einstein
In the arena of scientific achievement and the quest to discover genius, Albert Einstein stands alone. He remains a profoundly important figure who undertook extraordinary, groundbreaking work that not only shaped the pillars of modern physics but greatly influenced the philosophy of science. Quite literally, Einstein changed the way we see and travel across the world and cosmos. He was responsible for the world’s most famous equation and for discovering the theory of relativity, considered to be mankind’s highest intellectual discovery.
The embodiment of pure intellect, the bumbling professor with the German accent, a comic cliché in a thousand films, Albert Einstein was unfathomably profound - the genius among geniuses who discovered, merely by thinking about it, that the universe was not as it seemed.
Even now scientists marvel at the daring of general relativity (“I still can’t see how he thought of it,” said the late Richard Feynman, no slouch himself). But the great physicist was also engagingly simple, trading ties and socks for mothy sweaters and sweatshirts. He tossed off pithy aphorisms (“Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it”) and playful doggerel as easily as equations. Viewing the hoopla over him with humorous detachment, he variously referred to himself as the Jewish saint or artist’s model. He was a cartoonist’s dream come true.
Einstein’s Miracle Year (1905)
While working at the Swiss patent office, Einstein did some of the most creative work of his life, producing no fewer than four groundbreaking articles in 1905 alone, and he was just 26 years old. First paper, QUANTUM THEORY OF LIGHT, second article, BROWNIAN MOVEMENT, third and most famous article, ON THE ELECTRODYNAMICS OF MOVING BODIES, and a fourth paper in which he demonstrated the link between mass and energy that led to the idea of nuclear energy today, E=mc2 (where “c” was the constant speed of light) expressed this relationship.
After making his name with four scientific articles published in 1905, he went on to win worldwide fame for his general theory of relativity and a Nobel Prize in 1921 for his explanation of the phenomenon known as the photoelectric effect. An outspoken pacifist who was publicly identified with the Zionist movement, Einstein emigrated from Germany to the United States when the Nazis took power before World War II. He lived and worked in Princeton, New Jersey, for the remainder of his life.
Did You Know? One day during a speaking tour, Albert Einstein’s driver, who often sat at the back of the hall during his lectures, remarked that he could probably give the lecture himself, having heard it so many times. Sure enough, at the next stop on the tour, Einstein and the driver switched places, with Einstein sitting at the back in his driver’s uniform. Having delivered a flawless lecture, the driver was asked a difficult question by a member of the audience. “Well, the answer to that question is quite simple,” he casually replied. “I bet my driver, sitting up at the back there, could answer it!”
The Saga of Einstein’s Brain
The parietal lobe in Einstein’s brain was 15% larger than that of an average brain.
In 1955, after the death of the famous physicist and scientist, his body was cremated and ashes scattered. However, the only part of his body that was retained by pathologist Thomas Harvey at Princeton Hospital while conducting his autopsy was his brain, (eyes too). Thomas Harvey was later fired from the hospital for not returning Einstein’s brain, which he removed during the autopsy.
Many years later, Harvey sent slices of Einstein’s brain to various scientists throughout the world. One of these scientists was Marian Diamond of UC Berkeley, who discovered that compared to a normal person, Einstein had significantly more glial cells in the region of the brain that is responsible for synthesising information.
In another study, Sandra Witelson of McMaster University found that Einstein’s brain lacked a particular “wrinkle” in the brain called the Sylvian Fissure. Witelson speculated that this unusual anatomy allowed neurons in Einstein’s brain to communicate better with each other. Other studies had suggested that Einstein’s brain was denser, and that the inferior parietal lobe, which is often associated with mathematical ability, was larger than normal brains.
Did You Know? Einstein skipped the Nobel Prize ceremonies to take a trip to the Far East. “I have decided definitely not to ride around the world so much anymore; but am I going to be able to pull that off, too?” he wrote to his sons after his 1922 trip to Japan. Unlike most of us, for Einstein travel was more than an escape from the mundane.
Speech difficulty in childhood
Einstein did not speak until the age of three. He revealed this fact about the delay of his speech abilities to his biographer. Today there is a term, “Einstein Syndrome,” which was coined by Dr Thomas Sowell, to describe exceptionally bright people whose speech is delayed.
A simple man
Einstein believed and wished that people should be respected for their humanitarian work and thoughts, and not for their nationality and origin. In this context, expressing his cynicism for nationalistic pride, he once said: “If relativity is proved right, the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong, the French will call me Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German, and the Germans will call me a Jew.”
Did You Know? NO SOCK! Part of Einstein’s charm was his disheveled look. In addition to his uncombed hair, one of Einstein’s peculiar habits was to never wear socks. To Einstein, socks were a pain because they often would get holes in them.
Einstein loved to smoke. One could see the trail of smoke behind him when he walked from his home to his office. In 1950, after accepting a life membership in the Montreal Pipe Smokers Club, Einstein said he believed “that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.”
Did You Know? Almost immediately after Albert Einstein learned of the atomic bombs use in Japan, he became an advocate for nuclear disbarment. He formed the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists and backed Manhattan project scientist J Robert Oppenheimer in his opposition to the hydrogen bomb. But Einstein himself did not create the atomic bomb or even work on the Manhattan Project. He later regretted his involvement, telling Newsweek that “had I known that the Germans would not succeed in developing an atomic bomb, I would have done nothing.”
The power of play
“A new idea comes suddenly and in a rather intuitive way. But intuition is nothing but the outcome of the earlier intellectual experience.” — Albert Einstein was very fond of music, and learned to play the instrument at the tender age of five. He said once, “If I were not a scientist, I would be a musician.” Einstein named his violin ‘Lina’. Einstein took breaks from his work to play the violin. Beethoven favoured “long, vigorous walks” in which he carried a pencil and blank sheet music. For some, it’s walks and breaks in the day. For others, it’s applying time to a deep interest in areas that are completely different from their professional work. In addition to music, he was a proponent of ‘combinatory play’ — taking seemingly unrelated things outside the realms of science (art, ideas, music, thoughts), and blending them together to come up with new ideas. It’s how he came up with his most famous equation, E=mc2.
He also plays the piano. Music helps him when he is thinking about his theories. He goes to his study, comes back, strikes a few chords on the piano, and jots something down, returns to his study.
Did You Know? When Albert Einstein was working in Princeton university, one day he was going back home he forgot his home address. The driver of the cab did not recognise him. Einstein asked the driver if he knows Einstein’s home. The driver said “Who does not know Einstein’s address? Everyone in Princeton knows. Do you want to meet him? Einstein replied “I am Einstein. I forgot my home address, can you take me there? “The driver reached him to his home and did not even collect his fare from him.
© 2016 Sulabh Swachh Bharat. All Right Reserved