Albert Einstein

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Einstein daydreaming at the Swiss patent office.
The facts of the matter
May the mass times acceleration be with you
Let's get physical!
Atoms trying to understand atoms
Warning icon orange.svg This page contains too many unsourced statements and needs to be improved.

Albert Einstein could use some help. Please research the article's assertions. Whatever is credible should be sourced, and what is not should be removed.

Though everybody knows me, there are very few people who really know me. I am a revolutionary.
—Albert Einstein[1]

Albert Einstein (1879–1955) was a German theoretical physicist of the highest caliber. Unfortunately, being one of the most influential scientists in history means his quotes are appropriated by theists and atheists alike.[2] As one of the founders of modern physics,[notes 1] he contributed to quantum mechanics, and developed the special and general theories of relativity. He advocated a one-world government hoping that it would put an end to "an infantile sickness" known as nationalism. He was also a socialist.[3] Einstein believed the Soviet Union could be persuaded to join and that this would solve the incipient Cold War: "Better to let Russia see that there is nothing to be achieved by aggression, but there are advantages in joining [a world government]: Then the Russian regime's attitude will probably change and they will take part without compulsion."[4] As someone who fits the stereotypical image of a scientist, he was a cartoonist's dream come true.

Major contributions to science[edit]

  • Statistical mechanics — demonstrating the reality of atoms with Brownian motion, and explaining why the sky is blue, Einstein's model of solids.
  • Special relativity — a more general theory of motion than Newton's laws that is fully consistent with Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism. Fundamental predictions are time dilation, length contraction, and loss of simultaneity. It has been fully incorporated into the Standard Model of particle physics and modern gravitation theory.
  • General relativity — the modern theory of gravity, predicting, among other things, gravitational waves, gravitational time dilation, expanding (or contracting) Universe, and black holes. This is considered to be his magnum opus. Einstein's principle of equivalence, Einstein's field equations, the Einstein summation convention, the Einstein-de Sitter space, the Einstein-Rosen bridge, and the Einstein-Kahler metric are thus named in his honor.
  • Old quantum theory — explanation of the photoelectric effect using Planck's quantum hypothesis, recognition of wave-particle duality, description of atoms as quantum harmonic oscillators, quantum theory of radiation, quantum theory of monoatomic ideal gases, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) paradox.
  • Quantum statistical mechanics — Bose-Einstein statistics, prediction of light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation (laser), Bose-Einstein condensation.


There ain't half been some clever bastards.

Being a famous scientist, Albert Einstein is subject to many myths. Some common ones are that Einstein...

...worked on the Manhattan Project.
Wrong. While his work in physics was crucial to the project's success, Einstein wasn't involved due to the US government seeing him as a security risk due to his pacifist leanings. However, it is true that he was appointed Adviser on Highly Explosive Materials by the U.S. Navy, and he did sign a letter written by Leo SzilardWikipedia that warned of the possibility that Nazi Germany could develop atomic weapons and urged the U.S. government to take action.
...failed math
By his own words "I never failed in mathematics … Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus."
...was a Soviet spy
While Albert Einstein was an admitted socialist and somewhat of a USSR apologist, he wasn't a spy.
...failed in school
No. He was pretty good in almost all things education. This view is most likely based on the fact that German and Swiss grades are exactly reversed from each other (6 being the best in Switzerland and the worst in Germany) and the first biographers were mostly German. The only thing he ever did fail at was getting into university at age sixteen — incidentally due to a failed French test. Also, he got into ETH Zurich, a famous school in Switzerland.
...had autism.
This is based on heavy speculation. The diagnosis of autism existed during Dr. Einstein's lifetime, but he was never diagnosed, so he cannot himself dispute this label (how convenient). A handful of half-serious researchers, such as Psychologists Oliver Sacks, Glen Elliott, and Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin to Sacha, of Borat fame) have entertained this possibility[5] but most scientists don't give this any attention due to the lack of reliable evidence and concerns with falsifiability.[6]
...embarrassed an atheist professor who attempted to prove the existence of God
That is bollocks of the highest caliber.

Fake quotes[edit]

"Smoking is bad for you," is probably something else Einstein never said. But it's still true.

Since you can make anything you say sound smarter by attaching the name "Albert Einstein" to it, a large number of fake Einstein quotes have been spread through the Internet. Some particularly prevalent examples include:[7]

  • "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
  • "Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
  • "I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots."
  • "If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts."
  • "Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart."
  • "Education is that which remains when one has forgotten everything he learned in school."
  • "You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother."
  • "Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."[8]

Social and political views[edit]

General positions[edit]

Einstein was one of the founding members (though not a particularly active one) of the German Democratic Party (GDP), which fell under the wing of social liberalism, a mix of regulated market economy, support for increased civil / social rights, and pacifism[9][10] It became known as the "party of the Jews and professors", and had a comparatively high number of active women in it. The GDP eventually merged with the People's National Reich Association (which was more to the right than the GDP, though not quite as scary as the name suggests) in 1930 to form the German State Party, leading to an ever-decreasing representation in the Reichstag. In 1933, under increasing harassment by the Nazis, the party dissolved itself, and after only a few months all parties but the NSDAP became illegal.

Later on, Einstein's political views steered increasingly leftwards until finally settling on socialism (he wrote an essay passionately endorsing it and criticizing capitalism — including for its impact on education[11]), earning him dramatic accusations of being an anarchist and/or communist.[12] That, along with his advocacy for pacifism and a global democratic movement, apparently earned Einstein a rather verbose file at an Alphabet Agency.[13] As an avowed pacifist, he came to call his co-signing of the letter regarding the possibility of making a fission bomb to Franklin D. Roosevelt his great mistake, even though he believed at the time that Nazi Germany might be on the verge of producing fission bombs,[14]:752 which would not have been an exciting development if true.[citation NOT needed]


After his move to the US, he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, considering racism to be the US's "worst disease".[15]:x When W.E.B. Du Bois was accused of acting as an agent for a foreign state, on account of his being the chair of the Peace Information Centre, an anti-(nuclear)-war organisation, and even though the NAACP refused to state its support for him, Einstein's offer to testify on Du Bois' behalf made the corresponding judge shaite his knickers and drop the case.[16]

In one interview, he called the scientific concept of race (in terms of a proposed clear, physical taxonomy) "a fraud". In the same interview, he added: "Americans undoubtedly owe much to the Melting Pot.Wikipedia It is possible that this mixture of races makes their nationalism less objectionable than the nationalism of Europe. Nationalism in the United States does not assume such disagreeable forms as in Europe."[17]:374–375 He however felt it was better to retain cultural practices and distinctions among various ethnic groups: "Standardization robs life of its spice. To deprive every ethnic group of its special traditions is to convert the world into a huge Ford plant. I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture."[17]:376 (Given this, his idea of multiculturalism may more closely resemble the Canadian conception of it, that is, a "cultural mosaic"Wikipedia more than a "melting pot".)

His travel diaries from 1922, when he visited Asia, were rediscovered in 2018, and aroused some degree of controversy regarding his stereotypical remarks on contemporary Chinese and Japanese culture, even if he did express at least a fair amount of affinity and respect for the latter.[18]

Gay rights[edit]

Einstein was one of the many co-signatories of Magnus Hirschfeld's petition to repeal a law in the German Penal Code which made male homosexual acts illegal.[19]:24 Unfortunately, these efforts were ultimately futile — in fact, the German Imperial government attempted to broaden its scope to women as well. The attempt failed when the men in government couldn't quite agree on what gentle, delightful woman-on-woman sex looked like. The law survived the fall of both the German Empire and the Weimar Republic unscathed. The Nazi era did widen its scope and penalties to horrifying levels, while still not minding lesbianism that much. It was only repealed in 1989 by the GDR, and in 1994 for the whole of reunified Germany, nearly a century after Einstein had signed the petition.[20]


Einstein was very well-known in his own lifetime, and as a high-profile Jewish man, his views on the creation of a Jewish state and/or homeland might have carried some weight. He was strongly supportive of Jews being able to make the land of Israel/Palestine their home, but rather resistant to the creation of a Jewish state; he strongly supported positive relations and coexistence between Arabs and Jews within the same land; he denounced right-wing chauvinist Zionism (including Herut, a predecessor to the Likud party of Benjamin Netanyahu[21][22]) but wrote that "Judaism owes a great debt of gratitude to Zionism", especially in a sense that it might have offered Jews an escape from persecution elsewhere in the world.[23] His position might best be summed up with the following quote:

I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain—especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state. … If external necessity should after all compel us to assume this burden, let us bear it with tact and patience.
—Einstein in 1938[24]:241

Letters sent by Einstein indicate he held more or less with this position well into the 1940s.[25]

Personal life[edit]


Einstein's parents were irreligious by faith and Jewish by ancestry. Einstein himself initially rebelled against this secularism; though he attended a Catholic elementary school, he instead passionately embraced the Judaism of his ancestors. This would come to be challenged when a family friend introduced Einstein to scientific texts, which helped to disenchant him with religion. Atheists would be woe to "claim" him, however, as he explicitly denounced their position on a number of occasions. He more identified with a belief in "Spinoza's God" — a kind of agnostic, impersonal pantheism.[26][2] Though he enunciated the following prior to his firmer identification with "Spinoza's God", it is a significant illustration of his beliefs:

The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations.

In 1940, TIME magazine published a purported quote from Einstein: "Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly."[27] However, a 2005 article in the American Skeptic magazine found some reason to doubt this quotation in the fact that TIME provided no source or indication their reporter personally heard Einstein say this, as well as some circumstantial facts like the contradiction between him supposedly saying he "had no special interest" in the Church and also "despised" it. Skeptic's writer also found an Einstein letter from March 28, 1947 that said he did express to a journalist "hardly any German intellectuals except a few churchmen were supporting individual rights and intellectual freedom" but that his statements were exaggerated by the press.[28]

Family guy[edit]

Mileva Marić and Einstein

A. You will make sure:

  1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
  2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
  3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

Mileva Marić was a brilliant physicist and mathematician herself (who may have contributed to Einstein's work, though it's not clear whether and how much),[29][30] yet Einstein treated her like a servant. The above excerpt is part of a letter detailing the conditions upon which he would continue to live with his wife; he also told her to expect no intimacy for him, to avoid saying anything negative about him, and to be quiet and leave if he asked her.[31][32]

He also cheated on both his first and second wife. He even said he wished that his second son (who had schizophrenia) was never born.[33] (Imagine struggling with schizophrenia and then realizing your own father wishes you didn't exist.)

He wasn't totally heartless, though. His loved ones reported that he was truly heartbroken after the death of his second wife.[34]

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Albert Onestone.

Further reading[edit]

  • Pais, Abraham. "Subtle Is the Lord-- " : The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein. Oxford University Press, 1982. This is a technical scientific biography of Einstein.

External links[edit]


  1. The other founder of modern physics is Max Planck, who discovered that light comes in discrete packets now called photons.


  1. Jerome, Fred (2009-05-26) (in en). Einstein on Israel and Zionism: His Provocative Ideas About the Middle East. Macmillan. pp. Prologue. ISBN 978-1-4668-2429-4. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 See the Wikipedia article on Religious and philosophical views of Albert Einstein.
  3. Why Socialism? by Albert Einstein (2009) Monthly Review 61(1). Reprinted from the May 1949 issue.
  4. Albert Einstein's letters on how to deal with the USSR up for auction: Letters by Albert Einstein where he gives advice on the USSR are set to go under the hammer next week. by Chris Irvine (11 October 2008 • 12:51am) The Telegraph.
  5. Einstein and Newton showed signs of autism by Hazel Muir (30 April 2003) New Scientist.
  6. Isaac Newton was Autistic, or Not, Darrin Hayton 31 December 2015
  7. 13 Inspiring Einstein Quotes Never Actually Said by Einstein, Shelby Rogers, Interesting Engineering 26 April 2017
  8. Did Einstein Say the Universe and Stupidity Are Infinite?, Dan MacGuil, Snopes 7 April 2022
  9. See the Wikipedia article on Social liberalism.
  10. Einstein Exhibit: Public Concerns I The Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics .
  11. Albert Einstein (May 1949). Why Socialism? Monthly Review.
  12. [ What Were Einstein's Politics?] by David E. Rowe and Robert Schulmann (2007) History News Network, Columbian College of Arts & Sciences.
  13. Why the FBI Kept a 1,400-Page File on Einstein: The world-famous physicist was outspoken against racism, nationalism, and nuclear bombs, prompting deep suspicion from J. Edgar Hoover. by Mitch Waldrop (April 18, 2017) National Geographic.
  14. Einstein: The Life and Times by Ronald William Clark (1984) Avon Books. ISBN 0380441233.
  15. Einstein on Race and Racism by Fred Jerome (2005) Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813536170.
  16. Albert Einstein, Civil Rights activist: Little-known aspect of physicist’s life revealed by Ken Gewertz (April 12, 2007) The Harvard Gazette.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Viereck George Sylvester (1930). Glimpses Of The Great. Henrietta Street London. 
  18. Einstein’s Travel Diaries Reveal His Deeply Troubling Views on Race by Brigit Katz (June 18, 2018) Smithsonian Magazine.
  19. Marhoefer, Laurie (October 6, 2015) (in en). Sex and the Weimar Republic: German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-4426-1957-9. 
  20. See the Wikipedia article on Paragraph 175.
  21. "The New York Times/1948/12/4/New Palestine Party; Visit of Menachen Begin and Aims of Political Movement Discussed". Wikisource.
  22. Ruth Schuster (December 4, 2014). "1948: N.Y. Times Publishes Letter by Einstein, Other Jews Accusing Menachem Begin of Fascism". Haaretz.
  23. See the Wikipedia article on Political views of Albert Einstein.
  24. The Einstein Reader. Citadel Press. 2006. ISBN 978-0-8065-2791-8. 
  25. Jerome, Fred (2009-05-26). Einstein on Israel and Zionism: His Provocative Ideas About the Middle East. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4668-2429-4.  (January 19, 1946 letter to Maurice Dunay and January 29, 1946 letter to Martin Buber).
  26. Walter Isaacson (April 5, 2007). "Einstein & Faith". TIME.
  27. (1940). "Religion: German Martyrs". TIME.
  28. William C. Waterhouse (Fall 2005). "Did Einstein Praise the Church?". Skeptic (Vol. 12, Issue 3). (Alternative link).
  29. Did Albert Einstein Steal The Theory Of Relativity From His Wife? by Paul Mainwood (Aug 1, 2016 @ 02:28 PM) Forbes.
  30. The Forgotten Life of Einstein's First Wife: She was a physicist, too—and there is evidence that she contributed significantly to his groundbreaking science by Pauline Gagnon (December 19, 2016) Scientific American.
  31. Albert Einstein Imposes on His First Wife a Cruel List of Marital Demands by Josh Jones (December 30th, 2013) Open Culture.
  32. Einstein's travel diaries reveal 'shocking' xenophobia: Private journals kept by the scientist and humanitarian icon show prejudiced attitudes towards the people he met while travelling in Asia by Alison Flood (12 Jun 2018 12.32 EDT) The Guardian.
  33. An Inside Look at Albert Einstein's Personal Life (Updated: Jun 2, 2020; Original: Mar 13, 2017) Biography.
  34. The Story Of Elsa Einstein’s Cruel, Incestuous Marriage To Albert by By Kara Goldfarb (Published September 28, 2021; Updated October 9, 2021) All That's Interesting.